Andromeda Chained
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2003, 2008




Chapter 18

 

 

Chapter 18

My God, Brenda's fears shouted in her mind as she watched Carole take the spare Soliels out of the box and take out the dust cover tool. She's really going to do it!

But, another part of her mind, the brave part, the part that contained the reporter's curiosity, yelled at her fears to shut up. You wanted to know what it feels like, didn't you? There'll never be a better chance.

"A lot of people have tried these on, like Wendy did," Carole said conversationally. "But hardly ever for more than an hour or so."

"Yeah, I guess I had them on eight or nine hours, that time," Wendy said. "That was enough."

"She went about the longest of anyone," Carole said abstractly as she began to remove a dust cover. "Most people don't like it. You get right down to it, and it's not supposed to be something you like. Brenda, did I ever tell you about my boyfriend, Dave?"

"I don't remember you ever mentioning a boyfriend," Brenda said, unable to take her eyes off the shiny chrome handcuffs Carole was fiddling with.

"We were going pretty steady when I started the project," Carole grinned. "Even after it started. Let me tell you, making out in handcuffs is a little different experience. It wasn't exactly a special charge for me, but the mechanics are a little different. Kind of interesting, fun to do for something different."

"What did he think about the project?" Brenda wondered, still mentally taking notes for the story that might or might well not ever get written.

"He wasn't too crazy about it," Carole replied, starting on the second dust cover. "I mean, he understood why I was doing the project, at least abstractly, but he thought it was maybe a little too far out. He was just looking forward to having it over with, to things getting back to normal."

She stopped, looked at the Soliels for a moment with a distant expression on her face, and continued. "We had a fight about it, after I extended the period after the accident. I told him that he'd have to wear handcuffs for a while to understand what I was going through, and asked him if he'd like to try it." She sighed. "I didn't have a boyfriend after that."

Carole picked up a key, turned it in one of the locks of the handcuffs, and opened it wide. "Perhaps it was just as well," she continued philosophically. "Things were pretty shaken around here right then, and he was just another complication. Stick out your hand."

Don't do it, Brenda's fears cried. Back out now, while you've got the chance. Do you really want to do this? Commanding her fears to shut the hell up, Brenda stuck out a hand, and Carole put the jaws of the cuff around her wrist and closed it.

"That ought to be about right," she said. She took hold of the cuff and tried to slide it off of Brenda's hand. Maybe, Brenda thought, if she tried real hard and was willing to give up a little skin, she could get them off.

Carole noticed it, too. "No, I think another notch." When the jaws of the handcuff had been open, Brenda had noticed several notches in them, and wondered what they were there for. Now she knew they were adjustments. Carole squeezed lightly on the handcuff, and it closed a little tighter. "That ought to be about right," she said clinically, and turned the key in the lock. "That'll keep them from closing up further," she said.

"Or opening," Brenda said observantly.

"Well, that too," Carole grinned. "That's the general idea, after all. But you could hurt yourself real bad in handcuffs you can tighten and can't loosen up, which is why these have what they call double locks. I wear mine just tight enough to keep them from coming off. That gives me a little more flexibility in changing clothes, although having them slide around on my wrists was real irritating until I got used to it. Let's do the other one."

"All right," Brenda said complacently.

Carole unlocked the other handcuff and opened it as Brenda suppressed internal cries of fear. You damn fool, those fears cried. Don't do this! Resolutely, Brenda's curious side shouted the fears down. Carole has done it for going on six years now, she told them. What is the big deal about a few minutes, even an hour or two? Before her fears could get the best of her, she stuck out her free hand. Still, the fears almost got to her as she watched Carole close the jaws of the handcuff and lock it into place. In a few seconds, Brenda's wrists were secured a few inches apart by the shiny stainless steel surrounding them.

Carole took the key from the lock, and stepped back. "There you are," she said.

Wendy had been watching the whole production quietly, with a trace of amusement on her face. Now, she asked, "Well?"

