As the days went on, there were fewer and fewer meaningful entries in the journal; except for one night, when Brenda poured out her frustration, not with the experience, but with the lack of it. She'd been expecting more joys and despairs and insights and awareness, plenty of mood swings as she slowly became used to wearing the handcuffs – but in general, things went smoothly, especially after the first month passed, and if any insights developed, they were relatively minor. In a surprisingly short time, her body had become used to the new arrangement. When she stuck out a hand to pick up something, the other hand automatically followed along, to the point where she soon didn't even notice it. The Soliels had become a fact of life for her – and a fact of life for those around her. While it was clear that some of her co-workers weren't exactly thrilled about Brenda's wearing the handcuffs, they'd come to expect it of her, and they saw her, not the handcuffs.
During this period, she saw Carole and Wendy regularly, sometimes together, sometimes separately, even more often than she'd been seeing them before the Soliels went on. They might skip a day or two, due to Carole's work, or Wendy's erratic sleeping schedule, but never a day went past when there wasn't some contact with one or the other. But now, they rarely talked about Brenda's experiences with the Soliels, other than a superficial, "How's it going?" answered with, "Oh, no problem."
But, once in a while, they did talk about it. "It's a little frustrating," she complained to Carole and Wendy one evening. "I guess I'd really expected to learn more than I am. I pretty much get along fine with the Soliels, and I rarely even get any comment about them anymore, at least from the people who know me at all."
"You were expecting some deep, mystical experience, sort of like taking some kind of dope, and saying, 'Oh, wow, it all makes sense now', right?" Carole grinned.
"Well, no, but . . . it's really pretty weird," Brenda told them. "I have difficulty finding words to explain it. There was a period there, the first couple weeks or so, when it could be pretty wild. I mean, I was pretty down about the whole thing there for a few days, and then I was really up about it. I was up and down quite a bit about it after that, but after that weekend when my parents were here, things have just basically gone pretty smoothly. I don't get it."
"Well, you are adapting remarkably well," Carole said. "Of course, you're piggybacking on my experience, so that's helped. Even with the help that Laurel gave me, I had to learn the hard way a lot of what I've taught you."
"I know," Brenda said. "Even more so, I'm piggybacking on the fact that you've gotten people used to seeing a woman running around wearing handcuffs full time. Hell, it even gives me an explanation to use to them of why I'm doing it in the first place. I just wonder if that's what's keeping me from finding out what it is I'm supposed to be finding out."
"Oh, it certainly makes life easier for you," Carole told her. "But I don't think it's standing in your way."
"I don't understand," Brenda said, shaking her head.
"I don't want to sound like some dorky Zen Buddhist who wraps it all up with some enigmatic explanation of life, the universe, and everything," Carole grinned. "But I think you're on the verge of a great understanding. The pieces are all there. If I told you what I think, you wouldn't believe me. And, I could be wrong, too; you're not having the same experience I had back when I first wore them full time, our motivations are different, what we were looking to learn is different."
"I'll help a little," Wendy grinned. "I think I see what Sis is driving at. It's not some little thing, but it's pretty simple."
"You could be right," Carole smiled at her sister. "If we're thinking the same thing. But, let's not help Brenda out too much."
"You two aren't getting me anywhere," Brenda said.
"Oh, I think we are," Wendy laughed. "Like Sis says, the pieces are probably pretty much there, now. You just haven't put them together."
"If I'm right at all," Carole smiled. "We'll just have to find out, won't we?"
"Like I said, you two aren't any help with this."
"Trust us," Wendy said. "We don't want to be. When it hits you, you'll understand a lot better than if we tell you. Now, let's change the subject. I don't want to slip up and say something that'll stand in the way of that great Zen enlightenment Carole was talking about."
"And, I do have something else to talk about," Carole said. "How's the first weekend in March sound for our Florida trip?"
"Can't think of anything," Brenda told her. "That would be the opener of basketball playoffs if they were going to have basketball playoffs, but they aren't, and Anissa would be the one to cover them, anyway. Unless someone wants to have a lynching party that weekend to celebrate, there shouldn't be anything going on."
