HTG: Changing Rules
by Delilah Winston
Bea sat beside Donna, across from Ms. Wilkins and Christina. “We're off the clock and off duty, but I'm not sure if it's okay to address you by your first name,” Bea said.
Ms. Wilkins smiled and nodded. “To be honest, I'd really appreciate if you didn't,” she said. “I'm not a department manager like Frank or Russell, or even Dan Halwell. I'm several steps higher on the ladder than any of them. Mr. Hill even prefers if I don't go into specifics on that. Part of the whole chain-of-command thing.” She shrugged in a way that showed that, despite her high position in the company, she was still following orders from even higher. “Suffice to say, I'm in charge of much more than a few co-workers and a few client profiles.”
A waiter took coffee orders, and each of the women requested a muffin as well; blueberry for Donna, corn for Ms. Wilkins and Bea, and cinnamon raisin for Christina.
“So, what's on your mind, Ms. Wilkins?” Christina asked.
“Well, first things first; appropriate congratulations,” Ms. Wilkins began. “Bea, Donna, we invited both of you to test for administrative assistant following Christina's promotion. Both of you passed by an adequate margin. We've decided to offer the promotion to administrative assistant to you, Bea, simply on merit of your longer tenure in the company. While your conduct and work have been most exemplary, Donna, we'd like to ask you to get some more time under your belt. You did advance from reception to secretary, earlier than most. Based on your score on the math exam, soon as you have some more time with the company, you'll be first in line for the next spot.”
Donna nodded without hesitating. “Certainly,” she said. “Bea's an excellent worker. I'm sure she'll make a fine admin assistant.”
Bea smiled and clasped Donna's hand in thanks, before nodding to Ms. Wilkins. “It would be an honor, Ms. Wilkins.” Bea and Donna both knew, however, that there was more than just this. A woman of Ms. Wilkins' stature and position in HTG wouldn't personally bring them to Jackson's just to announce the promotion to admin assistant.
“This isn't something workers of your status would normally hear, nor be entitled to hear,” Ms. Wilkins continued. “But it's going to be a little more difficult to keep it from you as day-to-day work continues. Given its sensitive nature, I think I'm justified in issuing a friendly warning, in advance, not to discuss it past this booth, nor past this evening.”
She looked around at the other women with a glance that, although gentle and respectful, showed in no uncertain terms that she had the authority to deal with loose lips.
Receiving quick nods and nervous smiles of compliance, Ms. Wilkins nodded in satisfaction and lowered both her head and her voice, speaking just loud enough for Christina, Donna and Bea to hear her.
“Frank is under reprimand, and Dan has been given a verbal warning,” Ms. Wilkins said. “After speaking with the two of them, I'm satisfied that they felt the strain of keeping Carla's illness quiet was too much for you, Donna, and they would have been authorized to act. But they still should have told Carla that her wish to protect the other women and company morale had greater consequences than bringing the womens' community up to speed. They also should have informed the women of New Bonds that they were putting you on sick leave, Donna, so the support group could rally behind you, and each other. You would have been given everything you needed to handle the stress, and I'd have called in a few favors to see you had access to appropriate resources. In the end, morale was shaken just as bad as it would have been, the other way around; perhaps even more so.”
Christina dropped her gaze, giving a quiet nod. When she looked up again, she saw Donna looking at her. The two of them exchanged a glance that showed a mutual gratitude that they'd started to reconnect; a process that was helping them both heal.
Ms. Wilkins noted the exchanged glance and nodded firmly, taking it as confirmation of her point. “This isn't something I would normally disclose to any of you, at all,” she said. “Exactly what the reprimand and warning entails, and what it means for Frank and Dan, will not be discussed. The two of them know, and they won't discuss it either.”
Not daring to interrupt Ms. Wilkins, Donna gave a plaintive look and raised a hand to call for attention.
Ms. Wilkins saw the gesture and smiled. “Trust me, Donna, if the day ever came that you DID need to be afraid of me, you'd know it,” she said more gently. “Today isn't that day. I appreciate the way you and Bea are handling the conversation, very much, but you're still valued colleagues and I'm not going to treat you otherwise.”