The Soliels seemed heavy, heavier than she remembered when she'd handled Carole's Soliels months before. Then, the weight hadn't seemed noticeable. Carole had told her the handcuffs were identical, except for a serial number, even to sharing the same key, but these seemed like they were made of lead. No, something even heavier, or at least that was what her gut was telling her. She knew now the weight was fifteen ounces, just a little more than a can of beer, and she could hold one of those, couldn't she? But, God, this could get hideously uncomfortable . . . "They're cold," she observed lightly, trying to make light of the terrors that were bounding around inside her skull.

"They're almost always cold," Carole told her conversationally. "They almost never warm up. You can get them warm, say, if you're out in the direct sun for hours, or spend some time in a hot tub, but they cool off pretty quick. That's what makes the linings so nice. The neoprene makes for enough insulation that it keeps the worst of the cold off. That's really more important than their padding."

"I hadn't thought about that," Brenda said, moving her hands around a little to get a feel for the weight of the Soliels, to get an idea of how they affected her motion.

"What I really have to watch out for is being outside for a long time in cold weather, then getting skin directly on the metal," Carole continued. "You can freeze your skin to the steel, and that hurts. I had scars and scabs all over my wrists the first winter until I learned to never be outside for more than a few minutes without gloves." She shook her head. "One of the long-timers Laurel introduced me to prefers no liners. She likes that feel of the cold steel telling her all the time that she's really locked into them. Once in a while, I think she may have a point, but then, she's another bondage freak, so who knows?"

"I suppose," Brenda said, only half hearing Carole's patter. To really be wearing Soliels was unnerving, to say the least it was just a first reaction, obviously. Really, it wasn't all that uncomfortable; it was something she could get used to if she had to, she supposed after all, Carole had, hadn't she?

"You might want to get up, move around a little, try reaching for something," Wendy suggested. "It's not the same as just sitting there with your hands in your lap."

"Good idea," Brenda said. It wasn't as easy as it looked to get up without using her hands. It was something she'd done a million times gotten up with a book in one hand, or holding something that needed both hands, but now it felt awkward.

Once she was standing, it felt more unnatural. Her hands were drawn in front of her; there was no easy way to just let them dangle at her sides. Again, it was something she'd done a million times without thinking about it, but now the Soliels were forcing it to her attention. What could she do with her hands? It seemed strange. Oh, if she were to wear them for a while, she supposed, she'd get used to it, and it would be no big thing, just a part of normal routine, done automatically just like Carole had probably learned the same thing in the first few days she'd worn the handcuffs. Not that Brenda planned on finding out, of course.

Brenda didn't really feel much surprise that the Soliels limited her motions after all, that was what they were supposed to do, and she'd watched Carole's limited motions for months now but just how limiting they were was a little bit of a surprise. But again, she knew from watching Carole that the limitation on the motion was just a part of her existence. Wendy's limits were much more severe than Carole's, and she'd gotten used to it, too. How had she managed that? That was a stupid question, perhaps the queen of all stupid questions, she chided herself. Wendy had gotten used to it because she had to she had no other choice. It wasn't the first time she'd wondered how Wendy reconciled her present existence with the memories of the way she'd been before the accident. God, that had to be hard for her, hard for Carole . . . and again, she thought that the Soliels may have had something to do with the way Carole adjusted to what had happened to her beloved sister.

"What do you think?" Carole asked.

"I seem clumsy as hell," Brenda said.

"It's something you get used to," Carole told her. "Actually, it's surprising how quick I blew through that. I think now, I'd feel clumsy as hell with them off."

"I don't know," Brenda said. "I realize this is just the first few minutes, but now that I've got them on I think I feel further than ever from understanding how you get along with them."

