HTG: Quarterly Gains & Losses
By Delilah Winston
“Looking forward to the holidays, Cassie?” Donna asked. Cassie was going to be one of the workers going on vacation for the holiday season.
“California, here I come,” Cassie smiled. “Some time on the beach, some time listening to music at a club or two, and some time touring wine country.”
Donna blinked. “What?”
Cassie caught Donna's look, and she smirked. “Yeah, wine country. Remember, my mom's side of the family is from Greece. I had a glass occasionally at the dinner table with my folks starting around my mid-teens. I could probably teach you a thing or two about some varieties.”
“Y-yes, you probably could.” Donna had tasted a wide variety of alcoholic drinks, but she was strictly a social drinker, never going beyond her limit, and sticking with club soda and ginger ale when she was designated driver. “Well, enjoy yourself.”
Cassie put her hands behind her head in a gesture of relaxation and then flashed Donna another smirk. “Thanks. You try to do the same, as much as you can.”
Donna, of course, would be working, as she'd chosen to use her latest vacation period for Oktoberfest in Milwaukee. She'd be able to use two more nine-day periods within the next sixteen months, and was thinking about visiting her parents for Easter. Most of Donna's family only occasionally attended church, but saw some of Easter's traditional activities as having value for children, such as painting eggs and having egg hunts. Donna's mother worked at a nonprofit center that encouraged youngsters to develop and nurture a love of the arts, be it appreciation or participating in performance arts, literature, and visual arts.
“I'll try,” Donna smiled graciously.
Nancy joined Donna for lunch. The cafeteria was serving chili as an optional alternative to the soup of the day, and both women had taken a bowl.
“So, KJ passed the math exam for administrative assistant work?” Donna offered a congratulatory smile.
“She did!” Nancy could barely control her excitement. “Donna, I'm so proud of her. She worked really hard to pass that exam. KJ's always been into English and humanities. Math was always the subject that gave her the most trouble while she was in school.”
“Fantastic,” Donna nodded in approval. “Now she just has to wait for an opening.”
Nancy's smile suddenly pinched into a wince. “That's the, well, I can't call it bad news. No, I can't. But it's certainly not the KIND of news that KJ or I were hoping for.”
“What?” Donna's lips parted curiously.
“There's an opening for KJ, now, to move up into, if she accepts it,” Nancy said. “But it's in Foreign Bonds. They're putting together an assistant staff for Mrs. MacHugh, now that she's a manager. KJ would have to transfer there.”
“Wo... wow,” Donna breathed, her eyes growing wide. “Doesn't that department have an additional multi-lingual competency requirement?”
Nancy smiled again. “Well, remember that humanities was KJ's forte. She speaks German fluently, even though none of her family's from there. She also speaks enough French to satisfy the language requirement for Foreign Bonds.” KJ identified as Romanian and Armenian, as far as her ancestry went; but KJ herself, as most of New Bonds knew, was born and raised in Buffalo, New York.
“My high school only offered Spanish,” Donna grinned. “I've already forgotten it all.”
“So, it's definitely a great opportunity for her,” Nancy said, partially to herself, as she gave a thoughtful look. “But it means she'll be working in a different department, meaning we all won't get to spend as much on-the-job time with her anymore.”
“How do the both of you feel about it?” Donna asked quietly.
Nancy reflected for a quick moment. “Well, I'll admit there's a selfish side of me that would really miss her time here in New Bonds,” she said. “But it'll mean a raise in salary, and as she's now eligible to start a 401K, she'll get a good growth rate on it because she can put away more. It would be wrong not to want her to do what's best for her. And... well, I do get to spend more time with her than the other women here.”
Donna offered a small smile, although she could feel herself blushing. She looked away and shook her head. “I apologize for that, Nancy,” she said, feeling embarrassed.
Nancy patted Donna's hand reassuringly, if briefly. “I'm used to it,” she said. “My brother's the same way. Respects my feelings, but can't understand my involvement with another woman.”
“Your brother probably knows why he feels the way he does, though,” Donna said, “And he's probably talked about it with you. I can't really say why the subject makes me feel awkward.”
