HTG: Donna Learns the Ropes
By Delilah Winston
“mmmmmMMMMMMmmmmMMMMMMMmmm MMMMMMMmmmmm!” Donna shook her head from side to side, pushing her tongue against the cloth pulled between her lips. She'd thought that after enough time, enough days and weeks going at it for 45 minutes each work day, she'd have at least learned a thing or two that would bring her a step closer to wriggling free from her hogtie-- or at least shaking her gag off and freeing her mouth. Maybe all the other women were simply trying to pit their flexibility and strength against the ropes, which couldn't help but be fruitless. 'I doubt even the aides could power their way out of this kind of rope,' Donna had reasoned to herself. The answer would lie in learning. Trying to get a feel for how she was hogtied each day. Try to 'feel' the ropes against her wrists, her ankles, her knees, and get an understanding of how the loops were wrapped, how the cinching was done, exactly where the knots where placed. Learn a little each day, and eventually start to make some progress.
But what Donna knew she had learned, as she let her body rock back and forth while the toes of her pumps alternately kicked and curled, while she writhed her bound wrists about, tugging this way and then that way, and while she shook her head side to side, sometimes at an upward angle, sometimes at a downward angle, to see if her cloth gag would slide even a part of an inch upward or downward... she'd learned that her assumptions were foolish bravado.
She'd been very badly mistaken; foolishly and stupidly so. HTG had been in operation since the turn of 1980; before the advent of the personal computer. Donna, and even Christina, who, as Donna had learned, was going to be turning 26 years old come the end of November, hadn't even been born yet when Joyce Miller first began building the women's support network that gave them the dignity and inner strength to make a career at HTG. Many of the women eventually became investment executives at the company. A few even chose to move up to a manager's position. They still spent the same 45 minutes each afternoon hogtied and gagged, but to quote Mr. Stone, they made working here, work. Carla had been here eleven years; and a manager named Bethany Wilkins, currently the highest-ranking woman in the company, had been here twenty-one. Bethany was the mother of two children and had been given two full maternity leaves from being tied up starting with her third month of each pregnancy, but that still meant she'd been struggling and squirming along with every other woman here, for a mind-boggling twenty years. Donna hadn't met Bethany in person yet, but heard a few stories, mainly from Carla, who was acquainted with her. Bethany always gave it her best but had never actually wriggled free.
In having worked here nearly as long as Donna had been alive, if it were at all possible to 'learn' how to struggle free as Donna had been trying to do, Bethany of all the women here would have figured it out by now. Donna knew she'd been deceiving herself. Whoever had perfected the method used by the aides to tie the women up each afternoon, really was that good... or were that good, if it was a small group that had come up with it.
But if Karen was the logical mind of the women's sisterhood, Mary was the spirit-- and while Christina and Karen had been mentoring Donna in adapting to 'life at HTG Inc.,' it was Mary whom Donna considered her role-model. And even Christina and Karen agreed with Mary's outlook: 'We're going to keep struggling to get free, and keep struggling to work our gags off, until we're too old to keep it up, because that's the only way any woman is ever going to finally do it!'
Donna felt her spine arch further than she'd let it arch before as her wriggling fingers reached for the ropes around her ankles. Both her feet kicked and curled together as she tried to find a simple finger hold that would let her probe for any one of the knots she might be able to reach.
“MMMMMmmmmm mmmmm mmmm MMMmm-- mrrrrrmmmrrrrrrrmmmm.....”
Donna's last muffled cry became a grumble as she heard the door to her office open. 'Lost again,' she thought with a small sigh. Tomorrow she would try again, and then Monday and so on. At least she finally HAD learned something, though it was more humbling than inspiring: Enough women here had undoubtedly been trying the same things Donna was trying to get free. If Donna's ideas were going to work, each 'betting pool' period would have a regular winner by now. It gave Donna a new sense of respect and admiration for her co-workers who had been enduring this for as long as many of them had been; how completely they'd worked it into their daily 'routine' of working at this otherwise seemingly 'so normal' an investment bond company.
