Despite the extra challenges that wearing the Soliels presented to Brenda – and they were many, although she was learning to handle them as the second week of wearing them drew to a close – there was still a normal life to be lived, and normal things to be done.
Saturday mornings were normally reserved for a serious workout with Carole at the Women's Fitness Center, but this Saturday, Carole had a special morning appointment with a client down in Camden, so they'd decided to put it off until afternoon. That cleared away Saturday morning for some serious chores around the apartment that Brenda had put off.
By now, Brenda had taken all her old clothes to the dumpster or Goodwill, except for one outfit, which was actually one of the more grubby ones. It was reserved for heavy cleaning, and the apartment was getting to the point where it needed it. Things had been a little hectic the last few weeks, and this was the perfect chance. The washer was rumbling away, and Brenda was dusting when there came a knocking on the door.
That can't be Carole, she thought. She wasn't supposed to be here until afternoon. God, I hate to have to answer to door looking like this . . . but I guess I don't get a choice. Dust rag in hand, she opened the door, to find her mother and father looking at her. Her first thought was obvious: Oh, God, what are they doing here? They know I hate having them drop in without warning . . . and what in hell am I going to say about the Soliels?
"Oh, Thank God, you're all right!" Brenda's mother gushed. "We haven't been able to get you on the phone, or anything . . . Brenda, what happened?"
"I've had meetings every night," Brenda said. "We've got kind of a hassle going on with the schools right now. And, last night, I was out with friends."
"I don't mean that. What are you doing wearing handcuffs? Susie Parker said Bob told her he saw you down in the Camden courthouse in handcuffs. I thought you were in jail!"
Oh, shit, the rumor mill works in Camden, too, Brenda thought. What the hell am I going to tell her? I can't put her on, and I don't want to get Carole involved in this . . . "Oh, I'm still wearing them," Brenda smiled, holding up the Soliels so her mother could get a good look.
"Brenda, what is this all about? What in sin are you doing wearing handcuffs?
Well, there was one thing . . . "I'm involved in a research project a friend of mine is doing for her doctorate. It's about adaptation to stress. It's been kind of fun."
"That's a little sick, isn't it?"
"Pretty straightforward, actually," Brenda said, keeping up a brave front. "Some of the things they do in research projects like this one are pretty strange by comparison, I'm told. This one has been kind of fun."
"But what were you doing at the courthouse in handcuffs?"
"Covering an appeal hearing," Brenda said. "Like I said, we're having a hassle with the schools right now."
"Well, take them off," her mother said. "It makes me sick just to look at them."
"I can't take them off," Brenda said. "I don't have the keys."
"You mean you wear them all the time?"
"Two weeks tomorrow," Brenda smiled.
"Brenda, are you all right? You can't be all right, not to do something like that. You look like you've been sick."
"I've never felt better in my life," she said.
"But you're so thin, so sallow! It looks like you haven't eaten in months."
"I've lost some weight, but I'm trying to lose weight," Brenda said, a little defensively. "I work out most nights. Look, come on in sit down. The place is a mess, but there's no point in standing there with the door open."
"Very well," her mother said, unctuously, giving her a strange look as she walked past.
Up till now, Brenda's father hadn't said anything – well, he hadn't been able to get a word in edgewise. "Brenda, I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I tried."
"I know, Dad," Brenda said, just as quietly. He'd said long before that he'd try to keep such surprise visits from happening. So far, it had worked. Now, one had come, and not at a good time. In fact, about the worse possible time. Well, there was nothing to be done about it now.
"My word, Brenda, it's barren in here," Brenda's mother sniffed. "Are you sure you really live here?"
"It's called neat, mother," Brenda said, a little sarcastically. Her mother wasn't much of a housekeeper, and it had irritated her growing up. Now that she had her own place, she tried to keep it in order. "It involves putting things away when I'm done with them."
"Do you think you might have something to drink around here?" her mother asked, the catty comment going right over her head.
"Well, yeah, there is," Brenda said. "But I can't get to it right now. I've got wax drying on the floor in the kitchen. If you show up unannounced from the middle of nowhere, that's one of the risks you run."