“KJ and I would be happier if you were able to figure it out and let go of it,” Nancy admitted, also looking away and speaking softly, before looking back at Donna as she added her follow-up. “But you give us the respect we feel we deserve That's better than I can expect from a lot of people, including my mom and dad.”
“I'm sorry,” Donna said sympathetically, although her expression showed a bit of surprise Nancy had shared this with her. One of the 'unofficial codes' of the corporate women's 'sisterhood' was that they usually didn't talk very openly about their families with everyone else, even though it wasn't a taboo subject by any means; and as some of the women did form close personal friendships beyond the business support group, some of them did eventually open themselves up with those friends.
“We... had to share that after we ran into you at the ball game,” Nancy smiled again.
Donna chuckled as she finished her tea. Although a coffee drinker by nature, Donna was finding that some of the varieties of tea Nancy liked, and that the cafeteria served, had grown on her. “I'm gonna get a refill. You want one?”
Nancy offered her cup. “Please,” she said eagerly.
Donna refilled the cups and set Nancy's down in front of her, before sitting. “That was definitely a surprise,” she said, smiling at the remembrance.
“Oh, I envy you, Donna,” Nancy smiled back. “You're living proof that it's not what you know, it's whom you know.”
Donna giggled. “Even TV celebrities have neighbors,” she said. “Diane just happens to be in a relationship with one of mine.”
“That doesn't mean I expected to meet her,” Nancy shook her head. “I'm so looking forward to her coverage of the NFL playoffs. Football isn't my favorite sport, but Diane makes reading about it enjoyable enough.”
“Writes better than I ever could,” Donna said of her. “I was a science geek through and through.”
The warning chime sounded, and the two of them got up, finishing their beverages and cleaning up their table.
“Give her my regards and congratulations,” Donna said. KJ was having a mammogram and check-up, so she would be out the whole day.
“Thank you, I will,” Nancy nodded.
Shortly before logging out, Donna decided to check her cell phone for messages. She found a text message from Ethan, asking her if she'd be willing to drive in to work on Friday instead of taking the bus. She and Ethan would be going with Bobby, Diane, Colby and Geri to watch a basketball game that Diane was asked to write a column on, and it was an evening game. By driving in to work, Donna could get to the sports center quicker and without any hassle. Diane and Bobby were offering to reimburse her the parking fee if she needed to use a public parking garage.
Donna smiled and started to type in a reply when she froze. She returned to Ethan's message and frowned. The text asked her to get back to him, if she could, at 4:30.
Donna exited text mode and called Ethan instead. She tapped a foot while waiting for him to answer.
“Hi,” Donna answered.
“Hum. What did I do, Donna?” Ethan had been able to tell immediately that Donna wasn't happy with him.
“I can drive in to work on Friday, no problem,” Donna said. “But please, ask me to get back to you, 'when the day is done.' I try not to remember, or think about, your knowing the significance of 4:30 pm over here at work.”
She heard Ethan swallow a lump. His voice came out slightly broken from his discomfort at realizing what he'd done. “Ohh... oh, shit. Donna, you're right. I'm sorry. I goofed bad on that one. Christ, that was just dumb!”
Donna felt a smug expression creep into her face. “Well, I think I'll let you stew in your guilt for a while,” she joked. “See you at the game?”
Ethan chuckled, again in a broken tone. “Yeah, see you there. I'll buy you a hot dog and a beer.”
Donna grinned a little. “Make it a root beer, if I'm gonna be driving.”
“Maybe I'll make it two, at the rate I keep stuffing my foot in my fool mouth,” Ethan muttered.
Donna felt her phone hum in her hand. Ethan had sent her a selfie he'd just taken. The photo was of his face; bright scarlet red from his dual faux pas.
She was still laughing when the bus arrived to pick her up for the commute home.
<p align=”center”>* * * *</p>
”You gotta be kidding me,” Donna gawked, as the door to her office opened.
The aides wore Santa masks and hats, and their neckties were striped red and white, like candy canes. Donna laughed at their approach.
The lead aide held up an index card on which was neatly stenciled, “Yeah, yeah. Ho ho ho. Happy Holidays,” as the others lifted Donna to her feet.
