HTG: Changing Rules
by Delilah Winston
Even the aides sensed the importance of the job awaiting Donna once Down Time would be over. They paused just inside the door of her office, and the lead aide held up an index card with 'Good Luck' stenciled on it. Donna couldn't help but grin as they carefully lifted her up from her chair and put her wrists behind her back. She managed to give a small nod of her head before her mouth was covered and they went to work tying her up.
Of course, once they started the rope work, it was down to business as usual for the aides; that was something that 'had to be,' as well, from their end. Despite the tingle at the base of Donna's spine as they tied her up, the way they 'stuck to routine' helped take some of the edge off her anxiety. She was grateful for this, and would have told them so if they were permitted to bend protocol enough to uncover her mouth long enough. As usual, though, they worked in tandem, pulling her gag into her mouth as soon as the lead aide removed his hand, tying it tightly. She'd have to keep her thoughts-- and feelings-- to herself, both literally and figuratively, and the thought of it made her have to stifle a chuckle.
The ropes were tied around her upper body and ankles after she was sat down on the stool, and then she was lain on her side on the floor and gently turned on to her stomach, before the hogtie rope was knotted in place. The cushion was slid under her chin, and her phone cord unplugged and stowed in a drawer of her desk, before the aides left her office. Donna slowly let out her breath as she began to struggle.
Again, it was somewhat difficult for Donna to keep her head clear as she struggled in her bondage. Mr. Stone had again been true to his word; Sharon hadn't come out of her office and knocked on Donna's door during Down Time again, the rest of her first week. Donna and Bea had both dropped the hints suggested, on what the new hire would have to look forward to on starting her second week. She'd asked a couple of questions, and been given the answers suggested.
'I don't think she bought them,' Donna thought to herself, shaking her head side to side. As much a gesture to how she thought Sharon had taken the explanations she'd been given, as Donna trying to get her gag out of her mouth. 'This is a very smart lady we have here. More observant than I was.' Of course, Sharon had had a whole week to think on it, unlike Donna or most women when they started out.
But today, right now, even as Donna struggled, even as she cried out into her gag, Sharon was undoubtedly doing the same. This was her first day seeing the point of 'life at HTG'.
This made it hard for Donna to keep her mind unoccupied. Unlike with Cassie, Donna was now the 'big sister' to the new hire. Of course, whether Sharon would stay on as the 'little sister,' remained to be seen; it would take a little time until Donna found out for sure. When Lara first began going through orientation, she refused to go to dinner with KJ, but returned to work the next day. She was now doing well as Mr. Westman's secretary, and had a 'little sister' of her own. She wasn't the first woman in HTG to do that, either. Conversely, Sharon wouldn't be the first woman to agree to be taken to dinner, and then not show up for work again, if she went that route.
“MMMMmmmmmmMMMMMM mmmmm MMMMMmmmmm!”
'It'll be okay, Sharon. I'll be there with you...'
Of course, if anyone had been close enough to hear, Donna's intended words hadn't gotten past her gag, with any articulation. It was all the same to the blonde as she tugged at her wrist bondage; her fingers writhing about, trying to grab onto something that would give her some leverage in getting the knot undone. Something she did, and would continue to do, no matter how futile. Just like all the other women at HTG, true to their pride and spirit.
'Well, except for Suzanne,' Donna reminded herself. She still chose to lay quietly and wait it out; only stretching and glancing up at her door every so often, so Mr. Steward knew she was all right.
Donna rolled onto her side and continued struggling. Another trick she'd tried of late, while lying on her side, was seeing if the floor itself could help to loosen any of the knots in her bondage. A clever idea, she tried to argue to herself, although just as futile. The area rug was of no help either, and it appeared to be tacked down, the way wall-to-wall would be. Maybe the aides and the people in charge of training them weren't prepared for every scenario they could encounter, but as Karen had said once, pretty close to it. There was a reason none of the women had ever struggled free from her bondage after she was bound and gagged.
The blonde had just rolled back onto her stomach when she heard her door open and saw the aides walk in to untie her. She felt herself draw in a nervous breath. The moment of truth was here. As each knot in her bondage was unraveled, Donna felt her spine tingle a bit more. A new hire's first time was always the biggest hurdle. Part of transitioning into the support group was getting out all the feelings of shock, fear, anger and humiliation that the first day incurred. Even though Sharon had been working here a week now, this was considered her true 'day one'.
The aides helped Donna to her feet, and she lifted her eyebrows in surprise. One of the aides, though not looking her quite in the eyes, gave her a slow nod of assurance. She smiled as much as she could while she was still gagged. The file was slipped into the knot and her gag was removed.