"Brenda, this thing with the handcuffs is positively insane!" her mother said, returning to form. "You have to be absolutely out of your mind to consider such a thing. What did your boss say when he found out?"
"Oh, I asked him about it ahead of time," she smiled. "He didn't have any problems with it. He thinks it's kind of interesting."
"Well, he must be out of his mind, too. How can you live like that, with your hands chained together?"
"Quite well, in fact," Brenda said. "There are a few things a little more difficult, but it doesn't keep me from doing useful things, like my job, or keeping my apartment clean. But, that's beside the point. I agreed to do it, and there hasn't been any reason to quit. How was Florida?"
"Adequate, although your great-aunt Eloise isn't well, but how can you think that there isn't any reason to quit? I mean, it's an absolutely insane thing to do. If I had my way, I'd have them cut off you right now!"
"You know, that would really piss me off if you did that," Brenda said, getting into fight mode. She was trying to be nice, but sooner or later her mother was going to say something that just blew her up. A thought crossed her mind: I'd better not use the steel wrists on her . . . but it's damn tempting . . . "I don't think you understand. I knew what I was doing when I got into this. I considered it carefully, and decided it would be interesting. And, I gave my word to a friend. It doesn't seem to bother anyone but you."
"But Brenda, what could you have even been thinking of to do such an insane . . ."
"Mother, you are not running my life anymore," Brenda said harshly. "If you think . . ."
"Hey!" Brenda's father broke in. "Let's not get into a fight. I knew damn well it wasn't a good idea to come up here without warning, but then when we heard about this and she couldn't get hold of you, your mother got worried."
"You could have called the office," Brenda said. "Instead of just coming up here and barging in on my life. I mean, I've been in the office every day, but no, you just wanted to poke your noses in no matter what I thought, to come up here and harass me."
"I'm sorry," her father said. "We shouldn't have come, at least not without making one more call. But the story that your mother got from Susie did sound rather shocking. I couldn't quite believe it. According to Susie, Bob said you looked so different he hardly recognized you."
"It's a courthouse and I'm a professional," Brenda said. "I'm not going down there dressed like a slob."
"But you wore handcuffs; that sounds very inappropriate to me," he mother sniffed. Anyone who saw you would have thought you were a loose prisoner."
"Actually, I was a little concerned about that," Brenda smiled. "But, it was all pre-arranged with security. Judge Dieball set it up for me, and it all went pretty smoothly."
"Judge Dieball? A judge up here? Don't tell me a judge is involved with this, too?"
"I know him, I talk with him a couple times a week," Brenda said. "He thought it was sort of amusing."
"That's absolutely grotesque," her mother said. "Brenda, if you had any sense at all, you wouldn't be here. You'd be down in Camden, staying at home, working at a decent job, where you're not running around in handcuffs."
She's just not going to drop it, Brenda thought. She's got a handle on me, and she thinks she's going to use it until she gets her way. "Mother, it's very simple. I will not, under any circumstance, live under your roof again. I have a job and a life and friends up here I enjoy very much, and I don't need to go back and have you bitching at me all the time. Don't discuss it, that's final."
"You have no right to talk to me like that," her mother said furiously.
"If you don't like it, there's the door," Brenda said, just as furious, if not more so, her temper barely under control. If she got out of this without using the steel wrists, it would be a miracle . . .
"Both of you! Settle down!" her father said. "I'm tired of all this nonsense between you. Brenda, I'm sure you felt you had good reasons to wear those handcuffs, and it seems to be working out for you. I'll admit, I don't think much of it, but you are an adult and it is your decision. Like I said, we shouldn't have come, but we were worried. But, since we are here, it would be nice to be able to have a friendly family discussion, instead of you and your mother fighting at the drop of a hat."
"Well, I had hoped to," her mother said. "But I hoped that everything was all right, and it's obviously not."
"Everything was fine, mother," Brenda said. "Until you showed up. It will be fine after you leave, so why don't you just go?"
"Settle down, I said! You're still heading for a fight, both of you," her father said. "I don't want to hear anything more about the handcuffs from either of you. Frankly, I have some questions, but if we can't keep it civil, let's not discuss it."