She giggled again. “Happy Holmmmmmmmmmfffhhh,” she managed to get out before the lead aide covered her mouth, reminding her that they were still there strictly for 'business;' if Donna could call being tied up, business. Her lips still remained stretched into a half smile, half smirk under the aide's gloved hand as the others began wrapping the first coils of rope around her wrists. From the feel of the ropes, it felt like the same kind of hemp that they regularly used. Donna's eyes danced around every so often, the blonde still finding the holiday masks and ties, tremendously amusing. And despite the 'Yeah, yeah' that the message on the index card began with, she was pretty sure the aides didn't mind it at all.
Nevertheless, once or twice as they continued tying her wrists, a light snicker that came out half like spitting (as her mouth was still covered and her lips pressed together) escaped from her, and watching the aides as much as she was able, with one directly behind her, and two at her sides, she wondered if that was getting a 'rise' from them, the way Cassie did when she told one that she could do his job better than he could. The aides didn't show it, however; not only did none of them turn their heads to look at her, their hands remained steady in holding Donna fast as the aide behind her began making the cinches in the wrist bondage.
Donna winced slightly as the first cinch was tightened. It happened once in a blue moon, and the aides always steadied themselves, making sure that, although more than tight enough that none of the women had ever struggled free of the ropes, their circulation was never in threat of being cut off. Having gotten curious, Donna had looked through a couple of websites devoted to rope safety for consensual bondage partners, and saw that it took practice and skill to tie a partner's wrists in such a way. It had given her a newfound sense of respect for all of these men. Like with a large majority of the women working at the company, Donna needed the whole of her orientation period to stop being scared witless at their initial approach when Down Time began. But as she'd learned, it took a good deal of respect and care for the womens' well being for them to put in the practice required. She thought she could even feel it in the way the knot was tied and tightened. No pain, no excess pressure or pinching from the ropes binding her wrists. Despite the restrictive nature of bondage, her body remained comfortable, for the first few minutes at least. And yet, neither Donna, nor any of the women who'd been working here for many years longer than she, had ever managed to wriggle out of it.
Donna's eyes snapped front, toward the lead aide, soon as she felt the knot finished and her wrists securely bound. The flash before her eyes as the length of cloth was moved into place, was the same solid white as always. No holiday motifs in her bondage, nor in her gag, she saw with continuing amusement. The aide behind her, pulled her gag tight more slowly than was normal, telling Donna that dealing with women finding the holiday masks and hats as funny as she was finding them, was yet another thing the aides had dealt with before. Her lips were pulled taut over the cloth as it settled over her tongue, behind her teeth, without being snapped back too sharply, which no doubt, would have hurt. The knot was closed and tightened with a precision Donna was quite accustomed to by now, two aides working in tandem to keep the knot from slackening in any way as the knot was finished.
As the first lengths of rope were coiled around her chest, Donna saw that it was the same tan hemp that was always used. Four coils placed evenly above her breast, drawn around her upper body with the same careful precision as always. Donna had even begun seeing a certain artfulness in the way she was bound and gagged each afternoon, although she was still extremely glad no pictures of her were taken, as she initially feared on her first day. A slight hissing noise that she knew, was another muffled snicker, sneaked between the corners of her mouth, and her gag, at the thought. The rope used around her chest was the longest individual length used to tie her up each day. After all four coils were in place, the ends were twisted around each other several times, to keep everything taut as the lengths were separated again to make the four coils underneath Donna's breast, still keeping clear so that she never felt the discomfort of the aides' hands coming too close.
The stool was pushed under her backside, lifting her into a sitting position, the same way as every day. One held her calves firmly but gently, and the lead aide keeping his hands on her triceps to further keep her steady, as the last two tied her ankles and knees. Each coil wrapped around them steadily, drawn tight without cutting into the skin, and then the ends twisted around each other to facilitate the cinches that pulled the coils together between her limbs, so they settled around the contours of her ankles and knees, hugging them closely. Both knots were made and finished expertly. Donna was lifted up and gently placed on the floor of her office, before being carefully rolled on to her stomach, and the last length of rope tied in place to complete her hogtie. The usual cushion was placed under Donna's chin, and her phone cord was unplugged and placed safely in a drawer of her desk.