The aides untied Donna quickly and efficiently, leaving the room, as always, without a word spoken to her or each other, and no direct eye contact with her. By now, Donna couldn't help having tried a few times to stare pointedly at one or another of the aides for a few seconds, just to try and psyche them out. That hadn't worked either. When they closed the door to her office after walking out, she sat down to finish her work for the day and couldn't help but smile to herself.
Christina came in with the standard one-use personal-size bottle of lotion and packet of Epsom salt. Donna entered the last few keystrokes to finish up and logged out of her workstation.
“I know you're not Jewish, and I'm not either, but-- Shana Tova,” Christina smiled, as she and Donna started rubbing the lotion in.
Donna smiled back, nodding slightly. “Dad's oldest friend is Jewish, he even blows a shofar each year.”
“Really?” Christina raised her eyebrows. What does it sound like?”
Donna shrugged. “Not that different from blowing into a conch shell, although certainly not the same, either.”
“So, next week you start your sixth month,” Christina said proudly. “By November you'll be eligible to claim a vacation period just in time for Christmas.”
“The company doesn't close down for the whole week between Christmas and New Year's, does it?” Donna asked.
“Not entirely, but we do operate on a skeleton crew, so to speak,” Christina said. “I'll be staying here because my cousin's getting a January graduation from high school after acing his AP courses. It's more important for me to be there in January for his graduation than for the holidays.”
“That's great,” Donna smiled. “Congratulations to him, then. Will he be going into college right away?”
“Probably not,” Christina said. “He'll need at least a little breather, and to start college work right away, he wouldn't have time. He's looking into a trimester college so he can start in the summer.”
Donna nodded, and then pursed her lips in thought. “I know my family is itching to see me for Christmas, but I've been starting to think about the other women here,” she said. “Their families want to see them too, and they might have been waiting a couple of years to--”
Christina shook her head firmly, cutting Donna off. “KJ and Nancy's families live here or in the metropolitan area,” she said, “so they don't HAVE to miss work. Carla never takes her vacation time during the holidays; she prefers to take it in May and join her family for the Cinco de Mayo festivities. I'm sure we'll all come up with an arrangement that leaves the department adequately staffed and lets you go home to see your folks and your sister and whoever else will be there. You start looking online for ticket prices, you hear? Carla has enough pull to send a couple of the aides to bring you to the airport-- and tie you to your airline seat.”
Donna threw her head back and laughed as Christina giggled lightly.
“Yes, MA'AM!” Donna answered in a mock-up of a young Army private. “At least, I can certainly hear my sister saying to you, 'You tell her!'”
Christina raised her eyebrows again. “She doesn't... know, does she?”
Donna paused a beat and then smiled. “No. I don't have the foggiest idea how to explain it to her. Deena wouldn't have fired off a right hook and called the fuzz in like Sasha did with KJ, but she'd have told you to go to hell instead of going to dinner with you and Karen, that's for sure.”
Christina grinned. “Only you would have Sasha's name so irreversibly burned into your memory,” she teased, and both women chuckled.
“Do ANY of the women here ever tell any of their families?” Donna asked.
“Very few,” Christina said. “And those of us who do, don't discuss it here. There's a reason we've all become such close friends, why we've all become like sisters. Every one of us started out unable to understand how we can do this; how we can work here. How do you explain that to-- excuse the expression-- an outsider?”
Donna had to smile again as she nodded, though her expression quickly turned a little serious. “Things aren't always so happy and cheerful among all of us, all the time, though, are they, Christina? We're still all human, we don't all think alike.”
Christina smiled and shook her head. “Oh, we have our moments,” she said. “Look, Donna... I'll be honest with you. I have to be very careful not to name names, as a matter of respect, but... there's two women, one here in New Bonds and another in Surety bonds, with whom I don't get along. As part of the support network, we stick together like glue for that sense of support we all need, and we all attend the major gatherings at Jackson's for major celebrations-- I reach my five-year anniversary here next month, and they'll be there at the party with you and everyone else. But we never socialize outside of that. There's been a few 'stealthy cat-paw swipes' behind the curtains a few times, but we check it at the door when we have to, because we HAVE to. The alternative is a trip to the unemployment office and emailing out a dozen or more resumes a week, praying one of them will lead us to something decent.”