“Thanks, fellas,” she smiled.
* * *
Donna took a deep breath just outside Sharon's door. She knocked lightly before entering.
Sharon sat behind her desk, her face in her left hand. Her left elbow was braced against the desk. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed in a dissonant mix of anger and confusion.
Donna took a few steps forward, and Sharon spoke without lifting her head from her left hand.
“'She had to be playing erotic games with her boyfriend at home,' I told myself. 'Absurd as her explanations were for keeping her wrists greased with lotion, she wouldn't mislead me to what goes on at this job,' I told myself. 'Mr. STONE would not come running up to me, and lie right to my face about why I shouldn't be disturbing you, like on my first day here,' I told myself.”
Sharon looked up at Donna, her brown eyes flashing sharply, dark tracks down her cheeks.
“Now you're here, to what? To play nice? To tell me that I'll be all right? That those four BRUTES aren't going to hurt me one day?”
She drew in a ragged breath.
“Tell them I won't be sorry when I don't return the favor. They're very brave four on one. Let's see any of them try it alone.” She clenched her left hand into a fist. “I believe you remember our handshake upon first meeting?”
'First they were monkeys, and now brutes,' Donna thought to herself. 'Well, I suppose I didn't think much better of them when I started here, either.'
“Well, you're right about why I'm here, now,” Donna said softly to Sharon. “Bea and I will both be happy to provide that consolation and help you recover from the shock. We women here at HTG even know an ideal location to talk. We've made a little tradition out of it.”
Sharon closed her eyes and chuckled in a grating tone. “You even admit it without blinking or changing expression. I'd find your hubris inspiring, if I didn't want to knock some manners into you, so badly.”
“I-I'm glad you're restraining yourself,” Donna said nervously, backing up a step with both hands raised to shoulder level. “I doubt I could put up much of a fight. Look, Sharon. The time for misleading and deception is over. There's no point trying anymore, with you on such high alert and unwilling to trust a word out of my mouth. Yes, this company has a bizarre practice that could put a lot of people in jail. None of we women quite understand how they continue carrying it on. But they do. So the ladies have gone a different route. I'm here to explain that to you now. To show you what you can do about it. But know that you won't be able to do it alone. You'll need help and support. Lots of it. I don't care how independently you live away from work. Here, you'll need that support. Let Bea and me tell you about it. Then you can decide whether you want to shake our hand and tell us you're in, or tell us to go to hell.”
“Why should I do that?” Sharon challenged.
“Many women have been working here for many years and have distinguished careers as investment bond executives,” Donna said. “Some are even managers. Every woman has stayed for a different reason. Whether for the money, the feeling of community we've all formed with one another, the career opportunities, which are very real, or simply because they're not sure where else to go to find a good job after we welcomed them with open arms. There's dozens of reasons for all of us. Have that talk with Bea and me, and you just might find one reason that will work for you.”
Sharon leaned back in her wheelchair, fighting hard not to look or feel impressed at Donna's brazen moxie. Donna, for her part, was praying that Karen never find out about this little monologue Donna had just given her prospective little sister.
'She'd never let me live down how much of her I'd just channeled,' Donna knew.
Sharon's fingernails drummed the top of her desk for a few seconds. “I'll fight you every step of the way,” she vowed.
“Wouldn't have it any other way,” Donna smiled. “But let us try?”
* * *
Sharon's wheelchair was partly collapsible. After hoisting herself onto a seat at the booth, she folded it up so a busboy at Jackson's could tuck it neatly behind the booth, out of the way. He locked the brakes the way Sharon had showed him.
“Nice place,” Sharon said earnestly of Jackson's, though her expression showed what she really thought about being taken here to talk things out. Neither Donna nor Bea paid it any mind. Both of them had thought close to the same thing when it was their turn a few years ago.
Bea ordered the drinks, but Sharon shook her head and waved a hand.
“I don't drink,” she said. “A glass of cold water for me, please, with extra ice.”
The waitress nodded and went to bring the beverages. Sharon leaned back against her seat, crossed her arms and stared hard at Bea.
Bea just smiled. “Yes, that looks like the way I felt when Nancy and Robyn brought me here.”
Robyn was Mr. Steward's administrative assistant. She had many friends in New Bonds, but she was a private person and spoke very little of herself. The other women in the department, out of respect for her feelings, didn't talk about her with anyone else in the company.
“You'll forgive me if I find it pathetic how you fell for their brainwashing, then,” Sharon said.