"I suppose," Carole said. "The first few hours I had them on, well, it was exciting. Oh, there was a little beer there, too, so it seemed to blunt everything. It was a party. Like I said, the next morning, I woke up with a hangover and the Soliels on, and it was then I started to learn what they were like, not the afternoon I put them on. That first few days were interesting, and I mean interesting from the sense of the study I was doing. Really, that was the core of the paper I wrote, as it turned out. That wasn't what I originally intended, but it was the only way I could do it."

"The accident?" Brenda asked. There was no way to get around it this time.

"Yeah," Carole told her. "Like I said, I kept a pretty good journal up to that point. You go through a lot of emotions, a lot of feelings, a lot of ups and downs. I was really learning a lot about adaptation, examining my feelings about the limitations, really sort of getting to enjoy learning about it. I mean, it was really sort of a unique experience. Hey, I know I'm not the first person to ever wear handcuffs or irons or something for months or years on end. Hell, thousands of people have done it, millions over the centuries."

"Right," Wendy put in. "Check out the Amnesty International website sometime. There's people in some parts of the world today who have been in chains for years, prisoners and such."

Carole nodded. "Exactly," she said. "It's not really anything new. But to do it voluntarily? You've got bondage freaks like Laurel, and really, there aren't all that many of them. But, to do it because you want to know what it feels like, what the experience does to you? There's not that many of us. I mean, there's got to be someone else, somewhere, who's done it, but as far as I know for sure, I'm pretty close to unique. That's sort of a special feeling."

"I can see that," Brenda said thoughtfully. "It really was new ground to cover in a way, when you look at it like that, wasn't it?"

Carole nodded. "That was my thought," she continued. "About the time of the accident, I was really considering extending the project to a year, thinking that it might be something I could write a doctoral dissertation on." She sighed and continued. "Then the accident happened, and everything went to hell. My journal just stops in the middle of the sentence I was writing when we heard about the accident. There's no entry there for the next four months. There's a lot of that period I don't remember clearly, at least my thinking about the Soliels and the project, other than thinking I needed to keep wearing them or I was going to waste the effort of the first two months. When I did get back to it, my feelings, my experiences, my adaptations had changed in ways that I couldn't remember, couldn't account for. I couldn't even finish that sentence I'd started! Finally, I had to write the damn paper, so I just wrote it on the first two months of the project, the part that made sense, not the black hole that followed."

The part where survivor's guilt hit you right between the eyes like a baseball bat, Brenda carefully did not say. Carole, I'm no psychologist, she thought, but I wonder if you even recognize how much of a part that played. You've given me a number of hints this afternoon that I was right about that it had to have played a hell of a big part of why you kept wearing handcuffs, why you're still wearing them. But, there's no way I could ever say that. As well as I know you now, Carole, I don't know you well enough to be able to make that kind of judgment. Maybe Wendy knows you well enough, but she might not say, either. And, I'm not going to ask. God, this needs thinking about, she realized, and I really need to say something. Well, there's one idea that would buy me a couple minutes, or at least change the subject a little. "What did you think about it, Wendy? I mean, before the accident?"

Wendy grinned. "If you ignore the fact that I thought that she was crazy as hell for doing it in the first place, I thought it was sort of cool. I mean, it was sort of a gutsy, off-the-wall thing to do, you know? I really was rather proud of her, proud for her. It was the kind of thing I never thought I'd be able to do." She sighed, and dropped her head. "I mean, that was then. I look back at it now, and it seems pretty silly. I mean, it was playing at being handicapped, not the real thing, like walking around blindfolded for a couple months, to try out being blind."

She was silent for a moment before she continued. "I don't remember a lot of the first part after the accident, either," she said. "It's all kind of a blur now, a bad dream. I mean, I just didn't wake up one morning like this. The realization came slowly. I was pretty out of it. I can't point to one place where I said to myself, 'Oh, shit, I'm never going to move again.' It was just a reality that I slowly became more aware of. I didn't even have any sense of time passing there for a while. But, we've talked it over a lot since, and pretty much from the beginning, I guess Mom and Dad and Sis knew it. Oh, they hoped it wasn't real, that a miracle might happen, and then the realization hit them a lot more sharply than it hit me."