"But I don't think it's right . . ." Brenda's mother sniffed.
"Obviously not," Brenda's father said. "But you've made that point clear. Brenda, will you stay off the subject if your mother will?"
"I suppose," she said sullenly.
"Now, what I proposed if we came up here and found everything was all right, and the story we got from the Parkers was screwed up somehow, that we could go out, have a nice friendly lunch, and go home. I would still like to go to lunch, if we can do it peacefully, and then we'll go. Brenda, what would you think of that?"
"I don't want a scene," Brenda said. "I'm not sure we can manage that."
"Frankly, I don't want to leave with you and your mother all angry at each other," he said.
"Well, I'd really not either," Brenda said. Good grief, if her mother left in the mood she was in now, there was no end to what she could do. All she was seeing was the handcuffs, she wasn't seeing the other changes . . . and she wouldn't, the way she was dressed, in her sloppy old cleaning clothes. She looked like the old Brenda used to, not the one she was trying to become . . . "I'm willing to go to lunch," she said. "I promise not to make a scene if mother won't."
"You know how I feel about it," her mother said. "I think I've made my point. Yes, I'll promise not to make a scene. Let's go."
"Not yet," Brenda said. "I wouldn't go any farther than the dumpster dressed like this. I look terrible!"
"You look fine, except for . . ."
"Don't start it again," her father warned.
"It'll only take me a few minutes to change and spiff up," Brenda said, thinking hard – very conservative, the fawn-colored business suit, or something really eye-candy? Either one would say what she wanted . . . but the blouse for the fawn outfit was in the washing machine, out of reach on the waxed floor. "I'll be quick," she grinned.
"But Brenda," her mother started, "How in the world do you . . ."
"I'll be right back," Brenda grinned, heading for the bedroom.
Fortunately, she'd had two weeks of practice with changing clothes, and the clothes she wanted were clean, fresh from the dryer. The change went fast; she ran a brush through her hair, making it spring to life.
Still, a few minutes went by. Brenda knew they'd be getting nervous, but she took the time to put on some eyeliner, and a light touch of lipstick, along with some earrings and a nice necklace. Right now, she wanted to look as good as she could ever manage, but there wasn't time to do all the details she would like. She took a final look in the bedroom mirror; it would have to do. She grabbed her purse and headed for the living room, where her parents were sitting at the sofa, talking quietly – hopefully, her father was trying to calm her mother down. "OK, I'm ready," she said. "Let's go."
Her father caught a look at her, wearing the navy sweater and tights, with the plaid skirt, her hair brushed out, looking, well, not as good as she'd felt the first morning she'd walked into the Record-Herald in the white and red leather outfit, but almost as good. His jaw dropped open wide at the apparition that had appeared from the bedroom.
"Brenda, my word . . ." her mother said, eyes wide open with awe. It was worth a lot of fighting to see that look on her face.
"My God, look at you," her father said, finally managing to say something.
"You look very . . . uh, dressy," her mother managed.
"Oh this?" Brenda said nonchalantly. "This is nothing special, just regular work clothes."
"But . . . but . . . how in the world . . ."
"I told you I'd been losing weight," Brenda said, flashing her hair around. "I did."
"You look . . . no wonder the Parker kid had trouble recognizing you."
"I did have a business suit on then," Brenda grinned. "I suppose I looked a little more formal."
"Brenda," her mother asked. "I promised your father I wouldn't say anything more about the handcuffs, but I have to ask, how did you manage that?"
Brenda's mother shook her head. "How could you change your top? Some sort of magic?"
"Oh, no problem," Brenda said. "Think about it."
"I can't imagine . . ." she said, face full of confusion.
By God, the ball was in her court, now. It was time to have some fun with it. "It's one of the things you learn," Brenda said, an evil glint in her eye. "Mother, if you were to wear handcuffs for a month or two, you'd figure it out."
The expression on her mother's face was wonderful to behold.
Brenda was perfectly willing to just let her mother wonder about it, but her father caught her out. "It's sort of cold out there," he said. "You might want to think about wearing a jacket."
