HTG: Quarterly Gains and Losses
by Delilah Winston
Donna had a lot to think about after she'd finished her talk with Rosa. She knew she was only seeing one side of her, and that Rosa was being especially careful to be on her best behavior. But what she'd seen and heard while sitting with her at Jackson's, she liked. When the memos arrived where Rosa and Christina each stated their case on why they were suited for the job, Donna found she liked Rosa's memo quite a lot; even more than her first impression from meeting with her. Then, when the time came to vote, Donna had a bit of a struggle before finally coming to terms with the fact that she was more comfortable seeing Rosa succeed Carla, than Christina.
Donna doubted she was the first woman to vote against her own 'big sister' in such a procedure, although the fact that the last election was so long ago, was enough to make her a little guilty. But Donna felt Rosa was the best woman for the job.
The votes were recounted twice as a measure of security. The results of the vote weren't revealed; only that Ms. Wilkins had arranged for the candidate-elect to come to her office before work began on Friday for the final interview. To further guard against any woman arriving early and watching for who showed up first, Ms. Wilkins had further arranged to pick both women up herself and drive them in to the company building at the same time. The memo for this arriving on a Wednesday, there was little to do but wait until then. Speaking to Rosa or Christina about the memo, again, was strongly frowned on, and neither woman would speak about it, anyway.
On Monday morning, as Donna was settling in her chair and logging into her workstation for the start of the day, a middle-aged looking man came into her office. His black hair had the standard male-baldness horseshoe pattern, and his deep tan, more like brown, skin tone was even and unblemished. He wore a pressed white shirt with long sleeves, a black tie, dark brown pants and black shoes. A wedding ring encircled the appropriate finger.
“Hi, I'm Navid,” he introduced himself, shaking hands in a friendly manner. “I head our administrative clerical office. Ms. Wilkins asked me to hand-deliver these memos to all the women in this department, along with Foreign Bonds and Mature Bonds. Another senior clerical official will handle the other departments.”
Navid sorted through a series of envelopes until he found the one with Donna's name. Although each memo was the same, the personalized envelopes was to add just that: a personal touch.
“Here you are,” he said, giving a small nod as he handed her the envelope. “Have a good day.”
“You too,” Donna smiled politely.
Donna took a deep breath as she picked up her letter opener and slit open the envelope.
It pleases me to announce that the position of head of women's Human Resources has now been filled. The candidate-elect conducted the interview with poise and professionalism, satisfying me that she'll serve in the position well. Please join me in congratulating Christina Vanderbilt, who will begin serving in her new duties immediately.
The memo was initialed BTW.
Although happy for Christina, Donna found she was a little concerned, although not for herself. Christina would now be responsible for counseling all of the corporate women, including Bea and Rosa. Not all the women had always seen eye to eye with Carla, but were there any women in the company that weren't fond of her personally? Donna found she was starting to worry that Bea or Rosa, or worse, both of them, might leave the company soon, rather than deal with Christina as their human resources counselor.
Fortunately, as Christina settled into her new duties, Donna noted that Bea didn't seem upset or displeased. The blonde didn't want to ask Bea outright and risk upsetting her, but by sitting with her at lunch a couple of times and making small talk, Donna saw that Bea seemed as content as she'd always been; as much as she, or any of the other women could, after reconciling themselves to Down Time.
* * *
The day was just wrapping up when Donna's speakerphone buzzed. “Hi, Donna,” Christina said. “Could you please come to my office for a few moments?”
Donna paused briefly, and then answered. “I'll be there in a minute.”
Christina had inherited Carla's old office, which wasn't for Carla specifically, but for the head of Human Resources. The door was ajar. Donna knocked twice to let the brunette know she was there, and then walked in.
Christina shook hands politely as she motioned Donna to be seated. “I don't leave at 5:00 sharp anymore; at least not every day like most of us get to do,” she explained. “That's why we're here instead of on our way to Jackson's for coffee.”
Donna nodded in quiet acquiescence. “So, what's on your mind?”
Christina's expression showed she was still very unhappy, and she still needed some time to finish cooling down. “Who does the head of Human Resources talk to for her own healing?” she said wistfully. “I wish I'd had the chance to ask. But of course...”
A few seconds passed as Christina idly drummed her fingers on her desk, contemplating the question, before returning her attention to Donna.
“Look, Donna. We all know that you didn't just up and decide on your own to keep what you found out, to yourself. We know that wasn't an easy choice you made. But the bottom line is, most of us, especially here in New Bonds, feel strongly that you made the wrong choice. We don't know what Carla was thinking in not coming to the rest of us right away. Yes, it would have shook morale very hard. But once Carla found out just how much trouble she was in, that was going to happen regardless. She'd reached a point where she COULDN'T keep it from us forever, and couldn't keep the truth from shaking us the way she knew it would. Once she was past that point, she had to stop worrying about protecting us and let us rally to her side. Every one of us was very deeply hurt at her shutting us out like that. Was it her decision? At the end of the day, yes, it was. We all had to, and have to, abide by it, but none of us had to like it. And none of us do. You didn't either, did you?”