Donna smiled in return. “Thank you. I guess I'm just not used to dealing with someone in your position in the company. Like you said, the whole chain-of-command thing. I've never had to speak directly to anyone higher than Mr. Halwell before.”
This was true enough to some extent. Her only dialogue to date with Mr. Goldman was in the context of his being her boyfriend's father.
“Stay with us long enough, and you'll meet my superiors in the business one day,” Ms. Wilkins said. “So what can I do for you?”
“Will I still be working for Mr. Stone?” Donna asked.
“Yes, you will, and so will you, Bea,” Ms. Wilkins said. “Suzanne Roberts will receive a promotion to Bea's former secretary spot, and she'll train Russell's new receptionist. In the meantime, Donna, you'll be training Frank's new receptionist, following the departure of Cassie Lambros.”
Donna nodded. “Did she ever give a reason for that?” she asked.
“No, and if she did, I couldn't speak to you about it unless she told me I could, in advance,” Ms. Wilkins said.
A moment of silence as they all finished their coffee, signaling for refills as they continued to nibble on their muffins.
“We've already approved the hiring of Frank's new receptionist, and she'll begin employment this coming Monday,” Ms. Wilkins continued. “That, more than the previous issues already covered, is the real meat of why we're sitting here now. Her employment is going to mean some changes that will affect all of the womens' community at HTG.”
Christina sat back, her expression mirroring Donna and Bea's. For one new hire to warrant such changes was probably a first in the company's history.
“All of the women will eventually learn about this in company wide memos I'll write myself,” Ms. Wilkins said. “Since you'll be her 'big sister,' Donna, with you on backup, Bea, and since you, Christina, are now head of Human Resources for the company women, I'm giving the three of you advance notice so you can all prepare adequately.”
The three of them waited; Bea offering a slight nod. Their coffee refills arrived and they paused to wait until their cups were refilled, and the waiter out of earshot, before continuing.
“Sharon Ganesh is our first corporate employee who will require particular special handling for That Time,” Ms. Wilkins said.
Donna and Bea looked at her questioningly, and she smiled.
“That's what I call it,” Ms. Wilkins said. “I'm sure you're aware that even I'm not exempt. Nor would any woman be if she were on the board itself. We're prepared to handle a variety of special needs for women with certain conditions, such as Mary Braddock's asthma and Audrey MacHugh's hypoglycemia. HTG welcomes employees with all sorts of differences, but it's still surprisingly rare that they apply for positions with us. Sharon Ganesh has an exceptional resume, and we're sure she'll be an exemplary employee if she can handle the transition. But her special needs will warrant certain handling during That Time, which will resonate with all the other women.”
“What does she need?” Donna asked.
“Sharon has a spinal cord injury that requires her to use a wheelchair,” Ms. Wilkins said. “She's extremely mobile and athletic, and she can lift 35 pounds over her head, with one hand, either of them; hardly grunting in the process.”
“But it still means...” Donna took a quick glance around the dining room of Jackson's, despite the rear booth they were in, to make sure nobody overheard. “It still means the aides won't be able to lift her out of the chair and put her down on her stomach, hogtied, if she makes it through orientation.”
“That's correct,” Ms. Wilkins said. “The aides that work in New Bonds are already training to handle this. Sharon won't be tied up for the first week, during which time, you two, Donna and Bea, will have been coached on how to properly hint to her what's going to be coming, without saying it in so many words. When the aides come into her office for the first time, she'll be left in her wheelchair, with her wrists tied behind her back, and her upper body will be tied against the backrest. The aides will make sure the footrests are in place, and her feet placed on them, and her ankles tied together, although more loosely than normal, since she can't move them, anyway. We're more concerned about blood circulation in her paralyzed limbs. If she stays through orientation, the aides will continue to use that tie on her as long as she's comfortable. If she can handle it, they'll bring in a regular chair she can sit in comfortably, and tie her to that chair. It will be armless, so they can tie her wrists behind the backrest, and then her upper body to the chair, and another rope to anchor her lap to the seat.”
Bea's brow wrinkled in thought. “So, are you saying the other women will have this as an option during Quiet Time?” she asked.
