HTG: Quarterly Gains and Losses
By Delilah Winston
Donna struggled and squirmed spiritedly in her restrictive hogtie. Much as she dreamed of being the first woman to win the 'competition,' she'd been beginning to learn some patience. There was no predicting when one of the women would finally struggle free. Some women had focused on just shaking their gags out of their mouths, and even that hadn't happened yet. But damned if any of them were gonna give up; especially while Mary was still working at the company. She was no closer than anyone else to actually getting free, but it was her irrepressible spirit that kept the women all going.
What gave Donna the most frustration was the hogtie rope that bound her wrists to her ankles. Lately she'd been trying hardest to kick out of the hogtie so she could roll over and sit up. She hadn't had any better luck during those three weeks when they simply bound and gagged her sitting on the floor, but it was easier sitting up than laying on her stomach.
Of course, just getting out of the hogtie alone, even without loosening any of her other bondage, was proving as elusive a dream as anything else. The knots were placed well out of Donna's reach, and although she had reasonable flexibility, to be able to grab her ankles with her hands would have required being a contortionist. Merely yanking either her wrists or her ankles against the single strand of rope that was tied between her wrist and ankle bondage, made her spine tingle and twitch uncomfortably. Donna always knew when to stop those struggles that produced this rocking movement, which had led to her pet name of 'Down Time' for when she was lying down on her stomach, hogtied like this.
“mmmmMMMMMmmmmm MMMMMMMmmm!” Donna was still a screamer while she was gagged. The strip of cloth pulling the corners of her mouth back, and stretching her lips taut, wasn't painful, but she didn't like it much. Donna had always enjoyed smiling when she felt good, laughing when she was amused. Both of these very natural actions meant opening her mouth, and Donna's gag made that very difficult, if not impossible. Donna had had time to contemplate this during the many hours she'd racked up struggling and squirming helplessly, and she believed this was one reason she was always so set on trying to work her gag out of her mouth.
'Why AM I gagged, anyway?' Donna had asked herself more times than she could count. 'It's not like we're going to scream for help once we start getting reconciled to this.'
Donna usually got her answer when these questions inevitably led to her thinking about how she herself became reconciled to being bound and gagged each work afternoon, which in turn would often result in her thinking silently, 'Fuck you, Karen.' She always said it affectionately to herself, as she now loved Karen like a family member. But to say it out loud while she struggled in her bondage, if she WASN'T gagged-- forgetting that Mr. Stone would hear her-- probably wasn't a good idea, even though she strongly doubted Mr. Stone would tell anyone.
And so, Donna struggled on, by no means in silence, of course. Best to just focus on the bragging rights if she ever won the 'competition' like she dreamed of doing each work day.
But as Donna's door opened, she gave a small sigh and grumble into her gag. She'd been starting to learn patience, but she wasn't going to let herself stop feeling a little disappointed each time 4:30 arrived without her having succeeded.
Donna's nose twitched as the aides started coming into her office to untie her. 'Do I smell fudge?' she thought silently. 'It's really good.'
One of the aides placed a small covered item on her desk as the other three unraveled the knots for the hogtie rope, separating her wrists from her ankles. Her knees were gently pressed to the floor and her feet lifted perpendicular, and her ankles were untied. The aides lifted Donna to her feet and--
Donna's eyebrows lifted several inches; her mouth straining to open against the pinching of her gag pulling the corners of her mouth back. The aides wore different masks; like models of youthful faces with mouths open in cheer. And they wore... party-favor hats on their heads?
The tantalizing aroma of chocolate fudge continued to tickle Donna's nose as the aides untied her wrists, her knees, and her upper body. Suddenly she understood. Donna started to giggle into her gag; the aides having to grab her and hold her firmly, albeit gently, to finish untying her. She continued giggling even as she felt one of the aides picking at the knot in her gag, slipping the nail file into the knot to help loosen it further. The cloth was pulled from her mouth and she gave a mirthful chuckle, her face lighting up in a happy grin.