“'Look for a job that's worse, in earnest, and I bet you'll find it,'” Donna recited.
Christina laughed appreciatively and gave Donna a high-five.
“I gotta jet,” Donna said. “Need to get changed into jeans and a sports jersey and cap. Baseball playoff game. I'll be watching the game tonight with three of my neighbors at one of their houses.”
“Ah, lucky you,” Christina teased. “Hockey fan here. I went to a two-year college up in Canada, and if you don't like hockey up there, something is wrong with you.”
They both chuckled one more time. “Well, see you tomorrow, then,” Donna said. “Good night.”
“Good night,” Christina answered as she headed out of Donna's office.
* * * *
If there was one thing nice about your folks living in a warm climate, it meant you didn't have to pack a lot of clothes when going to visit-- at least Donna didn't. All she really needed was a few swimsuits, considering that the family would be spending a lot of time at the beach. Spending the holidays under a hot sun basking on the sand certainly had to be the furthest thing from the minds of the 'White Christmas' traditionalists, but the Richmonds were used to it. She packed a few strappy tops, three pairs of shorts and enough underwear for the duration. She only needed one pair of shoes, and the family was partial to flip-flops.
Donna stopped herself as she zipped her bag. Airport security would make her take the flip-flops off at the security checkpoint, and the cold tiles of the walkway weren't something she'd want to stand on while barefoot. She opened her sock drawer and grabbed a random pair, white cotton, a little longer than crew length. She pulled them on and then slipped her feet into a pair of casual brown loafers, putting her flip-flops in her bag.
Donna settled herself behind the wheel of her Honda Civic and put her traveling bag on the seat beside her. She didn't drive to work because she was fortunate enough to live a couple of blocks away from a bus line that dropped her off right near her work place. The airport had a parking lot that allowed her to rent nine days' worth of parking at a reasonable rate; her status as a holiday traveler helped, of course... all her various expenses came in a package deal. The midnight blue sedan hummed to life as the engine was turned over, and Donna eased out of her parking space for the drive to the airport.
Donna lifted her arms above her head without complaint as the agent frisked her, though she stared at the tall, stocky woman with a piercing eye. The agent ignored Donna's stare much in the same manner that the aides at work did, but much to Donna's relief, didn't push her hands into key places that had made airport security the butt of so many derogatory news and television articles lately. She nodded to Donna curtly, ushering her through the metal detector, which was quiet as she stepped under the arch. Donna collected her belongings at the other end of the conveyor belt that ferried bags through an X-ray machine. Stepping back into her shoes and tucking her coins and keys back into her pocket, she headed to the snack bar and picked up a couple of munchies and a cup of coffee, nursing them through the seventy-five minute wait until it was time to board her flight.
Donna beamed at her uncle Jeff, who was waiting to pick her up at the arrival station. She quickened her step a bit and bounced into his arms, hugging him vigorously.
“Good to see you again, sweetheart,” Uncle Jeff intoned in his deep bass voice that Donna had always loved to listen to as a child. “How was your flight?”
“Boring,” Donna said mischievously. “You know I'm too cheap to pay for the headphones to plug into the armrests for the TV screens.”
Uncle Jeff boomed a laugh that Donna had never been able to resist smiling at. “You and about half the country,” he winked. “It's their own grave that they're digging.”
Donna nodded agreement. “So everyone made it this year, much as the economy stinks,” she marveled. “Time to count our blessings, I guess.”
Uncle Jeff unfolded a hand truck for Donna's carry-on bag. “Amanda and Bob's flight should land in about twenty minutes,” he said. “They and the kids will ride with us.”
“You go ahead and find a seat,” Donna offered. “I'm glad to stretch my legs a little.”
Donna went to the monitor that announced arrivals and departures, passing the time by watching the readouts scroll by. She could have sworn she'd only been at it a moment or two when she turned at the sound of her name.
Amanda came at Donna so fast that she had to hug Donna from the side. She planted a buss on her cousin's cheek.
“How long have you been here?” Amanda asked.
Donna gathered her composure and smiled at her cousin. “Seems like I just got here,” she blushed a bit.
'How the heck did twenty minutes pass so fast,' Donna thought to herself. She felt her face and forehead becoming warm and dabbed at her skin with a handkerchief.