“Not right away, but yes, it will be phased in gradually,” Ms. Wilkins said. “The aides will be training in different options, including our being tied to a chair, and possibly even lying down on a cot, hands tied overhead and separately, each hand to one of the corner railings. Ankles and knees would still be tied together, for obvious reasons. What fetishists call a spread eagle, will not be considered.”
All of them smiled to hear this news; Ms. Wilkins didn't need to explain further than that. HTG wouldn't be able to handle the backlash.
“What happens if she can't endure being tied up at all?” Christina asked.
“If we have to exempt her for medical reasons, then we have to,” Ms. Wilkins said. “I believe, and certainly hope, the corporate women as a whole, are mature enough to accept that without wanting any extra concessions for themselves. It WOULD make fitting in a very different challenge for Sharon, because she wouldn't need the support group and we wouldn't be discussing That Time in front of her. But we'll do what we have to. Still, given her extremely good physical shape outside of being unable to walk, we doubt it will come to that.”
Donna thought back to her conversation with Mary. “Will Sharon be watched and monitored visually on the first day they tie her up, like was done with Mary?” she asked.
“Yes,” Ms. Wilkins nodded. “This is a necessity in all cases of accommodation. You're all aware by now, what kind of trouble the entire company can get in if an injury results, because all safety measures weren't followed extremely closely. So, if she goes to dinner with you and Bea, it'll be prudent to explain this to her. I remember reading a report that you weren't too happy finding out about being watched, before it could be broken to you on your last day of orientation.”
It had been long enough since that day that Donna was able to grin at the mention of it, although she well understood it was a serious matter. “Yes, that's true,” Donna said.
“So, tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday, and throughout Sharon's first week here, we'll be making sure the two of you are given whatever you need to prepare for this; as much as we can, in a company like this,” Ms. Wilkins said to Donna and Bea. “If Sharon sticks with us through orientation, I'll release the memo so all the women in HTG will know what changes are coming to That Time.”
“Is this the first time it's needed to be changed on such a significant scale?” Christina asked curiously.
“On behalf of one employee, probably yes,” Ms. Wilkins answered. “Excluding that, no, it's not the first, nor will it be the last, in all likelihood. The only change that's not coming for a long, long time, is it going away altogether.”
The four of them all laughed, and tapped coffee cups together in a sort of effigy like salute to how the HTG women stuck together to endure it.
* * * *
Monday morning. Donna stood at the same spot she'd stood at to greet Cassie; the same spot where Christina had stood to greet her. HTG had learned to balance change with custom and tradition, and balance them well. It was a necessity, of course, but true to their spirited nature, the company women had developed a flair for it.
The elevator doors opened, and Sharon Ganesh came wheeling out. Though not clear from her sitting posture, it appeared that Sharon was short of stature, slim, but even fully clothed in a crisp powder blue business suit with a white blouse and navy tie, Donna could see that she was powerfully built. Years of pushing herself in a manual chair had built Sharon's arms, shoulders and chest into an impressive sight for a woman her size. Just from first sight, Donna got the impression that Sharon was a couple of years older than what many of the women in New Bonds started work at.
Sharon's skin was deep tan; darker than Cassie, and she sported the same mane of non-glossy black hair. Her eyes were deep brown. A dark red dot decorated the center of her forehead; partially concealed by short bangs. A cultural mark, or one of her spiritual faith, Donna presumed. Sharon's hair was pulled behind her into a loose ponytail; Donna couldn't see how far down her back it went. Sharon wore fingerless black cyclist's gloves on her hands; Ms. Wilkins had pulled a string or two to ensure that Sharon had permission to wear them during work. Sharon's stockings were sheer off-black, and she wore black leatherette pumps with short block heels.
Although Donna knew nothing about wheelchairs, watching Sharon wheel toward her, gave the blonde the impression that Sharon's wheelchair was built for speed and maneuverability. It was painted dark green, and Sharon appeared to take care of it with as much devotion as many people took care of their cars.
Donna smiled at the new hire and put her hand out. “Welcome to HTG. I'm Donna Richmond; Mr. Stone's secretary.”
Sharon clasped the offered hand with a grip that made the blonde wince. She quickly loosened her grip with a contrite look. “Sorry,” she smiled.
“They told me you were strong. I guess I wasn't prepared for how much,” Donna shook her head, still smiling.