"Anything new happening on that? Wendy asked. "I mean, other than what's in the paper."
"Nothing, really," Brenda said. "Like I said in my story this week, it's a total of three lawsuits, now. Off the record, one might get dropped if the appeals court judge approves the cheerleader non-plan, but the other two seem here to stay. As far as this year is concerned, the basketball season is shot in the butt. The basketball coach told Anissa that even if the injunction were to get dropped right now, there's no way that the team could get tuned up to be ready in time for the playoffs, anyway."
"Sounds like a real mess," Wendy commented.
"If there were three or four fewer hard heads and two or three screaming nut balls less, it wouldn't be a big deal," Brenda snorted sarcastically. "As it is, I expect the third or fourth junior reporter after me to still be chasing after the story."
"Any chance of moving to the next job soon?" Carole asked.
"I'm in no rush to leave," Brenda said. "Unless something happens, I'd more or less figured on getting through a year before I even start spreading resumes around. But, I may not then. I am really coming to like this place, and I might even pull a Mike."
"You mean, stay on anyway?" Wendy smiled.
"It's tempting," Brenda said. "Look, I'll be honest. It's a lousy job, the pay isn't very good, but I'm learning a lot, about the job, and about me, and I have to say I like the changes that I've made in myself. But, most of all, there are a couple friends here that I will really hate to leave if I have to move on."
Carole shook her head. "Brenda, I think I can say that we've both enjoyed having you around, and you've become a good and understanding friend to both of us. But, if you can get a good job someplace, something that's a real step up, you shouldn't let us stand in your way."
"I realize that," Brenda said. "It's going to be hard, though. I mean, if things were just a little different, there wouldn't be any question. I mean, like, if there were a guy involved, it'd be real tempting to stay. I really haven't been looking for a boyfriend since I don't want to get in that trap just now. But, I could be here another six months or a year or two, and things could change. So, I'm not making any serious plans." She grinned at the other two, and added as she held up the Soliels, "Especially while I'm wearing these."
Living above the Record-Herald meant that Brenda was right downtown. So were a lot of the places that she had to go on a regular basis, such as the county building, the sheriff's office and jail, the city building and the police station, along with places like Spearfish Lake Appliance and the Women's Fitness Center. Early on, she'd discovered it could be tough to find a place to park around any of them, even in the evening, and they were metered, besides. Unless she really needed to go some place farther than easy walking distance, like the Spearfish Lake Super Market, she usually walked – sometimes, although not always, as far as the Carter house. It was just simply less trouble than driving, and even a short, brisk walk often felt good, these days.
The days were getting longer as February drew toward a close, just a week before she and Carole planned to leave for their long weekend in Florida. A month before, it had been hard dark when she'd come back from her after-work sessions at the Fitness Center, but now, as she headed back to the apartment alone after a good workout, it was only getting dark; the sun hung low in the western sky. Downtown was quiet now; the stores were pretty much closed, and night was starting to fall.
As she turned off Central onto Main, she heard sounds coming from around the corner, but didn't think anything of it – then turned the corner, to discover a fight in progress. Well, not a fight; three big guys were beating up some kid; he was in bad shape, not even able to put up a defense anymore, just getting battered.
Even though she'd been training with the Masters of Mayhem for months, Brenda knew better than to get involved with those kinds of odds – she wasn't that good. The only decision she had to make was whether to run for the police station, two blocks away, or for the Record-Herald, a block away – but on the other side of the fight – not much of a decision.
But, as she turned, she saw a small figure race across the street, running as hard as he could go. Eyes wide, she saw in the dim light that it was Jason Bailey – and he was running toward the fight. In an instant, she saw Jason slide to something of a stop, and aim a huge karate kick right in the ass of the biggest guy beating on the kid. What the fuck do you think you're doing, Jason? she thought as she saw him spin around and start running away.
That took the attention of the three off the kid they were beating up. The big guy picked himself up, and the three took off after Jason's scampering figure.
Every bit of good sense Brenda had said to let him go and run for the cops, but then she realized that Jason knew exactly what he was doing – he was drawing the three off of the kid getting beat up, putting himself at risk to keep the kid from maybe getting killed.