“Of course I will, because again, that's what I thought about it on that day,” Bea said without hesitating. “You're a very smart woman, Sharon, as well as one of the most observant to start work here at HTG. But if you really think we aren't prepared to handle women who feel exactly the way you do right now, and that none of us went through those same feelings, and that we didn't fight against our 'brainwashing,' as you just put it, every bit as hard as you plan to, then it's you who's being arrogant. As long as you don't plan on disciplining us with your hands, then bring on your best, and we'll meet it with our own.”
Sharon smiled for the first time since Down Time ended. It wasn't an entirely pleasant one, as much as one that showed she was looking forward to the battle of wills. But her smile still lit her face up in a good way.
Sharon's expression had finally broken by the time dinner was nearly finished. She was in disbelief that Donna and Bea had finally touched the right nerves with her. The two of them smiled back at her with a look that was not at all complacent, but ready and happy to welcome her into their fold.
“It COULD have been worse,” Sharon admitted of the experience. “They didn't touch me the way I was afraid they would. They didn't try to disrobe me. They even left my jacket on and didn't damage it. They didn't seat themselves in front of me and watch me in fulfillment of some sick fetish.”
Donna saw Bea curse herself. Ms. Wilkins had warned them of the need to break this news to the new hire early in the conversation. They'd both gotten carried away in the battle of wills, breaking down Sharon's stubbornness and her disgust at the experience of being tied up.
Sharon's chin pulled back and her forehead tilted a bit forward. “Nobody was...?”
The new hire grabbed her water glass, gulping down its contents so hurriedly that some of it ran down her chin and wet her blouse and jacket. Dropping it back onto the table, coughing on the last swallow, Sharon turned and, showing impressive athleticism, reached over and behind the booth seat, grabbing her wheelchair and pulling it over to her. She unlocked and unfolded it, hoisting herself into the seat. A busboy hurried over to assist, only to jump back as she swatted at him with a warning backhand. Turning, Sharon hurtled herself toward the ladies' room.
Donna and Bea apologized to the busboy and assured him they'd handle things. The blonde was sure she felt several pairs of eyes on her back as she and Bea followed Sharon.
They found her in the extra-wide stall made for wheelchair users. Sharon used her arms to hold herself up off the floor; her upper body bending over the toilet. She coughed and retched hoarsely.
Donna took two tentative steps forward, but yanked her hand back at a raspy warning from Sharon.
“Do not touch me, woman...”
The crude remark, like so much of 'Life at HTG,' could have been worse. Despite this, Donna still frowned.
She felt Bea touch her shoulder and understood the gesture. She followed Bea silently back to their booth and sat. Bea asked the waitress for a refill on her coffee.
Presently, Sharon returned. Lifting herself back onto the booth's seat, she pushed her chair back into the small nook behind the booth without locking or folding it. She handed Donna and Bea a look full of venom and contempt.
“Offer me an explanation that satisfies me, and I promise I will put in another month at the job in a show of faith. Fail, and you'll regret the day you met me.”
Donna bit her lip hard and held her breath as long as she could, to bite back the sigh of relief. “This is what happened to me at the end of what we call 'new hire orientation...'”
But when Donna finished the story about how and why the aides knew to hurry into her office and untie her when she'd begun feeling sick, Sharon just leaned back and crossed her arms again, her face showing she was expecting much more to the story.
“I think I know a better way to make sure nothing bad happens,” she said sarcastically. “Do I really need to explain it to you?”
A brief stare-down ensued until Bea made an exasperated sound. She took her glasses off her face and leaned forward.
“We've already told you, this is not a debate on whether the company's little PRACTICE should go on at all. Wake up and smell the coffee, lady. It goes on. It's been going on for decades. Decades, Sharon; not just weeks or months. It could be going on when our grandchildren are sitting here, discussing whatever they'll be discussing. We're here to give you a way to deal with it; to make working at the company livable, and maintaining a job and even a career there, viable. That we do this in the face of spending almost an hour each work day bound and gagged, for God-only-knows what reason, we've made into one of our greatest STRENGTHS. It takes a very, very, strong woman to adapt to the way we work and live when on the job there. And I promise you, EVERY woman that works there and ever did work there, when they first started out, they regarded the company, and all of us, the exact same way you're doing now. The exact same way, Sharon. We brought you here so you could decide whether to stay at the job, and let us help you deal with what we have to do each afternoon, so you can still feel safe working there, or to refuse and leave. We didn't bring you here to VOTE on whether the company should stop its practices, because it won't, okay? Do us a favor, princess. Find another job to work at. We'll go on just fine without you. Let's go, Donna.”
The blonde lifted her eyebrows and looked at Bea with a lot of surprise, but Bea just turned to her; her face and voice still sharp.
