HTG: Quarterly Gains & Losses
by Delilah Winston

Part 4

“No. Come on, you're joking!” Mary exclaimed.

Mary suddenly glanced around the main dining room of Jackson's, responding to her raised tone of voice. Satisfied nobody had turned to stare, she looked at Donna again. “But you are, aren't you?”

It had been some time since Donna had had a chance to get together with Mary. The Englishwoman had been hard at work in her duties as an investment executive with Mature Bonds for a while now. But this was a bit more than just a social get-together. Donna wanted to speak about this with someone who had some seniority in the company. Donna knew that even Carla would never have met Annie, with the latter having departed HTG so long ago. But the women who'd been working at the company for enough time, as Mary had, would have heard more stories and would remember them in more detail.

Donna shook her head. “It was her, Mary. Annie Wooten. She booked my trip.”

Mary covered her mouth to mute her laughter. Her eyes closed and her shoulders quivered. “Well, she was right about one thing: quite a few women here have used that agency. I was going to go there myself in early January, to book a trip to visit my boyfriend for Valentine's Day.”

“You still can,” Donna said. “Just be very sure you don't write or type out anything for her, on company letterhead.”

Mary grinned, raising a hand an inch off the table to signal that their waiter was approaching. He set down their coffee cups first, then a saucer of milk packets, and finally their muffins; Donna had taken a corn muffin while Mary took a blueberry muffin. The muffins were big and fluffy, each with a different, tantalizing aroma. Both women thanked the waiter, and he smiled as he went on his rounds.

“Now that I know it's her, I don't trust myself to keep a straight face,” Mary said, blushing a little. “Don't forget, she'll be scrutinizing all women who come into her agency for a while now, herself, wondering how many of them just want to see what she looks like, or call her a traitor, or worse.”

“Point taken,” Donna nodded. “She maintained enough professionalism to finish preparing my airline flight, hotel booking, and car rental, but we did trade a few barbs. Oh, and check this out. She told me to call her any time, to meet for coffee, and 'talk shop' about her time with the company. In fact, she's convinced that one day, I will.”

Mary cut a cross-shaped opening in the top of her muffin, and then switched from a serrated knife to a butter knife, spreading some butter in. Setting the muffin down so the butter could melt and sink in, she sipped her coffee. Mary always took her coffee black; she said that it helped with her asthma.

“Do you plan to accept her offer?” she asked quietly.

The question caught Donna off-guard. Her hand paused halfway to her mouth with a piece of her muffin in her fingers; melted butter slowly dripping off the muffin over her hand. Catching herself, she gave a quick apology and popped the piece of muffin into her mouth, wiping her hand clean with her napkin.

“I don't see why,” Donna said at last. “Can I really trust her to tell me the truth?”

“A lot of what she'll tell you, will be the truth in her eyes,” Mary explained. “She won't lie to you as often as you think. The more lies, the better the chance she'll be caught.”

“Well,” Donna rubbed her chin thoughtfully, before picking up her coffee cup and sipping. “If it's just going to be 'she said, she said,' why torture myself over who to believe? Down Time aside, we all have good jobs. You have a career. I'm building one. We all have good futures by sticking together. Why let her sabotage it?”

“I'm not saying you should take her up on it, Donna,” Mary smiled. “I wouldn't. But you need to give a better reason than that. The points you just made are all the more reason why you shouldn't have to be worried that she can sabotage your feelings for me, or Christina, or Carla, or all the other gals we work with, and in some cases, for.” I know you'll call, because it's the only way you can face your fear that I'm right.

Donna chewed a piece of her muffin slowly. Mary's calm, confident expression gave her a notable sense of protection against any outside influence. The Englishwoman slid a piece of muffin into her mouth; her lips maintaining a hint of a small smile even as she chewed and swallowed.

“You're right, Mary,” Donna nodded, feeling better. She smiled, as a gesture of gratitude, and Mary returned the smile. They tapped their coffee cups lightly together and finished them, signaling for refills.

“So, are you going to be bringing all the gals here, a few at a time, to warn them?” Mary asked, her smile widening into a grin.

Donna chuckled. “Probably not. I don't want to chase away any of us who are regular customers of hers, nor entice anyone into going there just to give her trouble.”

When they were finished and requested the check, Donna offered to pick up the whole tab and treat Mary for the evening. “If treating you as a friend is against our company code, then call it a fee for impromptu shrink services.” She winked.

Mary put her face in one hand and laughed softly, but then shook her head. “If you want to pay me for services rendered, pick me up a small souvenir from Toronto. A coaster, some local postcards, or one of their calendars or magazines.”

Donna smiled and nodded. “Deal.”

They hugged good night. “Have a great time, Donna,” Mary said.

“Thank you. I'll do my best,” Donna promised.

* * *

“And based on the performance of the types of bonds you're interested in, I would encourage you to...”

Donna glanced up as Mr. Stone paused in dictating a letter. “Mr. Stone?”

A blue LED was blinking on a small clock Mr. Stone kept on his desk. He gave Donna a polite smile. “We'll finish up later.”

Donna nodded and closed her shorthand notepad. “You have a meeting?”

Mr. Stone smiled again, this time with amusement. “No, but you do.”

He turned the clock face so Donna could see it. It read 3:25 PM.

Donna snickered and shook her head lightly. “Right. I'll try to keep it short.”

They both laughed as Donna got up and walked out to return to her office.

Donna put the notepad back in the same desk drawer she always kept it, and activated her screensaver. Everyone in HTG was strongly encouraged to password-protect their screensaver as an extra security layer. Donna changed the password for hers every two weeks. Two more days and it would be time to change it again. Her Event Manager was programmed to remind her when it was time.

