HTG: Quarterly Gains and Losses
by Delilah Winston
“Hi there,” Donna said into the phone. “Happy birthday, a week early.” Ethan's birthday was on the fall equinox.
Donna heard a slight chuckle. “Thank you.” Ethan's voice sounded like he was standing away from his phone.
“Am I on speaker?” Donna asked.
“Yes,” Ethan said. “Give me a few seconds.”
Donna heard the distant sounds of a door opening, a second, older male voice talking to Ethan, and then footsteps. “Donna, meet my dad. Dad, this is Donna, the woman I've been dating. She lives in the same building as Bobby and Diane. We met watching baseball games with them, and I've been dating her for a little over a year.”
“Hello, Mr. Goldman,” Donna said politely. “Nice to meet you. Even if over the phone.”
She heard two male voices laughing; Ethan and the older man. “Well, the woman who's been dating my son doesn't have to call me, 'Mr. Goldman.' You can call me Martin.”
“So, what's happening?” Ethan asked. “Looking forward to our trip to Milwaukee?”
“Milwaukee, is that the trip you said you were going to be taking?” Mr. Goldman asked.
Ethan chuckled. “Yeah, we're going to take the bus up there for Oktoberfest. Nine day vacation.”
“That's great,” Mr. Goldman said. “And you're the lucky young lady who's going with him, I see.”
Donna grinned. “That would be me. So, I have the funniest little story for you, Ethan. Both of you might find it interesting.”
“Sure,” Ethan said.
“Well, on the day we were introduced to each other by Diane and Bobby, I told you where I work...”
“Right. I've heard of the company name before,” Ethan said.
Donna paused a second or two. “In the lobby of the building is a large portrait of its three senior board members who founded the company. I'd looked at it from time to time, but never really in detail, or up close.”
“Yeah...” Ethan's voice changed in tone. Donna could tell he had a feeling what she was leading up to.
“So, the other day, I'm coming in a little early,” Donna continued. “I happen to walk into the building behind a man looking to be in his sixties. He wore a hat, but I could see he had gray hair. Looking at him from that angle, I happen to notice that his profile resembles yours.”
Donna heard Mr. Goldman cough lightly. The cat was out of the bag.
“He's in the elevator before I can catch up and get a good look at his face. But then I happen to turn again to the portrait in the lobby, and son of a gun. The man on the right, in the portrait. Even without having gotten that close a look, I'm sure that's him. Finally I read the inscription on the portrait. He had the most interesting surname.”
Ethan grunted weakly. “I'll guess it sounded a lot like mine,” he said half joking.
“Sounded exactly like yours,” Donna finished. “Goldman. Martin Goldman, in fact.”
“Interesting story, indeed,” Mr. Goldman said.
“So, I'm happy that Ethan's father says I can call him by his first name,” Donna said apologetically. “But calling my boss by his first name, on the other hand...”
Donna hadn't had to finish her sentence. The silence that followed was long, and uncomfortable.
Finally Ethan spoke up. “So, are you waiting for the right moment to tell me that I've been mondo busted?”
“I was more hoping you'd say it yourself,” Donna said. Her voice showed she wasn't overly angry at Ethan; he hadn't lied to her. But she wasn't overjoyed at having learned he'd been keeping this from her, either.
“You've 'heard of the company name' of where she works,” Mr. Goldman repeated, to Ethan. “Huh. All the time you've been dating her, you knew she worked for me, and never told her you're my son.”
“No, you never did,” Donna said to Ethan. “Were you planning to tell me the truth on this some time?”
Ethan sighed. A long sigh, not of frustration, but the same awkwardness Donna was feeling... and most likely, Ethan's father as well. “Not for a little while yet, no. It had to come out sooner or later, but I still didn't feel this was the time. I'll admit that. 'Nice to meet you, Donna; I'm Ethan Goldman. I used to date Diane for a while. By the way, did you know my dad signs your paychecks at your job?' Great way to open a dialogue.”
Donna heard Mr. Goldman suppress a chuckle, and she had to do the same. Ethan's clever response had her feeling a little embarrassed. “There's more to this, Ethan,” she said, “but in front of your father isn't a good place or time. Call me later, or tomorrow?”
“Certainly,” Ethan said. “Ten o'clock sound good? Dad's going to be here for an hour or so. He footed part of the bill for my going back to college, and he's here to pick up a check. I'm paying him back whatever I can.”
Donna was impressed at this. “Very responsible of you,” she teased.
But she heard Mr. Goldman chuckle. “'Responsible' implies it was his decision.”