"Those must have been terrible days," Brenda said, trying to show sympathy. And yes, they had to have been.

"A black hole, like I said," Carole replied, quietly. "I must have been thinking in there somewhere, but I don't remember much of it. I was supposed to get my master's in the winter term, but I got it in the spring. I must have cancelled my classes that fall and moved them over to the following term. I know I must have done it, but I don't remember doing it. Looking back now, I realize that somehow, having the Soliels on helped me to bridge the gap between the real and the unreal, helped my folks, too, maybe even helped Wendy. And, it was for the good; I know I came out of the black hole determined to work in handicapped rehabilitation. The reason is pretty obvious, I guess. It doesn't take a lot of analysis."

"Yeah, from where you were coming from, it must have made a lot of sense," Brenda said, a little sorry at herself for making such a stupid statement but Carole had come close to confirming her hypothesis. One more nudge, and maybe it'll come without being painful. "The thing I don't understand is why you never quit wearing the Soliels."

Carole shook her head. "That's a little hard to describe," she said. "It's like Wendy said a few minutes ago. There was no one point where I just stood up and said to myself, 'I think I'll just keep wearing them.' It all came gradually. First, there was the determination to try to finish the study, and then there was the idea I wanted to do my doctorate study on them. And, like I said, it was kind of a unique thing. I just sort of got used to it, I guess, and there never seemed to be a good enough reason to take them off compared to all the good reasons to keep them on. Like I told you once, it is a little addictive."

No, she wasn't going to do it darn. "I remember you saying that," Brenda told her. "I also remember telling you that I don't understand how it could be. I know I've only been wearing these for a few minutes, but I don't think I'm any closer to understanding it than I was before."

"Probably not," Carole grinned. "Hell, it took me months. There was a lot of adaptation going on there, but most of it went on in the first month or two. I know after say, a month, I was already starting to think about extending the study. But, I'll agree, you probably aren't any closer to understanding it than I was. Wear those for a while, and you might get a bit closer. Remember, the idea of wearing them in the first place wasn't exactly to discover how it felt to be in handcuffs, it was to get a feeling of how it felt to be handicapped, even though, like Wendy says, it's a pretty poor simulation. And, realistically, it worked, as far as it went, even though it wasn't real."

Brenda had been standing up all during this discussion, much of it wondering uncomfortably what she was supposed to be doing with her hands. She wandered back over to the sofa and sat down again. Sitting was almost as cumbersome as getting up had been; no, she wasn't getting used to the Soliels at all. It would take time, more time than she'd have this afternoon, it was clear. Damn it, there was a gulf of understanding that was missing, understanding that could only be gained with the passage of time. It was troubling. The gears ground in her head for a couple minutes as she sat there, head in her hands, the handcuffs dangling from her wrists. There was a way she could cross the gap, but did she want to? There was no easy answer.

Finally there seemed no other option. She spoke up and said, "Carole, what would you think if I were to ask you if I could wear these for a week or so?"

Carole furrowed her brow, looked at her for a second, and said quietly, "You're really thinking about it, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I guess I am," she said. "You keep saying I can't understand a lot of this any other way, and I can see you're right. And, I'm beginning to think I want to understand. Wendy, what do you think?"

Brenda expected Wendy to tell her that she was as crazy as her sister, and maybe that'd snap her out of it. But, Wendy surprised her. "It's sort of about me, too, isn't it?" she asked.

"Yeah," Brenda nodded. "I mean, I know that I can never really cross that gap, but I might get a look from a distance at what things look like on the other side."

"Believe me, I wouldn't wish the view from this side of the gap on my worst enemy," Wendy said. "But I'm touched that you're trying to understand, even get an inkling of it. People are usually kind to me, nice to me, but not many try to understand. I talk with other people in my position, voice and e-mail both, once in a while face to face, and we pretty well understand where we're coming from and the problems we face. But, it's not often that someone normal really tries to get an inkling of it. I can't say whether making yourself an artificial handicapper for a while will help you bridge that gap. In fact, I doubt it, but I'm honored that you want to try."