“You guys...” she couldn't help but feel 'warm and mushy' inside as one of the aides lifted the cover for a small platter on which rested a generous piece of delicious-looking chocolate fudge brownie with an unlit candle pressed into the top. One of the aides took a cigarette lighter and lit the candle wick. Three of them stood at the front and sides of Donna's desk, and the fourth drew her chair out for her as she sat down. Donna blew out the candle, and one of the aides held up an index card on which was neatly stenciled, 'Happy first anniversary here at HTG.'
Donna grinned wide, gave a golf clap. “Thanks guys, all four of you.”
They all gave a nod of their heads, putting the index card on Donna's desk before filing out of her office. Donna plucked the candle out of the brownie and took a bite, her mouth and tongue tingling with chocolaty goodness.
The door opened again, and Mr. Stone came in, favoring Donna with a respectful nod.
“I told them they could do that, for today,” Mr. Stone said. “You really earned it, Donna.”
“Thmmk yrr fmmm mffth, Mfftrr Ffftmmn,” Donna gushed instinctively, her mouth still partially filled with yummy, gooey chocolate fudge. Blushing, she closed her mouth and stifled a chuckle, chewing and swallowing the bite.
“Our pleasure, Donna, all of us,” came the warm reply. “Everyone in the department, from we managers on down.”
Donna paused, strained her ears to listen. “So, there doesn't seem to be anyone approaching my office,” she said coyly. “Are they waiting to ambush me in the hall and all yell, 'Surprise!' before carrying me bodily over to Jackson's?”
“You suggested that, not I,” Mr. Stone said, equally coyly.
Donna giggled and took another big bite of fudge brownie. Mr. Stone gave a slight grin at the sight of Donna chewing with a couple of soft, brief moans of delight.
“Well, thanks for the heads-up,” Donna teased, licking her lips.
“And thank you as well... for all you've done with us and for us the past year,” Mr. Stone said, shaking Donna's hand before leaving.
After Donna had finished and logged out of her workstation, she paused briefly at her door. She told herself that she could be a sport if her co-workers were looking to surprise her in the hallway. Opening the door for her office, she stepped out into the hall, not appearing to be paying attention to anything in particular.
At the open entrance atrium for the department, all of the department's women stood there, along with Mary and three other women from Mature Bonds. Soon as Donna came into view, they began a rousing ovation and cheer. At the head of the group was Christina, hopping excitedly from foot to foot as she held her arms out for a big sisterly hug. Donna gladly bounced into her arms and the cheer grew louder.
Then came a resonating chorus of male voices singing, 'For she's a jolly good fellow.' Donna turned around to see all the male managers and investment executives for the New Bonds department, and-- Donna couldn't believe it-- all the departmental 'aides' were there, blowing party noisemakers, and still wearing their masks. When the song was finished, all the women applauded and gave cheering whistles. Donna had to wipe away a few tears.
Donna went up to Mr. Stone and gave him a peck on the cheek. “I wish you could all come along tonight,” she said.
Mr. Stone smiled and nodded. “A generous offer, but it's a girls' night out. Strict rules,” he added with a wink.
Donna nodded and turned back to her co-workers. “Did all of you get this on your first-year anniversary?” she grinned. “I was still new here when we did this for you, Bea. I'd clean forgotten about it.”
“All the better to surprise you tonight,” Bea winked back, hugging Donna.
“We all got our turn,” Carla smiled. “I hope you didn't make plans for tonight because we have the back dining room of Jackson's reserved. Buffet, drinks, even a DJ, if you don't mind cutting a rug in a business suit.”
“I can do a mean disco in my sleep,” Donna said smugly. “Learned from my folks.”
“Ah-hah! A challenge!” Mary wrung her hands with glee.
Christina and Karen linked arms with Donna. “Don't worry, it'll be answered,” Karen said, grinning. All the other women chuckled.
“Have a great time, ladies,” Mr. Stone said, followed by a murmur of agreement from the other men.
“And the high fly is easily caught for a third out,” came the play-by-play on ESPN. “Oakland scores a win over Milwaukee. Stay tuned for the post-game in just a few minutes.”
Donna finished her Miller Lite, using it to wash down a mouthful of popcorn. “Great game,” she offered a golf clap for both teams.
Bobby, Donna's downstairs neighbor, who'd organized the small group to watch the game together at his apartment, nodded. “Want another?” he offered.