Amanda noticed and clucked her tongue, teasing Donna. “Next thing we know, you'll be able to walk through the fifty-degree cold in nothing but a light sweater and khakis.”
Donna had to chuckle, but she knew that her cousin couldn't be further from the truth.
'Karen sure wasn't joking about that either. My God, am I becoming a closet sub or something? Nine months working at a company where they hogtie me for almost an hour a day, for Heaven-only-knows what reason, and I can pass twenty minutes standing on my feet staring at airport arrival/departure screens like it's nothing. It's really happening! I'm becoming reconciled to it, like they all have back at work.'
* * * *
Deena tapped lightly on the door to Donna's room. “Hey sis, you decent?” she asked.
Donna turned her head. “Come on in,” she answered.
Donna adjusted her two-piece swimsuit as Deena entered. It covered up more than the 'itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny' that made up the silly 1960's song that her parents had sung to her and Deena a couple of times to amuse them as children, but it was still a bikini; solid blue in color. Deena wore a similar bikini, although it was yellow; Deena's favorite color. Deena wore a sun hat on her head and her flip-flops.
“All ready for the cookout?” Deena asked as she hugged her sister.
“What's to eat?” Donna winked and grinned.
Deena giggled back. “I thought you were more interested in the-- whoa.”
Deena stepped back and blinked, her face a mask of 'pleasantly shocked.' “Donna?”
Donna gave a small smile. “What?” she asked. “You've seen me dressed like this a thousand times. You've even seen me nude, when I was coming out of the shower.”
“Not-not like that,” Deena said with a stifled chuckle. “Donna-- you're buff. Who's your trainer? How many crunches does he or she have you doing?”
Donna turned back to her mirror in surprise. Her look of shock was a less pleasant shock than Deena had shown. 'To hell with buff... am I blind? How many times have I looked at my body while getting dressed or undressed and haven't seen it?'
Donna's midsection was showing ample hints of growing muscle tone. She was far from sculpted to a washboard waist, and was always fit, but her body evidenced better tone and fitness than ever before. And it wasn't just her midsection, but her entire body. Donna was profoundly glad she had only gained muscle development, not muscle mass. The change in her body definitely wasn't drastic, but she had to wonder how she hadn't noticed it before.
“So who's your trainer?” Deena grinned. “Do you have a card for him or her that you can spare?”
“N-no trainer, I've just been more active over the past nine months, that's all,” Donna smiled a little anxiously. She kept her gaze toward her mirror, hoping Deena wouldn't see her blushing. Donna could hear half of her co-workers laughing themselves stupid at the story, if she dared tell them when she got back home.
Deena's gaze turned rueful. “You're not going to carefully pick at half a scoop of potato salad and tell us all that you're full?”
Donna's mouth opened and she playfully grabbed at her sister. “Hah! You wanna have one of our little chowdown contests like when we were ten?”
Deena laughed as she and Donna play-wrestled in front of the mirror. “You're on!”
Deena's hat had fallen off in the play struggle. Donna picked it up and handed it back to her, and then donned her own sun hat and stepped into her flip-flops.
“Besides, exercise alone isn't going to get me into shape like this,” Donna teased. “Even girlie muscles have to be fed.”
“I still wanna know how you do it,” Deena said as they started heading downstairs for the short drive to the beach where the cookout would be held. “I'd love to do your routine if it works that well.”
Donna let Deena walk in front of her, and now she was glad for it; Donna wasn't good at keeping poker faces, as she'd found out at work, and she didn't need her sister noticing, either. 'No you wouldn't, Deena,' she thought silently. 'You real-ly wouldn't.'
Exchanging of gifts was the highlight of Christmas night at the Richmond home. There were enough people in the family that nobody could afford to give something to everyone, so they all rotated, a few people each year according to their budgets. The whole family was surprised at how many gifts Donna brought. They were little things like a music CD for Deena, light summer sweaters for Bob and Amanda, and a comic book for each of their kids. Out of concern over what could be brought on the plane and what couldn't, Donna brought gift cards for each of her parents, her Aunt Aimee and Aimee's son. All little things each on their own, but they added up.