Donna grinned. “Now you sound like MY dad, Mr. Goldman,” she said, and all three of them gave another polite laugh. “All right. I'll be up at ten.”
“Call you then,” Ethan said.
Ethan's call came at 9:59. No question, he was punctual.
Donna didn't beat around the bush. “How much do you know? About what goes on at HTG?”
“Enough,” Ethan said. His tone indicated that he didn't want to discuss how he felt about it.
Donna didn't know whether to be impressed or indignant. “I guess that's why you never brought me home to meet your family before,” she finally said with a broken chuckle, taking a page from Ethan's book on breaking an awkward silence.
“That would explain it,” Ethan admitted. “Hey Mom, hey Dad. This is Donna, the girl I've been dating. By the way, did you know she works at your company, Dad, and your employees go into her office each day, and...” his voice trailed off with a small sigh, not wanting to finish the sentence.
“I can see why you wouldn't want to tell them that,” Donna said, nodding in concession. “But you were also going to let me stay in the dark about it, too. Will you at least tell me why? There's dozens of possible reasons, and I'd like to know how they factor into our relationship.”
“My reasons were, if you knew off the bat, you'd have no reason to trust me as far as my becoming interested in you, went. Would I want to really be your friend, or did I just want to get you into my bed and tie you down to it. Would I respect you as a person, or just see you as a kinky sex object.”
“Yet, it wasn't until our sixth date that you kissed me,” Donna said, half to herself. “You weren't just holding back for me?”
“Maybe a little more than for someone else. A little more than I did for Diane, yes,” Ethan's response was spoken slowly, showing he thought out his words with care. “Look, Donna... if we have to suddenly walk a minefield talking to each other, we might as well just agree to only see each other at Bobby's place watching ball games again. Take a few minutes to think on this. I'll wait for you to answer. I swear to you, I've been trying to get to know the person you are while you're OFF duty, not on. If I'm going to pursue a relationship with you, it can't be just for your body. Your mind and soul come along with it. It's probably a good thing that I haven't asked to take you to bed yet, because if I had, you'd probably have broken up with me already, thinking that's all I'd planned for since the moment you told me where you worked. Do you believe me when I tell you this?”
Ethan waited to let Donna think. He heard her start to sniffle. Although he didn't hear all the associated sounds, he had a strong feeling she was crying, and had put her hand over the phone's mouthpiece. Slowly he let out his breath and nodded. He was just about to bid her good night, and to see her again at Bobby's for the baseball playoffs, when she spoke up again.
“Yes. Yes, I believe you,” she sniffled softly. “But let me ask you something now. You went back to school for a business degree. Are you working at HTG as well?”
“WILL you be, in the near future?”
Ethan laughed. “You are one sharp cookie,” he said, impressed. “But I haven't asked my dad for a job. And he hasn't offered me one. Yet. It is a possibility down the line. Even though I have a good job right now, and it seems more than stable enough, working for my dad would pay better and have better benefits. But my taking a job offer from him, would still be a last-ditch effort to avoid having to move back in with him and Mom. And if, heaven forbid, I DID have to do that, I wouldn't be doing it for free. I'm old enough that they can want to have their house to themselves again.”
They both laughed again. Donna was still sniffling, but she was pleased with how Ethan felt about her. “You're smart yourself,” Donna said, “...as well as even more considerate than I'd thought. That's not an everyday find.”
“Definitely a better one than Stan Hill's oldest son,” Ethan said, part humorously but also seriously at the same time. “You'd be through with him ten times over by now.”
Donna gave a small smile. “I'll be sure to stay away from him, then,” she said, half teasingly. “Well, if you're still up for Oktoberfest in Milwaukee, so am I.”
“I'll pick you up for the trip to the bus station at 4:30 am,” Ethan said. His voice had picked up, sounding like he'd given a smile like on their first date at Felmond Park.
“And Ethan, please give my apologies to your father. I'd do it myself, but I'm still at a position in the company where I can't up and ask to see a senior member of the board, just like that.”
“I know,” Ethan said, “and Dad does too. He asked me to thank you for your consideration. He also asked me to tell you he promises never to watch. Said you'd know what that means.”
Donna gave a brief, noiseless chuckle. “Yes, I can figure it out. Do you know what it means?”
“I'm not 100% sure, but I have a hunch. And if my hunch is right, I'm damn glad he made that promise.”
Donna lifted her hand up to shoulder level before blushing and putting her hand back down.
“I am too,” Donna said after having caught herself.