Brenda didn't even think about it, now; she took off at a dead run herself – but following the three big guys. Maybe, somehow, she could even the odds and keep Jason from getting killed.
She didn't have to chase them far; Jason darted back across the empty street to a storefront, where there was a recessed entrance. He got his back up to the door in the narrow corner, the three big guys right on his heels.
Only a few yards behind them, Brenda realized now what Jason had in mind – she remembered Gil saying "Backed into a corner ain't a nice place to be, but at least it covers your ass and your flanks." He could hold them off there. Maybe. For a few seconds, anyway, until one of the big guys got hold of him, breaking his defensive stance.
It wasn't until later that Brenda could think about it enough to put it all together. What she did was pure reacting to training, the training that she'd had above Spearfish Lake Appliance up the street. Jason's mad flight and bold, senseless stance had taken the attention of the three guys off the kid being beaten up – and off her.
She didn't think now, either, just reacted to training. As she came within reach, her hands were already locked together, moving in a swing that started down near her knees with every ounce of muscle that she'd built up in six months of training and workouts . . . the Soliels met flesh and bone, blood spurted, and one of the guys dropped like a rock, giving off a slight "Ugggh."
The sound attracted the attention of the next guy, who turned to see what it was all about, but Brenda was already swinging back the other way, hands together, her steel wrists glinting in the dying sun. He only got a glimpse of the flash of light as Belgian stainless steel met his mouth. Brenda could feel bones break with the impact, hear the crunch, see blood spurt and teeth fly, see him fall backward to the concrete with the blow.
Two down, one to go; Brenda started to swing back, aiming at the third one . . . and stopped. The three guys hadn't seen her coming until the Soliels entered the fight, but Jason had – and now he wasn't on the defensive, but on the offensive.
The odds were now one to one, and that was just fine with him.
The big guy might have had a foot of height on him, and a hundred pounds, but that just made him a bigger target for the kind of moves that Jason had practiced with the Masters of Mayhem, Gil moves, dirty moves. In only the time it had taken Brenda to drop two of the assailants, he'd started administering a savage beating to the third guy. He may not have been as big, or as strong, but Gil had taught him well. In three or four quick blows, he had the big guy beaten so badly that now he wasn't trying to put up any defense, and still Jason kept at it – it was payback time for all the teasing he'd taken, the suffering, the bullying, the beatings.
Only now, Brenda realized that these must be the three guys he'd been in that fight at the school with. Oh, God, she knew how good that must make him feel, to pay back all that shit . . . she'd taken enough of it herself, and now she realized just how good it felt to pay a little of it back herself.
The third guy was down now, helped by a savage kick to the groin, and Jason wasn't done . . . "Better not kill him, Jason," she said quietly.
"Guess not," Jason replied quietly, standing back to survey the damage that had taken place in what had to be less than ten seconds, although it seemed like at least two weeks to Brenda. "Thanks."
Now she realized that her heart was pounding so hard that the street must be shaking, harder than it ever had on the worst day of her exercise self-torture last fall . . . sirens were sounding now, someone must have seen the fight and called the cops . . . "What the hell . . . was that . . . all about?" she panted, her adrenaline running so high she could barely breathe, in spite of the training and workouts and everything.
"What you said," Jason said quietly, scarcely able to believe the carnage that lay at their feet. "Back last fall."
She remembered, now. In the aftermath of the article about the fight at the school board, she'd extracted a promise from him: Sometime, you're going to run across a kid who's getting the short end of the stick big time. Help that kid. "By God, you did," she said proudly.
"Guess I owe you again," he said, a little more calmly.
"You don't owe me anything," she said, awed by the little guy. "That was absolutely the gutsiest thing I've ever seen in my life."
"I knew you were working on something special with Rod and Randy. I didn't know what it was, but I didn't think you were going to run away."
"Yeah," she grinned. "Guess I'm not the type."
"Big fucking men, these guys," he grinned, again surveying the broken and battered and convulsing bodies on the concrete, as the police car came into sight. "Can't even beat up a little shrimp of a fifteen year old and a woman in handcuffs."