One of the aides squatted down, something green and white in his hands. Donna craned her neck upward and fell into a fresh round of snorting giggles. She shook her head and closed her eyes. The aide put a green elf cap on her head, complete with a fuzzy pom-pom on the end. Donna's eyes opened again and she laughed once more, as much as could get through her gag, before the aides left the room, closing the door behind them.
Donna found she was still snickering, as much as she could manage while she was gagged, for a number of minutes after the aides left, even while she kept up her struggles without any deliberate thought. She was finally starting to the get the hang of letting her mind wander, keeping herself from thinking too much. Now was not the time to be a philosopher. But dammit-- the holiday masks and ties were funny.
The forty-five minutes passed smoothly. Donna gave a spirited struggle, but of course, as always, was unsuccessful in getting free; the aides found her as they left her, bound and gagged tightly on the office floor. They set to work untying her, but soon as they stood her up, she got another look at their masks, hats and ties, and it struck her funny again, enough that she squirmed around in their grasp and started giggling again, making it take a little longer for them to finish. By the time they finally untied the knot in her gag and pulled it away from her mouth, and then let go of her wrists, Donna just grinned and shrugged.
“Sorry,” she said, contrite but still amused.
The lead aide took the index card out of his shirt pocket and held it up again. “Yeah, yeah. Ho ho ho. Happy Holidays.”
She smiled again and offered a small wave goodbye. “Happy Holidays,” she said back, as the four aides turned and left her office, again closing the door behind them. They let her keep the elf cap, and she found it endearing enough not to take it off.
Christina came into her office with a couple of final forms and the usual bottle of lotion and packet of Epsom salt. The brunette's mouth was fixed in the same amused grin. She'd also been given an elf cap and, like Donna, was still wearing hers.
“I'm sure you knew this on your own, but they really don't mind hamming it up a little,” Christina said.
“I'm sure,” Donna said, giving a nod of thanks.
“That was your first time seeing their little holiday getup, right?” Christina asked. “You'll get used to that, too, even though we all still enjoy seeing it.”
Donna grinned again and clapped her hands once. “Oh, I loved it,” she answered. “Makes working for the holidays a little brighter.”
Christina nodded. “Well, Merry Christmas, and I'll see you tomorrow.”
“You too, thank you,” Donna said. “Enjoy your evening.”
Donna's fax machine hummed as several LED's lit up. A fax came in from Carla. Picking it up and skimming through it, Donna saw that HTG had signed an agreement with a new medical coverage provider. HTG employees were asked to fill the forms out with certain basic information, along with such finer details as the name of any employee's primary physician, any medications they take, and any medical conditions they currently have. All women working in corporate positions were asked to bring the forms to Carla personally.
Donna filled out the forms, and then turned to her phone,
paging Carla's extension. “Hey Carla,” she said cordially. “I finished the
forms you sent out, and I'm ready to bring them in to you.”
“That's great, Donna,” Carla said, a smile in her voice. “I need to go over a few reports with Mr. Halwell, so just leave the forms on my desk.”
Donna passed by Carla on the way to her office, the two women exchanging nods and friendly smiles. Carla had left her door ajar so Donna could walk in.
As Donna approached Carla's desk, she noticed an open book near her computer monitor. What looked like a monogram of a large capital C was at the top left corner of the left page where the book was turned to. A curious squiggly mark resembling a rounded lace-up pattern, with a vertical straight line through it, was beside the C monogram.
Donna set the forms down and happened to catch a glance at some of the content of the book:
'Stupid. So fucking STUPID. One of the most basic rules, and I fucked it up. What about my children? My BABIES!! How do I tell them that Mommy isn't co--'
Donna blinked and forced herself to look away. She realized this was no book, but a diary or journal. The large C monogram must have been Carla's initial. While the blonde was puzzled at Carla leaving the diary open on her desk-- she wasn't a careless woman-- Donna felt bad at having taken even the most hurried glance at Carla's personal thoughts. She moved the forms she'd set down so they were further away from the diary, and returned to her office.
New Bonds gathered in Jackson's for a dinner celebration, wishing KJ best of luck in her new position as an administrative assistant in Foreign Bonds. Audrey MacHugh was also in attendance; as a new junior manager, Audrey's assistant staff wasn't completely in place yet. She had a secretary, and now KJ would be working for her as well, meaning they just needed to appoint Audrey a receptionist with the necessary language skills. During the dinner at Jackson's, the women attending were allowed to call Audrey by her first name, as they were now off the clock and off company grounds.