They said good night, and Donna made herself some hot cocoa to drink while watching the news. Sleep came quite easily, leaving her with a good feeling when she awoke the following morning.
* * *
Donna and Ethan tapped mugs together and quaffed the lager. They'd registered for the taxicab pickup service to bring them back to their hotel after the celebration was over, so they could let themselves drink an extra glass or two past their norms. Morning would definitely be uncomfortable, even though they'd researched hangover recovery and had several remedies ready in their room.
“... and I think we're gonna need them,” Donna giggled slightly, her face looking a little flushed as she wiped the heady foam from her mouth and hands with a napkin. “This is just, wow. No American draft can stand up to this.”
Ethan smiled and nodded. “Real Bavarian lager? Hard to come by, west of the Atlantic Ocean. Never mind its quality and strength, many of the families in charge of brewing it are protective of the secrets.”
Pressing the base of the mug down on the table, Donna picked up a doughy pretzel and began nibbling on it to dull the lager's strong aftertaste. “Their bakers are fantastic, as well.”
Ethan looked at a booklet he and Donna had been reading through to become more acquainted with the traditions and history of Oktoberfest. “German baked goods are world famous, according to the booklet,” he said, picking up his pretzel and taking a bite. He licked his lips and nodded. “I can see why.”
“What about their fashion?” Donna ran a hand across her midsection, her face a picture of sardonic humor.
Ethan laughed. “Oh, come on. You look so cute.”
“YOU look cute,” Donna countered. “Me? Well, suffice to say, if you let any pictures of me in this dress get on to the internet, you're not gonna look so cute anymore, because every boy I knew in college is gonna show up to fight you for my affections.”
Oktoberfest clothing was available in a number of stores in Milwaukee during this time of year. Donna's dress was a German dirndl made from light green and white cotton. It had billowy shoulders with padding to make them look even fuller, and billowy short sleeves ending in elasticized cuffs. The square neckline plunged down to give a minimal hint of Donna's cleavage, and just below, a green bodice cinched around her ribs; fastened with a criss-cross cinching of bright green ribbon. The skirt had a sewn-on gingham-checked apron on the outside and a triple-tier sewn-in petticoat on the interior, with a lace hemline just clearing Donna's kneecaps. Donna wore white over the knee socks made of heavy cotton, textured with a pattern resembling a twisted cable, and black shoes with 1½ inch block heels, a Mary Jane strap over her insteps, and an ankle wrap strap. The low block heels were for balance and comfort while dancing. Donna's hair was threaded into two braids down either side of her head, cinched with bright green ribbons. For Ethan, it was a loose white cotton shirt with the sleeves unbuttoned and pushed up to his elbows, a brown suede alpine hat adorned with a matching hawk feather, brown lederhosen with suspenders crossed in the back, and adorned with gold-colored buttons and snaps; the pants cuffs coming to just above his knees. Completing this ensemble were light tan knee socks made of acrylic, and traditional brown haferl shoes.
“I'll sign up for karate lessons soon as we get back,” Ethan winked.
“I'll get you a gi when we get back home,” Donna smiled mischievously. “I like the look of the lederhosen better, though.”
“Of course you would,” Ethan smiled back.
A lively Bavarian folk tune came up by the band, and most of the participants went to the dance floor.
“Lesson two, German folk dancing,” Donna grinned again, reaching for Ethan's hand.
But when they got to the dance floor, they found that there were separate moves and steps for men and women, meaning they didn't dance together until further into the festival.
Ethan shrugged and winked as he joined the men's group. “Feels like a marionette on strings,” he joked to Donna about the dance style used by the men.
Donna laughed and did her best to copy the other women dancers, her skirt billowing as she turned in two elliptic twirls. “Like I said, you look cute. I'm the one who'll have to fend off dozens of suitors.”
The festival lasting most of the day, they carefully nursed each of three lagers, making sure to eat enough of the pretzels, and some sausage and cheese, to help offset the alcohol. They chose to sit out one of every three or four dances to give themselves a rest and slow down the alcohol circulation. They took the hangover remedies once back in their rooms, making the next morning bearable, if still a little achy.
* * *
If you asked Donna, she'd tell you without hesitation that it was true. Ask her to explain why, however, and she wouldn't have the foggiest idea. Vacation time was always good, always enjoyable, and always relaxing. And her first two days back at work after vacation was over, were always the ones she looked forward to as a vacation was wrapping up. Once those two days were done, she'd be settled back into the daily routine of her life. But those first two work days always felt great; she was always eager to get back to the job. Ups and downs included.