“Your job must be working out pretty well,” Donna's father said.
Donna got a wistful look, casting her gaze at the wall about two feet behind and above her father's head. “It's one of the last places I imagined I'd really fit in at, Dad, but I think I've really done it. It's not just a job. It's a career.”
“Make sure it's really what you want, Donna, before you call it that,” Aunt Aimee cautioned. “I've never regretted my career as an electrician, but it did cost me.” She put an arm around her son's shoulders as she spoke; a subtle hint at Aimee's divorce. “Make sure you're ready to pay that cost.”
“I understand, Aunt Aimee,” Donna nodded. “But if I get involved with a guy and he's not going to support my career choice, he's not the right guy for me.”
Aunt Aimee smiled and kissed Donna's cheek. “That's the spirit,” she said. “Just answer me one question: Are you sure this is the career you want?”
Donna's hand drifted idly to touch her midriff. A number of voices rang in her ears as she paused in reflection.
'Donna-- you're buff. Who's your trainer?' Surprised as Deena was, Donna had been more so.
'It shows the rest of you who is really with you and wants to make working here, really WORK.' Mr. Stone's describing the 'loyalty test' to the support network.
'Hard as it might be to believe, HTG is one of the most accessible companies you can find! How's THAT for odd?' Donna could still see Mary's smile as she told Donna about her early days in the company.
'Narrows it down to only one other possible culprit, right?' Donna had been really impressed at how chipper KJ remained even after Sasha clocked her right across the mouth once her first orientation had ended.
'Well, I apologize for not giving a putrid crap if you look at me funny because I find the latter option worse and take the job at HTG.' Donna knew she could never dare introduce Deena to Karen...
“Yes, I'm sure,” Donna answered Aunt Aimee finally. “I have a career to look forward to in investment bonds. A few more years and I might qualify as an investment executive. They do a lot of promoting from within.”
'Darn you, Karen! It really happened, didn't it?' Donna could hear her own muffled cries into her gag during Down Time at work. She'd given it a NAME-- a silly sounding pet name. There was no doubt about it. Donna was reconciled to spending 45 minutes of each work day struggling in bondage; wriggling to escape from a tight hogtie and trying to cry out through a tightly tied cloth gag. They'd accommodated her in many ways, supported her through thick and thin, worked so hard to make her feel welcome, like she belonged. Being hogtied was just another routine part of the day.
Donna's parents both hugged her. “I'm so proud of you,” Donna's mother said. “My baby's grown up now, a career woman.”
* * * *
Donna signed in at the lobby, nodding to Officer Brown. “Morning,” she said to him pleasantly.
“Morning, Donna,” Officer Brown tipped his cap. “How was vacation?”
“It was good,” Donna said. “Being with the family always recharges the batteries.”
“Amen to that,” Officer Brown said.
“Welcome back,” chorused Karen, Nancy and Carla as Donna came upstairs. They all took turns hugging her.
“Thank you,” Donna smiled in gratitude. “Where's Christina?”
“Dentist,” Nancy told her. “Tooth filling. She'll be out today.”
“But she'll be back for two weeks, before her own vacation to attend her cousin's graduation,” Karen added.
Donna nodded. “That's cool. Okay, back to work, I guess!”
“I'll have the first batch ready to bring into your office shortly,” Karen smiled.
Donna watched Karen head back to her office, and shook her head imperceptibly. 'Darn you, Karen,' she thought to herself again.
* * * *
3:35 came, and the aides came into Donna's office, ropes in hand to tie her up. The lead aide held up an index card which had a simple 'Welcome Back' stenciled on it.
“Thank you, boys,” Donna smiled. “Back to business as usual, huh?”
The lead aide gave a small nod as he and the other three took hold of her wrists and arms, lifting her from her chair and putting her wrists behind her back. Donna could feel a real sense of 'welcome back' as they tied her wrists.
'HTG Inc., here I come for my first day,' Donna had said to herself as she stepped outside to begin the commute on her first day. 'Ready to learn the ropes.'
'Boy, did I learn them,' Donna thought with a face painted in sardonic humor, as her gag was pulled tight and knotted.
* * * *