“Let's GO, Donna.”
Donna got up and followed Bea to the cashier. Bea thumped down her credit card and told the waitress that if Sharon ordered anything else before leaving, she should get a separate check for it. The waitress nodded, though Donna happened to take a last glance back toward the booth and saw Sharon push her plate to the side, showing she had no appetite left.
Bea hugged Donna good night and left without another word. Donna followed suit.
* * *
It was a little after 10 am the following day, and Donna was busy at work. A slight rustle of paper reached her ears. She glanced up and saw a note slid underneath her door.
Donna got up and opened her door. She saw nobody outside, but heard the sound of another door closing. The sound was close enough that it was probably Sharon; their offices were in close proximity.
'She came in, after all,' Donna thought. She was an hour late, but Donna remembered Mary saying how she called out the second day of her orientation and came in late on the third. Donna was pleased to see that Sharon had come in to work, but knew that the new hire probably wouldn't want to talk to her any more than necessary.
Donna closed her door again, and read the note.
I will leave you undisturbed unless I have a question on handling work. Kindly do the same unless bringing work into my office. Introduce none of your co-workers to me, nor tell me any of their names. I want nobody to say a word to me, unrelated to getting work done properly. The way I see it, right now, I have a tremendous amount of job security. I make no promises to the safety of Mr. Stone's brutes, particularly if one finger or eye goes roaming. I will be joining several internet watchdog groups for any sign of unwanted media. You don't need to be told what will happen if any such sign appears.'
The note was signed, 'Ms. Ganesh.'
Donna read the note several times, unsure of what to do, before paging Christina and asking if she could bring the note to her.
“Of course,” Christina said. “Bring it in.”
Donna brought the note to Christina's office, and watched the brunette as she studied it. After a couple of moments, she looked up and nodded to Donna.
“Tell her you're agreeing to all her terms, next time you bring work into her office,” Christina said. “I'll pass a memo around advising any other women in New Bonds to follow the terms as well, and call her what she wants them to.”
Donna raised her eyebrows. “How long are we going to... bow down to her?”
Christina smiled. “Don't worry, Donna, she's not going to carry this on for long. I'm not so fond of the way Bea put a foot down with her, but I admire her moxie in doing it. I have a feeling she was using some good old reverse psychology on our new hire. Bea's a lot smarter than she seems. Sharon will meet her match in Bea, soon enough.”
Donna smiled back. “I remember you saying that I was a lot smarter than I seemed, too.”
Christina chuckled. “Rules change when you become a 'big sister' for the first time, Donna. Especially when your first trainee is a real toughie.”
Donna tilted her head back and laughed. “That's for sure. Thanks, Christina.”
An hour later, when Donna brought a batch of work in to Sharon's office, after putting the forms in the inbox, she handed Sharon's letter back to her. The new girl unfolded it and saw the words, 'Agreed, no conditions,' written underneath. She nodded curtly to Donna, who nodded back and returned to her own office.
* * *
Three weeks passed with little incident. On the final day of Sharon's 'orientation,' while picking up some completed work from Sharon's outbox, Donna offered the bottle of lotion, packet of Epsom salt, and pack of chewing gum. Sharon batted them off her desk with an annoyed snort.
“That pig-headed pride is going to bite you in the back very hard one day,” Donna said softly. “The support group is meeting after work in the cafeteria. You're welcome to join us.”
Sharon said nothing as Donna left, although Donna was sure she felt Sharon's gaze on her back turn dark and gloomy.
No celebration for finishing orientation was planned, because the women in New Bonds all knew how Sharon would take the idea. Most of the women had yet to meet her; she kept entirely to herself, ate lunch in a back corner and glared at anyone who came near, and she left without a word to anyone at the end of the day. She continued to refer to Mr. Stone as such, kept her attire professional, and didn't try to bend any rules or policies, whether official or unspoken, out of defiance. That was the limit of the respect she offered. Conversation with Donna or Bea, over work and getting it done, was carried out in a curt tone, with as few words spoken as possible.
The corporate women all assembled in the cafeteria. Two tables were marked for each department. Christina brought in a microphone on a stand to address the meeting as its chairperson.
“Thank you all for coming,” she said, smiling in greeting. “Do my seconds have any reports?”
Each department had one woman who helped handle human resources for that department's women. While managed by the senior manager for whatever department each woman worked in, they all reported to Christina when handling womens' support issues. As acting head of womens' human resources, Christina worked in New Bonds primarily because many of the company's women began work at HTG there. The most common exception was Foreign Bonds, for women with the required language proficiency, and so its human resources representative, Oksana Turetsky, was the Vice-Head.