Donna was silent for a quarter of a minute, contemplating the question.
“No, I can't say I did,” she said with a small sigh of concession. “But why take her decision out on me? I was at a point where no matter what I decided, someone was going to be very upset. I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn't?”
Christina looked off into space to her right side for a bit, before she answered.
“First,” she said, choosing her tone and words, “It was clear you also disagreed with Carla pushing us away from being there for her. It was your choice to make the decision not to come forward, for yourself, but not for all the rest of us as well. Second, and this is the primary sticking point-- Carla didn't have the authority to grant you sick leave. Only a manager does. That must have been Mr. Stone? Or did Mr. Halwell ask you on his behalf?”
Donna started to answer, but Christina suddenly made a hand gesture to show that it wasn't relevant.
“Either way, one or both of them asked you to take that sick leave to get your own head on straight. In direct contradiction to one of the support group's primary functions: letting we women take care of each other. The men, even our managers, even the men on the BOARD... they don't step in unless the situation is dire. If you were on the verge of an immediate breakdown, Donna, then they'd be expected to act right away. But whatever they helped you do, they could have easily asked us to do for you. We'd have been at your side in a minute, arranging for whatever help you'd have needed. And they knew that. More to the point-- so did you. So by skipping out on that sick leave, thinking none of us would see right through it, you did exactly what you didn't approve of Carla doing. You let Mr. Stone and Mr. Halwell make your arrangements instead of asking us to help, which by itself goes against what the sisterhood is FOR; and then you shut us out exactly the way Carla did. Something you weren't happy about her doing.”
Christina leaned forward and lay her forearms on her desk, folding her hands. The body language wasn't lost on Donna. Christina now was in a position to 'pull some rank' with her little sister, and wasn't afraid to do it.
“Do you still think we're taking our disagreement with Carla out on you, Donna?”
The blonde found herself starting to shrink in her seat, and her shoulders starting to pull in. She tried to stop it, only to find her own body taking command of its actions on its own. Christina noted it immediately and gave a small nod of satisfaction.
Finally Donna lifted her head to face her big sister. “I can't argue with that,” she said with full concession, owning up to her actions. “But if you saw just what kind of state I was in, the day I was asked to take that sick leave, you and the other women might be a little more lenient.”
Christina considered this, and likewise gave that same small nod of concession. “Maybe we would,” she said. “But again, like I said before-- it's too late now to find out for sure.”
Donna looked like she was ready to answer, but Christina gave a simple shrug and a small wave of her hand that showed Donna was free to go.
“We'll all forgive you in time, Donna, if you give us that,” Christina said. “And I'm still your 'big sister,' despite my new duties. I'll be there if you need help with anything else.” She looked around her new office and gave a small smile. “It's now my job in two different ways, instead of just one.”
Donna started to smile back, but she knew that her feelings would make it into a condescending smile rather than an honest one, so she fought to wipe it off her face. “Congratulations on being our new head of support,” she managed to say, knowing that she meant it.
Christina nodded in thanks. “I'll do my best at it,” she promised.
* * *
Donna settled in front of her computer to spend a little time online before watching the evening news. She turned on her instant message client and surfed through a few news feed articles.
An instant message came in. “Hello, Donna? Carla gave me the password for her instant message client so that I could see to its deactivation, when she entered hospice care. Please don't be angry that I got your screen name from the list?”
Donna glanced at the instant message box identifier: BBailey055.
“No, it's okay,” Donna typed back.
A few seconds and Barbara's next message was a simple, “How are you doing?”
Donna sat back and thought. Barbara must have been contacting her for a reason. An even more important one than Donna first thought, to be using instant messaging rather than email.
“How long did you know?” Donna asked.
“I was the first one she told outside of her family,” Barbara typed back.
Donna's eyebrows raised and she let out a breath.
“She knew you saw the journal entry she made when she accidentally left it open on her desk that day,” Barbara added.
“Why did she want me not to tell anyone?” Donna typed.
The silence was longer before the tone for Barbara's next message came.
“Carla was always proud and stubborn. Anyone who had an argument with her, that's what they would point out first. She was always the caretaker. We didn't take care of her. It's who she was.”
“Did she have any idea how much trouble I'd get in with the other co-workers, once they found out I knew?” Donna typed.
“I didn't say she made the right call,” Barbara typed back. “Carla wasn't easy to figure out for anyone. I'm sorry for what you went through.”