“Thanks, but no,” Donna said, putting the can in the recycling bin. “Two is the most for me, and even that's rare.”
“Well, it's a good thing that most of us only live a couple of feet away,” grinned Bobby's girlfriend, Diane. “Call you a cab, Ethan?”
Ethan, Diane's ex-boyfriend, with whom she was still good friends, pressed a hand lightly to his forehead and nodded. “Yeah, when the post-game is over, that'd be great. Thanks.”
“So, Ethan, have you met Donna?” Bobby asked, bringing out two two-liter bottles of diet soft drink and a small bowl of peanuts.
“Met, yes, but been formally introduced, no,” Ethan admitted, looking Donna up and down. He'd attended the last gathering here with Bobby and Diane to watch a previous baseball game, but he and Donna had only engaged in the most casual of conversation, without really introducing themselves to each other.
Donna chuckled and offered her hand. “Donna Richmond,” he
said. “I live one floor upstairs.”
Ethan shook hands and smiled a little shyly. “Ethan Goldman. Diane and I used to date a few years back. It was a good thing we realized early we weren't right for each other; it made the split nice and easy, let us stay friends.”
“Ethan recently went back to a community college for a two-year business degree,” Diane said, making small talk. “You'd have thought that animal biology would have good openings with all the work we need to do to keep this planet running...”
“Economics,” Donna shook her head, grinning slightly. “Made my head hurt. I was lucky to pull out a C.”
Ethan smiled politely, and Bobby and Diane chuckled, as did Colby and Geri, a married couple living across the hall from Bobby who were also part of the small collective that came here to watch the game. Geri nodded her head as she gave a polite laugh.
“Actually, my degree's in business, too,” Donna said. “I've been working at an investment firm about a twenty-minute bus ride from here. HTG, Inc. Been there about fourteen months now.”
Ethan pursed his lips before taking a sip of his soft drink. “I've heard the name,” he said. “Not that far from where I live. Sometimes I use the drug store in the Reynolds building a block away.”
Donna recollected and smiled. “I went there once, had to pick up something for my stomach,” she said. “Seems just yesterday.”
“Really nice family that owns it,” Ethan said. “I like the mom-and-pop drug stores. Maybe they don't have everything the super-pharmacy chains have, but you can't beat the service.”
Everyone nodded, Geri giving a quiet, 'uh-huh,' as she slipped a few peanuts into her mouth.
“So what other areas of the neighborhood have we unknowingly crossed paths in?” Donna said with a small grin.
Ethan laughed softly. “Depends. You ever go into Felmond Park? Plaza just started hosting indie bands for the summer season.”
Donna thought. “Yeah, I've seen a few fliers,” she said. “Never gone.”
Ethan looked surprised. “Oh, that won't do,” he said and shook his head. “You gotta see Pia M. and her band next weekend. Hey Bobby, Diane, I don't suppose you can make sure she's here at 11 AM next Saturday?”
Diane laughed lightly and clapped briefly as Donna put her hands on her hips, her lips parted in surprise. “He's right, though, Donna,” Diane said. “Pia's one of the best indies to have a venue passing through here.” She turned to Colby and Geri, both of whom nodded their agreement.
“One of the older indie musicians to play at the park, too,” Geri said. “Very down to earth, outgoing woman. And can she play the guitar.”
Donna gave an analytical look at Diane and Bobby before smiling and shrugging. “Okay, sounds good,” she said.
“Great,” Ethan smiled, shaking her hand again. “Be here with Bobby about a quarter of 11, I'll pick you up and we'll head over there to listen.”
“Bring a couple of dollars pocket change, if you're willing,” Colby advised. “Park's free, so the bands can always use donations from anyone willing to fill the hat.”
Donna applauded enthusiastically as Pia M. and her band finished their third song. “They really are great,” she said.
Ethan nodded. “They pass through four to six times a year while traveling, depending on their chosen touring route from year to year.”
“They tour that much?” Donna raised her eyebrows.
“That's how indie bands earn a living,” Ethan reminded her. “They don't sell thousands of multi-gold or platinum CD's or play at Madison Square Garden to sold-out crowds. They travel a lot, sometimes sleeping in their vans, playing gigs wherever they can get them. Usually in taverns and parks, doing a show or two a night for a few days before heading to their next gig. They make a few dollars, they can pay a recording fee to record some songs at a studio, then bring a few CD's on tour with them for people who are interested. Even when they earn a decent living, though, they have to travel on the road a lot, and they literally sing for their supper.”