Rosa del Paso got up to deliver a report for Surety Bonds. She shook hands with Christina and prepared to address the meeting, but paused at the sound of the cafeteria doors being pushed open.
Sharon wheeled into the cafeteria, pushing herself more slowly than was usual for her. Her eyes were vacant and glassy. Though she bit her lip as hard as she could, when she drew closer, it could be seen that her lower lip trembled intermittently.
Sharon stopped about twenty feet to Rosa's right and took in the sight of the assembled meeting. The women of HTG, in turn, looked at the new girl curiously.
Christina walked up to Sharon and offered her hand. “Hi, my name's Christina Vanderbilt. I'm head of women's human resources. Welcome to the support group meeting.”
Sharon looked up at Christina and clasped her hand. Her head dropped down, her forehead pressing against the back of Christina's hand as she choked back a broken sob as hard as she could.
Christina kneeled down beside Sharon and hugged her. The new girl's wall, like an overwhelmed levee, burst open, and she cried on Christina's shoulder. The women of HTG waited patiently, making no motion or sound of disturbance. To do so would have been taboo; all of them, without exception, had once been in Sharon's place.
Rosa sat down again so Sharon could be introduced to the support group as a new member. All traces of Sharon's formerly brusque behavior melted away as she addressed her co-workers. She made no bones about her seething antipathy over being tied up each afternoon at 3:45, but Donna and Bea had proved right in that she couldn't handle it alone. The women of HTG and the support group, the sisterhood they'd all formed, were waiting to take her into their fold and help her endure it, and she was finally ready to embrace the group.
Oksana came up and introduced herself, shaking hands with Sharon. “Tell us,” she asked. “What made you decide to stay?”
“I-I'm not yet certain that I can,” Sharon admitted. “But I'm keeping a vow I made to Donna Richmond. It's the most painful promise I've kept. Once it's fulfilled, I don't know if I can bear all this, any longer.”
Oksana nodded, smiling as slightly and softly as she could. “We'll do our best to make things bearable for you, Sharon. You won't know if it'll be enough, for a little while yet. But we'll all be here to make working here as livable for you, as we can.”
Sharon wiped her eyes with her jacket sleeve, and nodded, smiling up at Oksana.
At the end of the meeting, Sharon wheeled over to Donna. The two women looked into each others' eyes for several moments before Sharon finally spoke.
“Just an hour ago, the thought would never have entered my mind,” Sharon said. “But... thank you for being so patient and tolerant. I never would have appreciated it until now. But thank you.”
“Any time, Sharon,” Donna smiled.
“I'm beginning to understand now,” Sharon said, looking thoughtful, albeit still a little irritated. “Becoming 'reconciled' to what you call 'Down Time,' doesn't have to involve accepting it, as much as defying it. Defiance. A much more bearable and fitting word for me.”
“Every woman who's stayed, has found their own reason, and their own method,” Donna said. “If this works for you, then I'm glad.”
“If it works,” Sharon repeated. “There is still a chance it will be too much for me in the end. But I see now that the other women defy it alongside us, and give each other that shoulder to cry on and lean on. If you were absolutely right on one thing, I'm no more able than any of them, to handle it alone.”
Although she'd allowed Christina to do it, Sharon wasn't comfortable hugging people outside her family, but she clasped and held onto Donna's hand for a few seconds, before saying good night. Donna stood, and watched as Sharon wheeled out of the cafeteria.
Bea came up behind Donna and patted her shoulder. “She might make it after all.”
Donna nodded, her face lost in thought. “I didn't satisfy her with my explanation on why they monitor her,” she noted. “Her promise wouldn't have been binding.”
Bea laughed. “She's full of shit. She stayed because I told her that she couldn't cut the mustard here. Those are fighting words to a lady like her. She wanted to knock my head off when I said what I said. I guess I'm lucky she didn't, because she could have taken me without breaking a sweat. But she's not here because of that 'promise.' She wants to prove she's tough enough, so she can rub it in my face.”
Donna took on a surprised expression before she, too, laughed. “I told her that her pig-headed pride was going to come back to bite her one day.”
“Well, it did,” Bea smiled. “The only way she could win at the challenge was to lose the battle of wills. She's in a big pickle now, and she knows it.”
“How did you know?” Donna asked.
Bea's face turned solemn. Her mouth opened to speak, but she struggled on the words before shaking her head. “Ask me again some time, please?”
Donna looked at Bea for a moment, and then nodded. “Okay. See you Monday.”
“See you then, Donna.”
End of part 3
Copyright© 2016 by Delilah Winston. All rights reserved.
I welcome your comments. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org