Brenda looked up at the bright, pretty, even vibrant girl so hopelessly confined to what passed for a wheelchair, sentenced to a life in a useless body. She'd always tried to be upbeat and friendly around her, but she was aware that it was always a little artificial, too. Yes, she had some survivor guilt of her own how could she be so lucky to be normal? What sin, other than trying to have fun on a jetski, had sentenced Wendy to that damnation? Friend though Wendy had become, yes, Brenda lacked that depth of understanding, too. "I agree, Wendy," she said. "I doubt it would work, but I'm wondering if it's worth trying, anyway. Even if I can't manage to touch your side of the gap, maybe at least I could touch Carole's."

"You're crazy," Carole said. "You know that?"

Brenda snickered. It was the first light moment in a while. "Can I say something about the pot and the kettle?" she laughed.

Both the Carter sisters laughed at that, and it seemed to break a spell.

"Look, let's talk this around a bit," Carole said. "First off, forget about a week. It's exactly the wrong time. Brenda, you remember when you were a week or two into your exercise program? You were motivated, you were pissed at yourself, you'd been working your ass off, and you hit that plateau where your body wasn't adjusting to the program and you weren't losing weight?"

"Yes," Brenda nodded. "It was the worst point of the whole thing. If you hadn't pushed me a little right then, gave me some encouragement I was that close to saying the hell with it."

"That's the point," Carole said. "A week is just about the point where you're going to be hitting a pit of despair about this whole thing, too. If the Soliels were to come off at that point, you'd just see it as a negative experience, and not get the positive learning out of it. A couple days, you might get something. A month, probably fine. But, a week or two well, just like the exercise program, you have to work your way through the bad part to get to the rewarding part."

"You know," Wendy said thoughtfully. "I'm wondering if the same thing doesn't sort of apply to what we've done this weekend. Right now, you're still kind of on a high about how good you look, right?"

"Well, yeah, I guess," Brenda said. "It is kind of heady experience to go and look in the mirror."

Wendy nodded. "What happens when you come off of that high? When you go look in the mirror and look past the hairdo and the makeup and the clothes and frankly, the sexy body, and see the same old self-image? That's something else you're going to have to work your way through, to build the new habits and the new self-image, if you want this to stick."

"I guess you're right," Brenda said. "But how do the Soliels figure in?"

"Bear in mind, I'm just guessing, but that's what psychologists do, isn't it, sis?" she laughed. "But I keep thinking about what Carole said about feeling unique. Oh, crap, I'm not putting this into words well at all, but I'm wondering if maybe wearing the Soliels might not give you a crutch to help you through that period. What do you think, Carole?"

"Hard to say," Carole said. "That's a hell of a lot of variables to throw into one experiment. On the other hand, if you're going to make the change, make it big. You're going to be developing a lot of new habits all at once, like we had to do when our lives got so unsettled. When you come out the other side, the extra stress may help reinforce them. Or, it may not. It'd be interesting to see, and there's no way to find out but try."

"I do like the way I look today, even counting these," she laughed, holding up the Soliels. "Kind of a different accessory, after all. But, how long do you think would be enough?"

"Again, hard to say," Carole said. "More than a week, for sure." She stared at the ceiling for a moment. "You know, that was always one thing I didn't feel was right about the original project, even when I was first thinking about it. It was a set time. Shit, for a while there, I was marking days off the calendar, counting them down. That really made it feel artificial. Brenda, what would you think if you didn't know how long it was going to be?"

"I can see how it could be a consideration," Brenda said, a little unsure. "I mean, there's going to be a point where enough is enough. At least, I hope there is. That scares me a little."