“I'm Sharon Ganesh,” the new hire introduced herself. Her voice was soft, clear, and carried all the inflections of one whose family had been living in America for several generations. Looking at her, it was impossible to miss her Indian roots, but her voice was perfect midwestern American English.
“I recently finished a Master's in Business Applications at the University of Nebraska,” Sharon continued. “I'm looking forward to what sounds like a challenging but enjoyable work environment, from the online ad and the interview.”
They don't miss a trick, do they, Donna thought of the marketers and recruiters who screen potential new hires. As with any new woman, Sharon's assessment of the work environment was right on the money, but the how of it, and what made it so? That was another matter altogether...
Donna showed Sharon to her office. The new hire looked quite pleased with it. Morning work proceeded at a brisk pace; Sharon learning the basics of the company software, processing bond forms with professional speed and accuracy. Freddy G. came by with a name plate for Sharon's desk and door.
* * * *
A memo was waiting for Donna in her fax/printer/copier when when she returned from lunch. Ms. Wilkins had sent her a checklist on some suggestions on how to hint to Sharon what would be coming when she began her second week. Due to the special accommodations she'd require, Sharon wouldn't be tied up at 3:45 for her first week here, the same as when Mary and Mrs. MacHugh began work at the company.
Donna spent some time reading the checklist over, in between getting her afternoon work done. She'd called an automated 'wake-up call' service to send a call to her cell phone at 3:00 pm, as a cue to when she should be finished doing her reading. Neither Donna, nor any of the women at HTG, watched the clock during the afternoon. It was one of the first things all the women were counseled on as new hires.
The aides came in and tied Donna up. Again she played at the old game of reliving as much of the initial fright when she saw them for the first time, as she could. She struggled with much less effort this time, however, and cried into her gag much more softly. She'd heard each office had a small white noise generator built into the wall near the door, in order to further mute each woman's gagged cries from anyone happening to pass by. If this story was true, it further explained the need to monitor each woman as she struggled, to make sure she was okay and not in sudden need of assistance. Despite that, there was no reason to tempt fate.
Donna did her best to keep her mind clear while she struggled in her hogtie. It helped, but didn't quite stop her mind from whirling with thought. Her first time as a 'big sister,' and the woman she'd be helping adjust to 'life at HTG' would be changing some of the rules of Down Time all on her own. Definitely not getting any easy assignments, even for my first one, Donna thought to herself.
Donna's toes kicked back and forth alternately, her ankles squirming against the ropes holding them firmly together. It was perhaps the one time the standard dress code worked against her. Donna wasn't sure if it was truly required for the women to wear hosiery-- more and more women, in more and more companies around the country, were protesting it, and getting the choice to eschew them; the women at HTG, however, for better or for worse, wore them each day and didn't make an issue of it. During Down Time, Donna could feel the potential restrictiveness of the garment more than at any other time during the work day. Donna still couldn't figure out why the aides were so careful not to make any snags or pulls in any woman's stockings while tying her up; she didn't think respect was the only reason. There has to be more than JUST that, she'd thought many times.
Donna shook her head and shrugged to herself. Time to keep her head clear again, she told herself. Once Down Time was over and she was untied, it would be time to go into Sharon's office and spent a final few moments for the day with her, rubbing her lotion into her wrists in front of Sharon so the new hire would see. Ms. Wilkins' checklist had included a few possible answers for Donna to give if Sharon happened to ask her about it.
Donna's head snapped up, and her gaze locked on her door, her face etched in fright. She felt her heart begin to pound against her breast. Oh, NO...
Sharon knocked on Donna's door again. “Donna, are you busy?”
Donna breathed in through her nose as slowly and deeply as she could, and held her breath. She realized her body was trembling. Thank goodness Sharon was polite enough to knock, but...
Oh shit. She's doing it!
Donna heard her doorknob creak. The blonde closed her eyes and desperately tried not to whimper. Sharon would have it hard enough when she was tied up for the first time. For her to see what it looked like, beforehand...? Donna herself didn't know what it looked like to be bound and gagged. Nor did she want to.
Suddenly she heard hurried footsteps, and a male voice outside her door. “Hello, Ms. Ganesh...”