Donna's fingernails idly drummed her keyboard for a moment. “Thanks for letting me know.”
“Carla mentioned your name to me a couple of times. I know that meant she saw something in you,” Barbara typed back.
This gave Donna pause, and she glanced at her instant message box in awe.
“That's the main reason I wanted to contact you. If Carla saw something in you, then you need to stay strong and don't give up. I don't know anything more than what Carla said to me. But if you endure the trouble you're in now, maybe one day you'll figure it all out. There's more to Life at HTG than we knew.”
Donna let out a breath. “What does that mean?” she asked.
“I'm not sure, and if I did know, I couldn't say. But if you're willing to trust me, you'll find it all out,” Barbara typed back.
“Is that what you feel, or what Carla felt?” Donna typed in.
“Both. She was my little sister. I trusted her judgment, even when I didn't agree,” Barbara answered.
This made Donna feel better, and more importantly, Barbara was right.
“Thank you Barbara,” Donna typed back.
“Good night,” was Barbara's reply before she signed off.
* * *
Time heals all wounds, or so they say, although memories live on. So it was at HTG. Work gradually began to return to as close to normal as it could get-- as did Down Time.
Donna found herself again playing the old games with the aides; squirming in their grasp so they had to hold her fast while they tied her up, handing them 'the look' as if warning them not to do, what she knew they wouldn't do anyway, and giving that same little grumble at another 'defeat' as they came back into her office to untie her after Down Time was done. As Donna's ankles were tied tightly, she flexed the toes of her shoes out and in, causing one aide to take hold of them so the others could finish. Once again Donna found herself marveling at their prowess and precision. Training for something like that must take months, Donna reasoned. They always knew just how to hold her fast, easily overpowering her but always very sure and careful so she wasn't hurt or bruised. Never the slightest damage to any of her clothing, nor to her stockings-- Donna had begun to wonder recently if there was any significance to that. Never any touching to the wrong parts of her body, even by accident; these were not careless men. But of course, most of all, once Donna was hogtied and gagged, and begun her struggles on the floor of her office, she wasn't going anywhere soon.
Donna had to get back to trying to keep her mind clear as she struggled in her bondage. She stopped paying attention to whether her muffled cries into her gag sounded more like trying to talk to herself than anything else; she'd finally reasoned that her gagged cries helped push and motivate her for that extra oomph while struggling, for all the good it did her, but that was her story and it was better than any other she could think of. Every so often she'd begun rolling onto her side for short periods of time. It didn't bring her any closer to getting free, but it helped with enduring the restrictiveness of her hogtie. Down Time always lasted 45 minutes because the average woman, in any reasonable degree of shape, was able to endure it for that long before her body started becoming sore and achy; the women were all untied at that point so the aches wouldn't lead to sprains or bruises. This was certainly true for Donna, and while she hadn't discussed it with any of her co-workers, it seemed to ring true for them as well, from making small talk with them during lunch hour, or while meeting for coffee or dinner after work, at Jackson's.
Donna had also found that chewing a stick of gum for about ten minutes prior to the start of Down Time, kept her mouth from becoming too dry while she was gagged. A number of the other women had begun doing the same, after she told them about it, and even Mr. Halwell was impressed enough by the idea, once he caught wind of it, that he passed on a suggestion to Ms. Wilkins about adding a tertiary convenience budget for chewing gum, along with the ones already in place for one-use lotion bottles, and packets of Epsom salt.
One thing Donna had to 'grin and bear' right after Down Time ended was a little cramping around her knees and ankles. It wasn't just her bondage, but also the hogtie rope, keeping her bound feet pulled up and back toward her bound wrists. This kept her knees tightly bent and her calves not too far from her thighs. Forty-five minutes of this was enough to produce some natural cramping in the joints of Donna's legs, and that was why all the women were untied as quickly as possible once those forty-five minutes were up. One of the early lectures each girl received as a new hire, when she started attending support group meetings, was to keep her legs stretched out while seated at her desk, particularly after lunch period ended and they began afternoon work. Once untied, it helped to stretch their legs again, to work any knots out of their muscles. Since Donna took the bus to work, sometimes she'd walk to the stop just before her usual one, and get on the bus there, in order to give her legs some extra stretch time.
Donna offered a brief, courteous smile to the lead aide as the four of them finished plugging her phone cord back in and stowing the untied ropes. As usual, they offered no response, other than the occasional nod she was given from time to time; another privilege that came with time on the job.
Karen came into Donna's office to pick up the last paperwork of the day. The look on Karen's face showed she came bearing bad news.
“Uh-oh,” Donna mumbled.
Karen gave a small smile. “Perceptive,” she conceded.
Karen paused a couple of seconds.
“Donna, it's... she isn't...”
Donna held her breath. Karen's dialogue was very sure and steady unless she was at a loss for words, which was rare. Her duties required it.