"Look," Wendy said. "How about if sis and I talk it over between ourselves, and set a definite upper limit. Then, the three of us can talk about the whole thing as we go along, your feelings, your experiences, and thoughts? I think Carole and I would be able to tell when you're past the peak of getting new understanding, and just toughing it out."

"That might work," Carole said. "Like I said, there's going to be a point of despair, when things are real negative, and you have to work your way past it. That's when the enlightenment and the changes really start to happen. Then, you'll go through a heady period again, as your body adapts and your mind adapts, and things start to make sense, things you hadn't thought of before, things you never knew about yourself before. Then, you hit a plateau, and those things come more slowly. Somewhere around there, that's the point to quit, or else you hang on, looking for the next little bit of enlightenment."

"Like someone we know?" Brenda grinned.

"Well, yeah," Carole grinned. "Look, I'm not adverse to the idea. Like I told you, my original research project sort of got screwed up by the accident, but the first couple months were interesting. One of the things that always bugged me about it, though, was that it was just my reactions. I'd be interested in seeing the reactions of someone else, just out of my own curiosity. Look, if we decide to go ahead with this, and it's a decision for all three of us, I think, I'd like you to keep a journal. Make it a real good one, go into all the details you can. Don't leave anything out, what it feels like to you, your reactions, the reactions of the people around you, what's good, what's bad, what kind of bitches we are for leaving you locked in the Soliels. In our own ways, Wendy and I have been there and done that."

"Sure, I could do that," Brenda said. "I've kept a journal off and on, and when I do, it's pretty detailed." She didn't say that the journal had started the first night after she met Carole, but this could be an interesting addition.

"We haven't talked you out of this yet?" Wendy asked.

"No, in fact, you're just making me more curious," Brenda told her.

Carole let out a big sigh. "Look, I do have one major concern," she said. "It's big enough to queer the whole deal."

"What's that?"

"It's your job, you dodo," Carole said. "What's Mike going to say about this? I know you've been busting your ass to build a reputation, to try and do the best you could, and I don't want you to consider doing something that's going to louse that up. It's different with me. I mean, some of the people I work with are pretty weird anyway, and everybody knew I was wearing the Soliels permanently when they hired me. It's not the same with you."

"Yeah, that's a point," Brenda said. "On the other hand, if I was doing it for a story, it would be a little different."

"In any case, I don't want you to even think about doing it without Mike's permission ahead of time. Kirsten's, too, if he thinks it's needed. Whatever he thinks, that goes. Is that all right with you?"

"I agree, it has to be that way," Brenda said.

"You could talk to him tomorrow," Carole suggested. "That'd give you a night to sleep on it."

"I could call him this afternoon," Brenda suggested. "Didn't you say that you were a little sorry that you've worn the Soliels several times before the project started? This is still my first time, after all."

Carole shook her head. "God, and people think I'm weird," she said.

"I'll go call," Brenda offered.

"Maybe we should all talk to him," Wendy offered. "I can set the J-guy up to do speakerphone."

"Sure, works for me," Brenda said.

Wendy started calling commands:

"Jeeves, area speaker, on."

"Completed, ma'am."

"Jeeves, pillow speaker, off."

"Completed, ma'am."

"Jeeves, mike high."

"Completed, ma'am."

"You probably want to come over pretty close to the mike, Brenda," Wendy said. "What's the number?"

"5373."

"Jeeves, dial eight four nine five three seven three."

A dial tone briefly sounded from a speaker nearby, followed by the quick sounds of a phone dialing. In a few seconds, they could hear Mike pick up the phone. He sounded a little sleepy, and in the background they could hear an announcer for a hockey game. Interrupted his afternoon nap, she grinned.

"Mike, this is Brenda," she started. "I'm here with Carole and Wendy. We started out talking about doing a feature on Carole, what life is like for her, what with the handcuffs and all. I think it could be a pretty good one, but she's pretty well got me convinced that I should wear her spare pair for a while so I can really understand what it's all about."

"Yeah, I've often thought that might make an interesting feature," Mike said. "That would put a different twist on it, that's for sure. You're talking a day or two, right?"