"Yeah, I suppose," Brenda frowned. She could duck back in the bedroom to put it on, and just let her mother wonder, but her father was obviously curious about the question, too. "Probably a good idea," she agreed, going to the front closet and grabbing a medium-weight zip up jacket that she'd gotten the weekend before. Without any particular effort, she went through the routine that had gotten well practiced in two weeks: pulling one sleeve under the cuff clear up to the collar, pulling it over her hand, then pulling the sleeve back through, followed by the other arm, then flipping the whole works over her head. She swished her hair around, to let it fall loose again. It only took seconds. "See, I told you, it isn't any big deal, is it?" she grinned.
"I never would have thought of it," her father said, shaking his head.
"Like I said, no big deal," Brenda smiled. "Like a lot of things. Now, the restaurant situation is a little goofy at this time on Saturday. I often have lunch on Saturday at Rick's Cafe, but I just washed these clothes and really don't want to have to wash them again before I wear them to work. Rick's is OK, but it's a workingman's place, and the seats get a little dirty, sometimes, so why don't we drive separately, and you can follow me out to the Spearfish Lake Inn? That way, I can swing by the Super Market on the way back and save a trip. I really need to get my housecleaning and some chores done before my exercise partner shows up for our Saturday workout."
The Spearfish Lake Inn was regarded by all as the best restaurant in town, although nothing even close to the nice place that Carole had taken Brenda the weekend before. Brenda wasn't a regular there, but she'd been in there once or twice, though not since she'd been wearing the Soliels. But, she was confident, that like any place in Spearfish Lake, they wouldn't draw much comment – after all, Carole had prepared the ground well for her over a period of five years.
Lunch was awkward – not the eating; Brenda had two weeks practice by now, and she just chose the salad bar, allowing herself to be picky about what food would give her a minimum amount of difficulty. What was awkward was her mother – she clearly wasn't happy about being seen in a fairly nice restaurant with anyone, much less her own daughter, in handcuffs. She did keep her tongue about that, but picked at Brenda about her eating some more: "Brenda, you're eating like a bird! Are you sure you could survive on so little?"
But Brenda was on the offensive, now, and knew how to handle it. "Actually, mother, it would be better for you if you were to cut down on your eating, eat more vegetables and less starch. You really ought to lose some weight. It's not good for your heart to carry that kind of weight around. And, how's your cholesterol?"
In spite of the change in impressions brought about by the new clothes, Brenda could feel things slipping downhill again. Get through this lunch, and they'll be gone, she thought. God, what a way to ruin the whole weekend!
"Oh, hi, Brenda," she heard someone say. Brenda looked up, to see a familiar woman – tall, in her early thirties, with long, blonde hair hanging down to her waist. She was accompanied by a big, handsome guy, about the same age.
"Oh, hi, Jennifer," Brenda said. "How's it going?"
"I was planning on calling you when we got home," she continued. "I'm glad I caught you. We're going to have a little get-together at the house tonight, and Blake suggested you'd like to drop by."
"Sure, I'd love to," Brenda smiled. She'd heard about the get-togethers at Jennifer's house, but to get invited . . . that was something.
"It won't be any big deal," Jennifer laughed. "We're going to just do a little jamming, have a good time. Randy and Nicole are coming, Lex and Shovelhead, a few others. Randy's bringing his guitar, and Shovelhead is bringing his violin, so it should be pretty good."
"I'll be there," Brenda smiled. "What time?"
"Oh, seven or so," Jennifer beamed. "It's pretty casual. We usually manage to have a good time."
"I'll be there," Brenda smiled. God, what a way to perk up what was turning into a real downer of a weekend! A jam session with Jennifer, Blake, and Shovelhead!
"See you later," Jennifer grinned. She and Blake walked toward the door.
"That'll be neat," Brenda told her parents as soon as Jennifer and Blake got out of earshot. "They throw a good party."
"Good-looking woman," Brenda's father said, still struck at the sight. "Looks familiar."
"Yes, she does," Brenda's mother said. "Oh, well, at least it shows that you have a social life, in spite of everything."