“Cassie isn't coming back,” Karen said. “We both thought she was just going to be out today, but she's left.”
Donna's mouth fell open. “Wh-wha--” her tongue slipped; it felt like she had to move it across ice. “What ha-happened?”
Karen shook her head. “I don't know. Mr. Stone didn't say. Even Mr. Halwell says he isn't sure. Just that she won't be returning to work with us.”
Donna swallowed hard. “My gosh,” she whispered.
“I'll come find you in the cafeteria for lunch on Monday, okay?” Karen offered. “I'm going to be swamped the rest of the week on the latest contract. Client wants to insure his investment against long-term interest rate decline.”
Donna pursed her lips and nodded. “Thanks, Karen.”
“Good night,” Karen said politely, before returning to her office.
Donna knew that Karen was telling her the truth-- but not all of it. She was the one who first confided in Donna that Carla's health had started taking a turn for the worse; but what frightened her the most was not knowing how bad it was. It was Donna who first learned just how bad it had turned out to be. Donna's handling of that situation wounded the executive very deeply; much more so than it had hurt Christina. That Karen was offering to meet Donna in the cafeteria for lunch even just come Monday, was a testament to her tremendous self-control. Deep down, she had to be a storm of carefully controlled emotion... and Donna would be the one she'd take it out on, given an excuse. Never mind the fact that Karen was never Cassie's biggest fan.
Karen knew Donna needed someone to talk to, right away, and was being proactive in excluding herself. She was stalling for time, and Donna knew that given how much time had passed already since Carla's funeral, Karen wasn't likely to be ready to speak to Donna, big sister to little sister, by Monday. The blonde brooded quietly to herself throughout the bus trip home.
Hanging up her skirt suit, washing her pantyhose in the sink and hanging them up to drip dry, Donna donned her pajamas and started snacking on sunflower seeds; her favorite comfort food. What was she going to do now? Carla was gone, Christina and Karen were still angry at her... and Cassie had left the company. Donna dearly wished she could at least ask her why. It was funny, really. Technically, Donna hadn't been Cassie's big sister, but Donna had learned so much from her. Cassie had started to become a tertiary big sister... to Donna. And now she wasn't available, either.
Reaching for the remote for her stereo, Donna accidentally tipped over her purse, and her wallet fell out. A few cards kept in one of the folds slipped out. As Donna reorganized the cards in the fold, one of them caught her attention.
She slid the card out of the fold, staring at it. With her other hand, she popped a handful of sunflower seeds into her mouth, chewing them with an audible crisp sound.
If her co-workers learned about it, Donna was risking an ostracism as bad as flunking the post-orientation 'loyalty test.' After all, this woman was the reason such a rite of passage existed in HTG.
As bad an ostracism, as the one for which she was still waiting to blow over?
Donna grabbed her phone; her land line phone, not her cell. She dialed the number.
It rang once; twice. Donna knew they were open until 6:30 most weekdays, and it was currently 6:04.
“Northland Travel Agency. Ann speaking.”
Donna's lips pursed. Once she did this, there was no turning back.
“It's Donna Richmond,” Donna said, letting her breath out softly. “Let's do coffee?”
She felt her face flush rosy. She was waiting to be told, 'I told you so,' in a tone that oozed smugness like Donna had never heard before. It didn't come.
“Evening, Donna,” Annie said; her tone friendly; even matronly. “You know the Two Arches Diner?”
“Um, no,” Donna admitted. “But if I can find it on Google Maps, I can be there.”
“21-444 Jefferson Drive,” Annie said. “Corner of 50th Street.”
“Got it. 7 PM tomorrow evening?”
“I can be there right after we close tonight, if you like, Donna.”
Donna drew breath, very surprised. “W-well... sure. I'll just change clothes and print up the directions, and I can be there.”
“Okay,” Annie said agreeably. She gave a brief pause. “Donna, I read the obituary in the newspaper. Wasn't hard to figure it out. I'm not going to bother pretending to think anything nice, about what her job was. But I know how it feels to lose a friend. I'm truly sorry.”
Donna felt the tears spill from her eyelids as her breath caught in her breast. “Thank you, Annie. I'll see you at the diner, soon as I get there.”
“See you there, Donna.”
Donna zipped up her jeans and donned her pullover shirt so quickly, she almost tore the fabric of the shirt. She finished dressing; socks, sneakers, a light summer windbreaker, as her printer output a detailed set of directions from Google Maps, to reach the diner. As she grabbed her purse, she looked toward her bedroom. She'd folded her tie hurriedly and left it on the bed.
Donna stared at it for a few seconds. Then she turned, strode out her door, and hurried to her car.
Copyright© 2015 by Delilah Winston. All rights reserved.
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