Brenda took a deep breath. "She says that's not long enough to really understand things. We're talking more like a couple weeks, minimum. Probably longer. And, there's a chance it still might not turn into a story, but I'm willing to take that risk. There's another couple angles to it to, but that's the key one. But, Carole insists that I have your permission first."

"Is Carole there?"

"I'm here, Mike," she said. "We're on speakerphone, and Wendy's on, too."

They could hear Mike let out a sigh. "Carole, does she know what she's getting into?" he asked.

"She knows as well as anyone can without trying it," Carole told him. "But no, she doesn't know. That's what she wants to find out."

"I don't know," Mike said. "Look, you're not just planning on dumping her into this cold, are you? I mean, you're planning on giving her a 'Living in Handcuffs 101' course, aren't you?"

"She's pretty well had the 101 course, just from hanging around with me the last few months," Carole laughed. "But I'll get her started on the 102 level, and I'm planning on helping her where I can to get her through this. But, look, Mike, I'm concerned because I don't want to do anything that might screw up her job. If it becomes a problem, all you have to do is tell me, or Mom or Dad or Wendy, if I'm down in Camden, and off they come."

"I don't know," Mike said, sounding dubious. "Better let me bounce this one off of Kirsten. I'll be back in a minute."

They could hear him set the phone down. Things were silent for a minute or more well, not exactly silent; they could hear the excitement of the hockey game in the background: " . . . Federov breaks right, he sets, he shoots, GOOAAALLLL! . . ." Brenda really would have liked to talk directly to Kirsten about it. She'd entered into the idea a little dubiously, but now she was interested in it, and hoped that Mike would let her go through with it, so things were a little tense.

Finally, Mike came back on the line. "Brenda, Kirsten thinks you're probably as crazy as Carole, but she thinks it could make a good story, too. I'll let you go with it for now, but if it does prove to be a problem, I may have to reconsider. Is that fair?"

"Mike, I'll do my best to see that it doesn't become a problem," Brenda said, a little surprised at his tentative approval. "I can't ask for more than that."

"Well, see you tomorrow," Mike said. "Carole, Wendy, you two have a good day."

"Bye, Mike," Wendy said, and told Jeeves to hang up the phone.

Carole let out a sigh. "Well, I guess that's that. Decision time, Brenda. I can take the Soliels off you now, or you wear them for an indefinite but extended time. They can come off if a real emergency comes up, something like hospitalization, or if Mike or Kirsten says they have to come off. Otherwise, you wear them till Wendy and I say they come off. You're going to just have to put up with the discomfort, the limitations, the stupid questions, the discrimination, the people looking at you like you're probably nuts, the attention you get, even if you don't want it. But, it's not all bad. You get some fun out of it, too, the fun of putting people on, the fun of feeling special I guess I can't say unique, anymore the fun of doing something that few people would even consider doing."

She stopped for a second, as if to collect her thoughts. "I promise you that you'll learn things about yourself and a lot of other stuff that you never knew existed, and your life will change, maybe permanently, although I can't say if it'll be for the better or the worse. Are you up for it?"

Brenda grinned and replied immediately, "Absolutely, Soliel sister."

"OK, fine, if that's your decision," Carole said seriously. "But, there's one more thing. I know you don't believe me, but I've told you before that it can get a little addictive. It is for me, and I can't say if it will be for you or not. But, when Wendy and I say the Soliels come off, they come off, even if I have to have Gil and Randy and Rod sit on you to do it. Is that understood?"

"That's fair," Brenda said, more than a little amazed at herself. The fears, the doubts they were gone, replaced by an eagerness to look over the far side of the hill, to see what this experience would bring, good or bad. She'd known from the start that this was going to be a memorable day; now, it was going to be even more memorable than she could have dreamed.

"I guess that's that," Carole grinned. "Now, are you ready for the first session of 'Living in Handcuffs 102'?"



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