"Oh, I do," Brenda said cattily. "But that's a little special. I work with her mother, and Blake, her boyfriend, is one of my instructors, so I know them, a little."
"Instructor?" her mother frowned. "In what?"
"Aikido," Brenda grinned casually, then realized her mother probably didn't recognize the word. "He's got more black belts than you would believe. We were doing karate until I got involved in the research project, but we switched over to Aikido for the duration. It has more foot moves."
I just love Mom's eyes when they pop out like that, Brenda thought. I'm glad she wasn't swallowing. She might have choked . . .
"You've just been full of little surprises today, aren't you?" her father said.
"Oh, it's no big deal," Brenda said. "It gets a little dull doing exercise machines at the Fitness Center, so it's just something different to do. But, I like it. Gil says I could probably get a black belt or two of my own, if I stay with it. And I might. It is sort of fun, and might come in handy sometime. You never know."
"Who's this Gil?" her father asked.
"Oh, he's Jennifer's dad," Brenda smiled. "He taught unarmed combat to Green Berets for years. He's really fun to work with. Boy, he knows the dirty stuff."
Brenda stole a glance at her mother – eyes popped even wider, jaw wide open. An internal smirk crossed Brenda's mind. Boy, you're not ever going to think about getting physical with me again, are you, Mom? Or even risk me getting physical . . . thank you, Jennifer, thank you . . .
"Yeah, I can see how that would be more fun than exercise machines," her dad smiled, probably reading Brenda's thoughts perfectly.
"Oh, I'm still learning," Brenda said. "But then, it's one of those things where there's always something new to learn. Hey, look, I really do have to get moving. I've got to stop at the Super Market, change clothes, pick up Carole, and get over to the Fitness Center. I've been doing some weight work lately. It really seems to help with the martial arts." Just to drive it home, she thought.
"Well, I suppose," her dad said. "Sounds like you had a busy day planned. We really shouldn't have shown up without calling."
"Yeah, I stay pretty busy," Brenda said casually. "But, it adds to the fun. There's lots of neat people up here. I don't usually lack for things to do."
"You have a good time at your party tonight," he said. "Sounds like fun. Boy, that Jennifer seems familiar though. Blake, too. I know I've seen them somewhere."
"Oh, they get around a bit," Brenda smiled.
"She does seem familiar," Brenda's mother said, regaining her voice, although much more quietly and respectfully than before. "She puts me in mind of Jenny Easton. You know, the country music singer."
"Yeah, that's it," Brenda's father said. "She's a dead ringer for Jenny Easton. We were listening to that new album of hers on the way up. Good songs, loved that Dawnwalker cut, with the Celtic harp."
I really shouldn't say this, Brenda thought. I know how Jennifer likes to guard her anonymity. But this is special. As casually as she could manage, she said, "Well, Jennifer does use that name on stage."
"You mean . . . that was Jenny Easton?" Brenda's mother exclaimed. "You're going to a party at her house?"
"No," Brenda smirked. "That was Jennifer Evachevski. There's no such person as Jenny Easton in Spearfish Lake."
"I . . . uh, see," her mother said. That was an even better expression. Now, it was pure awe. "Brenda, you do seem to have some interesting friends up here. I think if they can manage to tolerate you wearing handcuffs, I can manage it, too."
A few minutes later they were outside. "Dad, put your arms at your sides," Brenda told him.
"That's one thing about handcuffs," she said. "It's hard to hug with them on."
It really was a little awkward, but it felt good to have her father's arms around her. "Look, I'm sorry this happened this way," he whispered as he held her tight. "But I really like the changes that have come over my little girl in the last six months. I still think the handcuffs are a little weird, but it's not a forever thing, is it?"
"No," Brenda smiled. "A while yet, but not forever. It really has been pretty interesting. I think I've learned a lot, and really, it's been more fun than I imagined it would be."
"Well, if they're part of the change, that's fine," he said. "And, I think maybe this may have taught your mother that surprise visits aren't very wise. Maybe something else, too."
"Yeah," Brenda said. "It may have worked out for the best."