Being hogtied and gagged on the floor of her office, of course, was neither an up nor a down anymore. It was part of the routine.
Maybe that's why her struggles were starting to fit into a pattern, she'd tried to tell herself lately. And she accepted the idea because she didn't want to have another outburst like the one that sent her big sisters to her side. At the same time, Donna was still a competitor like most of the others. And she'd never come any closer to getting free if she let her struggles become too routine.
She was starting to find that balance in keeping her mind clear as much as possible. Thinking too much during Down Time was starting to make her head hurt, anyway. It was her body that was tied and restrained. She needed to focus on that.
“mmmMMMMMMmmmm MMMMMMMmmmm!!” Donna's gagged cries continued without letup. The fold of soft white cloth kept her lips pressed firmly together; the cloth emerging, pinched, from the corners of her mouth where each fold widened around the curve of her cheeks. There was always something about Donna's gag that made her irritated about wearing it. Made her near obsessed with working it out of her mouth.
'It's more invasive than the ropes,' Cassie had told her recently. 'The ropes don't go under your skin. That damned piece of cut sheet goes INTO you, and not just anywhere. Even if something tastes good, how many people can hold it IN their mouths for forty-five minutes without being able to swallow it or spit it out? And a piece of linen sheet doesn't taste good, lemme tell you. It tastes like cardboard, and that's on a good day.'
“MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmm mmmm MMmmmmMMMMMMM!” Cassie was right, as usual. Too bad all her knowledge hadn't helped Donna, or any of the women, get free yet. There was one flaw in Mary's line of thinking regarding Cassie's knowledge on consensual bondage. In college with her then-boyfriend, Cassie rarely put up a real struggle to get loose, if at all.
'What is she, nuts?' Cassie snickered noisily after Donna had told her. 'I don't give a crap what that English muffin tells you, doll. She doesn't know squat about doing it for real. Anton was never the one in control. I was. Never mind that I could have whooped his ass any day of the week if he pissed me off. When I let him put a collar around my neck, I had him by his balls. Why should I have wanted to give THAT up? Here, the way they treat you all so 'ladylike' means you don't control beans. And you still don't know why this corny little bet you have with the other gals is so CORNY.'
Corny or not, Donna still wanted to win. That's why she didn't take quite everything Cassie told her to heart.
Donna's wrists wriggled and squirmed side to side, and up and down. Sometimes she just pulled against the ropes that tied them. It wasn't a question of what wasn't going to work, anymore, because nothing had. And a number of women here had been working, and therefore struggling, for a lot longer than Donna had.
Donna's heels kicked back and forth, making her knees jerk up and down. Suddenly she felt something push back against the toes of her shoes. She craned her neck, not remembering she wouldn't be able to look completely over her shoulder, but she didn't need to turn her neck that much when there were four big men all squatting or kneeling over her, gently pressing on her shoulder blades to keep her steady.
Another defeat in a long list of many, with many more to come. That was beginning to feel routine as well. Donna stretched herself out and gave the lead aide a quick “Later, fellas” as they opened the door to her office on the way out. One by one, they each half-turned their heads partially over their shoulder to give her a simple nod. The gesture made their effigy masks a little less imposing, somehow.
As she sat, Donna ran her fingertips down her left leg and stopped just under the bottom of her calf.
'Last pair of stockings I needed to replace, was nine weeks ago, and it's never even been their fault,' she said to herself with a sardonic grin, reaching into her purse for the bottle of clear nail polish that would 'hold' her until she got home.
* * *
Donna finished up a batch of forms for Karen, who was in the process of helping a new client start up a portfolio of savings bonds that would pay for his daughter's college education. She was turning to her phone to page Karen and let her know that the forms were ready, when her door opened.
“Perfect timing,” Donna said, stapling all the forms together.
Karen accepted the forms with a nod of thanks, smiling at Donna. She started to look the forms over and suddenly paused.
“These are 1040 tax forms,” Karen said. “I needed form 1099s.”
Donna's brow knit. “Are you sure? At the start of the—”
“Form 1099s,” Karen repeated, nodding her head slightly for emphasis.
Donna turned to a small batch of post-it notes on her Rolodex. “Right here, it says you needed--”
“I needed form 1099s!”
Donna's eyes popped wide open at the volume of Karen's raised voice. The dark-haired woman was well-known for her calm and even temper. Donna drew breath slowly, her green eyes projecting a look of acquiescence and stunned surprise.
Karen suddenly put her left hand over her mouth, her eyelids drooping over her brown eyes as her alabaster-like skin went scarlet clear down to her neck.