Pia called for a ten-minute break so her drummer, who was also the band's spokesperson, could tell listeners at the park a little about the band's members. Donna listened with interest, and went up to the stand to buy a copy of the latest CD; both she and Ethan adding a few dollars in the tip hat. Pia smiled graciously and gave Donna and Ethan an appreciative handshake.
As the band prepared to begin their next song, Pia put down her acoustic guitar and picked up a Spanish mandolin. As she tuned the strings, she explained that the following song was a tribute to her own Spanish roots; in the early 1960's, her parents came to America from Spain to attend college, which was where they met.
Donna found herself enjoying this song even more than the previous three. She tapped her toes and swayed back and forth, closing her eyes as she listened.
A soft chuckle tickled her ear. “You don't have to hold back,” Ethan whispered in her ear. “Don't be ashamed to just cut loose.”
Donna opened her eyes and turned around, returning Ethan's smile with a big grin of her own. She put her right hand in Ethan's left, and he quickly raised them above her head, turning her in a circle. He extended his arm, tilting Donna back, then pulled her back in toward him. Donna put her left hand on Ethan's shoulder, following him into a swing dance.
“This isn't the right style of dancing for Spanish music, is it?” she asked him.
A laugh turned her head over her right shoulder. A few couples over there had overheard her. “There is no wrong way,” one woman said, beginning a salsa step with her husband.
“That's right!” Pia called, having overheard as well. Without missing a beat on her mandolin, Pia put her own feet and legs to work, tapping and shuffling side to side in a basic step that kept her balance and her concentration on her music. A soft cheer of excitement rolled over the crowd as all the listeners began joining in. A few people walking through the park, turning to listen, were also swept in.
Donna gave Ethan her mobile phone number as they picked up some hot dogs and soft drinks to munch on after the gig was finished. It was dusk as they left the park, and Ethan walked Donna back to the bus stop.
“Sure you don't want me to bring you back to your apartment?” Ethan asked.
“I won't be going straight back,” Donna answered. “I need to pick up some vegetables to make supper tonight.”
“You call a salad, supper?” Ethan chuckled.
Donna laughed back and flashed a smug look. “Hardly. I just have everything else handy in my refrigerator.”
Ethan took Donna's hands in his own and gave them a gentle squeeze. “See you at Bobby's for the All-Star game, then,” he smiled.
Donna chuckled again. “With a red cap, white shirt, and blue jeans and sneakers,” she winked. “And American flags on my socks.”
Ethan laughed as he waved goodnight and hurried across the street toward the bus stop that would take him in the opposite direction.
Excitement buzzed through New Bonds as word spread that Karen was being promoted to an investment executive position; one that had opened up in the department. Karen had decided some time ago to stay in the department as long as upper management would let her, to provide a stable support base for new hires. Now that an investment executive position was available in the department, she was the natural first choice to be placed into it. The usual celebration at Jackson's was quickly planned on Karen's behalf... and both Christina and Donna would be special guests of honor.
Karen's promotion meant a vacancy for Mr. Stone's administrative assistant, and Christina was the natural choice. That meant, in turn, that Donna was moving up into Christina's former position as secretary. Donna, for her part, was particularly excited, as it meant some increased responsibilities and work duties, and she'd be getting a $50/week raise in her salary. This was a relatively modest increase, but Donna wasn't going to complain.
It was two weeks after the transition had been completed that Mr. Stone informed Donna about a new hire that would be placed into Donna's old receptionist spot.
“What's her name?” Donna asked Mr. Stone.
“Cassie Lambros,” Mr. Stone told her. “Magna Cum Laude graduate in finances from the University of Maryland. Settled here after graduating, after hearing about our online Help Wanted ad.”
Donna suppressed a chuckle. “She relocated here to take the job,” she marveled. “This could be interesting.”
The door to Donna's office opened and Christina came in, holding a binder. She picked up some completed paperwork from Donna's outbox and started placing it into the binder.