“Oh! Nice to meet you, Mr. Stone...” Donna lost the thread of the conversation as she let out her breath, struggling to get her breathing back under control and her pounding heart to quiet down. Sharon and Mr. Stone's voices grew fainter, more distant.
Donna trembled uncontrollably, panting with relief. That was TOO close...
Donna's door opened, and the four aides assigned to her hurried inside, using the scissors to cut Donna loose. They helped her up and helped her to her chair. Donna nodded to them in thanks.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “I'll be all right.”
They nodded back and left her office.
Nancy came in ten minutes later. She put an index card on Donna's desk. It showed a hastily drawn stick figure in a wheelchair beside a door; Donna's name stenciled over the door. At the far end was another stick figure running over. Mr. Stone's name was stenciled above that one.
Aside from everything else, the aides are even trained to communicate almost any message without speaking out loud, Donna thought to herself, impressed once again.
“That was some quick thinking on Mr. Stone's part,” Nancy said, her eyebrows raised well up her forehead.
Donna nodded, still breathing slightly hard. She was about to answer when her speakerphone buzzed.
“Donna, I'm so sorry about that,” Mr. Stone said. “We always keep everyone who isn't 'in the know' as busy as we can during this period, so that you and the other women aren't disturbed.”
Donna was calming down, though the remaining traces of the scare thrown into her, still showed in her voice. “D-do you know what happened that Sharon had the chance to come here?”
“I will by the end of the day, and it'll be fixed, tomorrow. I promise you that, Donna,” Mr. Stone said.
Donna smiled. “Thank you. This isn't the first time you've come through for me.”
She heard Mr. Stone chuckle. “Honestly, this isn't just for you, this time. I have to answer to someone here, too. It'll be MY head if I let this happen again.”
“I wouldn't want that,” Donna said.
She glanced at Nancy, who nodded agreement.
“Nancy, you know herbal teas pretty well; why don't you take Donna for a cup or two at Jackson's?” Mr. Stone suggested. “I'm sure you know a couple of varieties that will help relax her. I'll clear it with Gary.”
Nancy smiled big. “Oh, yes sir, I know just the one,” she said, patting Donna's hand.
“I'll see to it that Sharon gets any other assistance she might need during the rest of the day,” Mr. Stone said.
Donna chuckled. “Thank you. Give me a moment to log out, Nancy.”
* * * *
It was the day of reckoning, and Donna was understandably nervous. Enough that Bea and Christina both sat with her at lunch to discuss the afternoon. Even Mary took some time out from her schedule to offer some input based on the first day they'd tied her up. It still wasn't easy for the Englishwoman to think about in detail, but it offered special perspective into the 'orientation' for a new hire with any kind of medical condition. Sharon seemed like a very nice young woman, but so did Sasha Fredrickson before the aides came knocking on her door, when Donna was still new at the company. Any one of many young women who never returned to HTG as soon as they found out about how they'd be spending each work afternoon hogtied on the floor of their offices, were all very nice and eager to 'learn the ropes' on working there at the start of their first work days... because they didn't yet know what 'learning the ropes' meant at HTG. That was the whole purpose of the support group; the sisterhood the women formed, where they all cooperated to learn how to make the work environment safe and the morale of all the women high. Nobody ever grew to LIKE being tied up each day; that was the whole point of it. They learned how to put up with it, how to tolerate and accept it, and make sure that the respect they were treated with was never in an objectifying way.
A few people in neighboring tables turned once or twice, to look at the four women as they talked. Nobody interrupted the conversation, although a few of them nodded their heads in understanding of the pow-wow. Orientation was always handled delicately, but also handled well. It had to be, in order for new girls just starting out at HTG, to feel safe enough to put in enough time where they could make a decision that was unburdened by the crushing emotional response of being seized and tied up for the first time.
By the time lunch was finished, the butterflies in Donna's stomach remained; they industriously kicked around the meal she'd eaten, even as her digestive system slowly broke it down. But she was ready as she could be. Even though Christina and Bea would never truly be friends, and never hung out together after work, the brunette was the first person to assure Donna that she couldn't ask for more solid backup in taking a new hire to dinner, than Bea. Bea gave Christina a simple nod of thanks in recognition of the compliment.
End of part 2
Copyright© 2016 by Delilah Winston. All rights reserved.
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