“I'm sorry, Donna....” her voice started to choke up, barely making it past the hand she still kept over her mouth. Karen backpedaled several steps and turned, hurrying out of Donna's office; forgetting to close the door behind her.
Donna quickly printed up several batches of form 1099-DIVs and 1099-INTs and brought them to Karen's office. She knocked lightly on the door before entering.
Karen sat in her chair, her elbows on her desk and her face in her hands.
Donna closed the door carefully and put the forms on Karen's desk. She touched the executive on the shoulder.
Karen slowly lowered her hands from her face and looked up to meet Donna's gaze. A tear track ran down her left cheek. “Please forgive me, Donna, I didn't mean to--”
Donna shook her head. “You don't need to be forgiven, Karen,” she said gently. “Talk to me. What's wrong?”
“I don't know if something IS wrong,” Karen said, looking away. “I think that's the worst part of it. Not knowing if I should be worried or not.”
Donna waited. She could see that Karen didn't want to talk about this, but holding it in was too painful for her to handle.
“Carla can't lay on her stomach comfortably anymore, because of her reflux,” Karen said, her voice lowering to a near-whisper.
“What does that mean?” Donna lowered her voice accordingly. Nobody was going to overhear anyway, but it seemed to make Karen more comfortable to speak in this hushed tone.
“Mr. Halwell was starting to look into having Carla exempt from being tied up any more.”
Donna's eyebrows furrowed. “Would they do that?”
“If Carla needed it badly enough, for a medical reason, I'm sure they would,” Karen said. “We've just never had that degree of a special needs case before.”
“I guess they aren't prepared for quite everything,” Donna noted, bringing a soft chuckle to Karen's lips.
“No, but pretty close to it,” Karen said. “You remember how they accommodated Mary's asthma, right? And Audrey MacHugh in the Foreign Bonds department, she's hypoglycemic. Exerting herself, even just by struggling, can make her faint if she overdoes it. She carries a Pez dispenser with her at all times in case of an emergency. An aide needs to stay IN her office, to be ready to help her take a couple of Pez immediately.”
“Wow,” Donna shivered lightly. The only thing she knew about Audrey MacHugh was that she'd just been appointed a new junior manager for her department; the fourteenth woman in HTG to become one. Even Karen couldn't call her by her first name during the work day, anymore. “That must... freak her out?”
Karen smiled slightly. “The aide puts a sleeping mask over his regular mask to cover his eyes,” she said. “He sits right to the side of the door, his chair facing the nearest corner. Mrs. MacHugh is placed facing the opposite direction instead of toward her door, and she has a safeword to signal the aide if she starts feeling unwell. She rolls onto her side and taps her fingers or shoes against the floor thrice in quick succession. And of course, if she suddenly goes silent, that's another alert.”
“They can accommodate Carla, then, right?” Donna asked. “How does Carla feel about it?”
Karen smiled again, this time warmly. “Oh, Carla's a trooper, all right,” she said. “She's dead set against being exempt completely. She suggested the aides bring in a wooden armless chair, and tie her to the chair. Tie her wrists behind the backrest, and a length of rope over her lap to anchor her against the seat of the chair. Her ankles together instead of to the chair's legs, and of course the ropes around her chest, maybe one less coil to take the breadth of the backrest into account.”
“Sounds like a viable solution,” Donna said.
“It should be,” Karen agreed, before suddenly taking light hold of Donna's forearm. “But Donna... this can't become public knowledge. It could cripple morale among all the women here. Carla does human resources, that means EVERY corporate woman here knows her. A key part of Carla's job is to help counsel and support women on making the transition into what we call, life at HTG. She's scared to death of how morale would be affected if everyone knew she needed this kind of accommodation suddenly.”
Karen's grip tightened slightly, and she drew in her breath in a way that Donna could hear it. “Donna, I'm begging you. For Carla's sake, for the sake of departmental morale. You don't know this; I don't know this. You brought these forms in and we cleared up the misunderstanding over what type of forms I asked for. No more, no less. We didn't talk about Carla.”
Donna's lips quivered and her eyes flickered down to the floor. She had a bad feeling about where this was going to lead. She struggled with her answer until she felt Karen's grip on her forearm grow slightly tighter again.
“All right, okay,” Donna gave in.
Karen nodded, stood, and hugged Donna gratefully. Donna nodded back and returned to her office.
Donna's mind remained preoccupied with the conversation through the bus ride home. She accidentally missed her stop and had to walk back from the next one.
End of part 7
Copyright© 2015 by Delilah Winston. All rights reserved.
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