“It gets better,” Christina said with a small grin. “I called a few of the references listed on Cassie's résumé on Mr. Stone's behalf. Heard a few things I'm not quite sure Cassie would have wanted them to tell me.”
“This really does sound interesting,” Donna leaned forward a little.
“A couple of the references said that despite her honor student status, Cassie was a bit of a party girl,” Christina said.
“What kind of party girl?”
Christina leaned close to Donna. “Let's just say your first time bringing a new hire to dinner, like Karen and I did with you, could go pretty easy.”
Donna leaned back, letting her eyes grow wide. “Are you sure I should be doing this, Christina? Or you, Mr. Stone? I'm a little surprised I got this promotion in the first place. I thought it would go to Bea. She has almost a year's seniority on me as a receptionist.”
“Bea had her reasons for staying with Mr. Steward,” Christina said. “None of us were going to question her.”
Donna nodded absently. “So will I be Cassie's 'big sister,' like you were mine?”
“No, I'll do that myself,” Christina said. “You have enough seniority and comfort in working here that you'll be needing me less. Even with her new duties, Karen can be there if you need her, and Carla will too.”
“And yet I'll be taking Cassie to dinner,” Donna looked a little nervous at this. She wasn't sure she was ready.
Christina smiled and patted Donna's hand. “You're ready for this,” she assured Donna. “I'll take point once we're seated at Jackson's, and you'll back me up.”
Donna pushed her breath through her teeth. “Okay,” she nodded slowly.
“You'll do fine, Donna,” Mr. Stone said warmly. “You've been an exemplary worker here since day one. And everyone still remembers how you protected us all, and yourself, by figuring out the 'emergency codes.'”
Donna laughed softly. “It's been a year and a couple of months since then, and I couldn't forget that whole fiasco if I tried,” she said.
“Well, you'll be safe when you first meet Cassie,” Christina winked, and both Donna and Mr. Stone chuckled.
Donna stood at the same spot Christina had been at to greet her on her first day. She flashed a polite, respectful smile as the new hire walked through the door.
Cassie stood the same height as Donna, and was a little on the full-figured side. Her skin was a medium olive-tan in tone; smooth, unblemished. Long, black hair like Karen and Carla, though not a glossy black like them. Cassie's eyes were brown, with slim pink lips and a wide, gentle curve to her cheeks. Her shoulders were a bit wider than most women had, masking her bust line. Her hips also gave a gentle curve yielding to her legs, attractive and shapely despite her extra weight. What impressed Donna the most on first glance was Cassie's hands. They looked powerful, particularly for a woman, even more so because her forearms and upper arms didn't appear muscular. Cassie wore a dark gray, near black, skirt suit with a pale green blouse, and a slightly longer skirt than most of the women wore, coming down to mid-knee length. She also wore taupe pantyhose and dark brown pumps with low heels. The low heels meant that Cassie might be slightly taller than Donna if they both stood in stocking feet.
“Welcome to HTG,” Donna began, giving Cassie a crisp handshake. “I'm Donna, Mr. Stone's secretary.”
Cassie returned Donna's smile. “I'm Cassie, it's nice to meet you. My name's short for Cassiopeia. My mom's side of the family is from Greece and she decided to name me after the mythological figure.”
“Come this way, and I'll show you to your office,” Donna said.
An amused chuckle sounded behind her. “I get my own office? You're kidding.”
Donna smiled, even though her back was now to Cassie. “Not a bit. Everyone in the corporate departments gets one. No windows, though, and even the senior manager for New Bonds doesn't have a corner office.”
Donna watched Cassie ogle her new office much in the same way Donna did herself on her first day. She found her smile changing from polite to one of enjoyment. Today was going to be a big Déjà Vu day for Donna, just like her own first day must have been for Christina, and Christina's first day for Karen and Mary, and so on.
Donna excused herself to pick up a stack of forms from Christina and brought them into Cassie's office, showing the new hire the basics of the company bond processing software. She got the hang of it pretty quickly. They finished at about 10 am, as Freddy G. came by to put a name plate on Cassie's door and a name sign down on her desk. Donna suggested that Cassie use the program's practice feature for now. She told Cassie she'd join her for lunch at the cafeteria.