“You're Christina's 'little sister;' the one who deciphered the emergency access codes, as we call them,” Audrey smiled, shaking Donna's hand as Christina introduced Donna to Audrey. “Nice to meet you.”
Donna smiled back, although it was getting to be old hearing about this. “I don't get why it's such a big deal, honestly,” she said. “If it's that difficult to figure out, why use it?”
Audrey shook her head. “It's not that difficult. I remember when I first looked them over as a new hire. I didn't immediately understand what it was for, but I DID know right off the bat, it wasn't to neutralize a cyber attack. The numerical sequences were too layered and complicated for that, and there were no instructions on accessing a command prompt. Then when I met my manager and he told me his first name, and I saw what he looked like, it started to click. I asked him if that was what it meant, and he said it was.”
“So why such a big deal when I deciphered it?” Donna asked, taking a bite of a chicken-finger appetizer.
“You're the first,” Audrey answered. “And more specifically, the first to need it, and come through. None of us have ever been put on the spot where we needed to describe what our manager looks like, at a moment's notice, before. Joyce Miller was the first woman in HTG to become a manager. Natalie Perez was our first female Foreign Bonds executive. Carla was our first human resources counselor to work at the position for longer than five years. All the other women at the position eventually went on to become an executive, and two of them became managers. You're the first woman who used the emergency codes for the purpose they're given. We like to remember all our firsts.”
“Was Sasha Fredrickson the first new hire to call the cops after finding out what orientation was about?” Donna asked.
“No,” Audrey chuckled. “But she was probably the shrewdest. The others just filed a general complaint that sent the investigating officers to our corporate mouthpiece, as we call the position. The only one who can speak publicly on the company's behalf. Sasha Fredrickson figured out a way and reason to send them to a single worker, another new hire, in the hope that she'd crack under questioning. That was a dangerously clever move on her part.”
“Came this close to working, too,” Donna said sheepishly, putting her thumb and index finger just a half centimeter apart.
Both Christina and Audrey chuckled. “Close only counts up until the last bet is on the table,” Christina winked, touching Donna's shoulders. “Once the hands are revealed, close doesn't win the pot, no matter how 'close' it is.”
“I guess you're right,” Donna nodded. “And so, now you'll be the one handing out the code, Audrey. How does it feel?”
“A little like Modesty Blaise,” Audrey grinned back. “I can't wait for my first new hire, and sending her the sequences 1-21-4-18-5-25 and 12-15-14-7, 1-21-2-21-18-14.” The latter number sequences referred to her hair, long and auburn.
KJ and Nancy walked over, and Audrey smiled. “And speaking of firsts... my first administrative assistant. Glad to have you, KJ.”
“Merci Beaucoup,” KJ said, before speaking a couple of sentences in French.
To which Audrey nodded, and answered in the same language. MacHugh was Audrey's married name; her own family was from Luxembourg, Belgium, and Andorra, and she spoke both French and Spanish.
“Translation: We'll get along just fine,” Audrey said.
Donna and Christina both hugged KJ. “Come find us in the cafeteria when you can,” Christina said.
“You worked hard for this, I'm proud of you, Kar,” Nancy said, hugging KJ, and giving her a peck on the cheek.
Audrey tilted her head. “You're going to use your regular given name once you finalize the move to Foreign Bonds?” 'Kar,' of course, was short for Karen, which was KJ's given first name.
KJ thought about it, before shaking her head. “No. Nancy still calls me that from time to time, away from the job. But on duty, I'll probably always be KJ. Everyone else is used to it, and so am I. I've managed to train myself that I don't even turn around at the sound of the name, 'Karen' anymore, while I'm at work. Only away from it.”
The five of them joined the rest of the department women for the start of dinner, after which it would be time for goodbye gifts and each woman sharing an experience from a day at work with KJ. Lara stayed close to KJ for the rest of the evening, going over everything she'd learned from her. Lara currently had the most seniority among all the receptionists working in New Bonds, which in turn, meant she would be moving up into KJ's former secretary position under Mr. Westman, and probably taking on her own first: a little sister.