Donna took a couple of deep breaths to ready herself. She didn't need to wait long before her door opened and the four aides assigned to her for that day came tromping in. They always looked very imposing, even though they never acted that way. Donna was sure it was because of the masks, even though, as she'd learned, the masks were worn merely to keep their faces hidden from the corporate women in HTG. None of the aides were supposed to show their faces or voices, to give an air of impersonality. They, like all the corporate women in the company that they tied up each work day, were just doing their job, earning their own paychecks.

Still, I wonder how one goes about applying for a job like that, let alone interviewing and training for it, Donna wondered for the umptieth time as they took hold of her and gently but firmly pulled her to her feet. Her wrists were pulled behind her back and crossed right over left. Her fingers stretched and curled a few times as they held her that way for a few seconds; the fourth aide stretching out the first length of rope. As the first few coils were wrapped around her wrists, the rope always felt a little rough, but the sensation quickly faded away as the fourth aide continued working. Once the last coils were in place and the aide twisted the lengths around each other in order to make the cinches, each coil had begun to settle around the contours of her wrists and hugged them closely enough that they felt a little like the cuffs of ski gloves. Cassie had told Donna once that the ropes used were four-strand hemp, treated with resin to make them a little softer. This type of rope was wide enough to avoid digging too much into the skin, while still able to be knotted securely and more than strong enough to hold fast whatever it was tied around.

The knot was secured and tugged at a couple of times, the aide making sure it was settled properly against the backs of Donna's wrists, out of reach. A few strands of her hair were brushed back as Donna saw the familiar flash of white before her eyes; the strip of sheet being slipped over her head to gag her. Her cheeks were lightly pinched to part her lips as the cloth was pulled between them, and the ends drawn back to pull her lips taut over the fold of cloth that settled between her teeth. She felt her head bend forward very slightly as the knot was tied and pressed against the back of her neck.

They sat Donna on the wooden stool and began to wrap the longer length of rope around her upper body, measuring each coil and making sure it was tight and secure. Donna couldn't help but shake her head, impressed at how they were able to do this without touching her breasts. By now, she'd become accustomed to this routine and tolerant enough of it that she probably wouldn't have noticed, or at least not been upset, if they had brushed against them a time or two by accident. But the precision with which they tied her up, laid each coil of rope, still hadn't stopped surprising her. Neither the coils above, nor the coils below her breasts ever made their hands come too close. And since the knot was tied at her back, right around the midpoint of her spine, there was never any concern about contact with her breasts once the final coil was in place.

The last few coils had been made around her ankles and knees, and the cinches being made there, when the door suddenly opened again. A fifth aide came into the room. Donna's eyebrows raised in question, as the four currently with her turned. Donna immediately knew something was wrong.

The fifth aide held up an index card. Carla's name was stenciled across the face of it. Donna's eyes opened wide. The fifth aide was one of the four assigned to Carla for the day. Donna remembered what the index card meant, from when Donna had had to be untied prematurely on the last day of her orientation.

Donna felt the office scissors blade slipped between the skin of her cheek and her gag. A careful snip and the cloth was neatly severed; her gag pulled away and stuffed hastily into a black plastic bag. This being a potential emergency, they didn't waste time unraveling knots and unwrapping the ropes and cloth. The fifth aide helped the other four cut Donna loose and settle her back on her feet.

“I'm on my way,” Donna said promptly. The fifth aide nodded and left the room as the other four gathered up the cut ropes. Donna didn't wait for them. She gave them a quick nod, which one of them returned, and hurried to Carla's office.

“Carla?” Donna called softly, knocking on the door.

“Come in,” she heard Carla say.

Donna opened the door and walked in. Carla sat in her office chair, her posture a little slumped. She took shallow breaths, and her left hand lay draped across her midsection. She winced and carefully re-settled herself against her chair.

The other three aides who'd been assigned to Carla stood at one wall, watching her carefully. Donna gave them a nod, letting them know she would take over. They returned the nod, and exited the office.

“That doesn't look like the same problem I had back then,” Donna noted. It was just a few months shy of two years, but seemed so much further away than that.

“I don't think it is, either,” Carla said, her voice subdued and measured.

Carla's phone buzzed. It was Mr. Halwell.

“Donna, if you could please do me a favor and help get Carla to her doctor?” he asked. “I cleared it with Frank.”

“Of course,” Donna said without hesitation. “Log out, Carla, and I'll hurry to do the same.”

Donna found Christina waiting in her office. She'd also been untied early and notified. “How is she?” the brunette asked anxiously.

“I'm taking her to her doctor,” Donna said as she hurriedly logged out of her workstation. “Doesn't look too bad, but of course, I'm no doctor.”

Christina nodded. “I'll square with Cassie and finish up the dictation for Mr. Stone,” she said. “See you tomorrow.”

Donna nodded and showed Christina where she kept her shorthand notepad. Gathering up her things, she hurried back to Carla's office. Carla had put on her winter coat and was on the phone.

“Thanks, Carol. I owe you one,” Carla said into her phone. “Okay, see you later. Bye.”

Carla clicked off and turned to Donna. “My next-door neighbor is going to prepare a sleepover for the kids,” she said.

The blonde nodded and gave a quick glance to Carla's desk where a framed photograph rested. Long as Donna had been working here, it was only a few short months ago that she'd learned that Carla had twin boys just starting first grade at school. The reason she didn't talk much about them with her co-workers was because doing so inevitably brought up the subject of her ex-boyfriend, their father, who was serving a prison sentence for drug dealing and illegal possession of a gun. This made him a danger to them, as the court ruled, and he'd lost all parental privileges. As a twin herself, Donna was empathetic.

“I'll drive,” Donna offered, holding out her hand for Carla's car keys.

* * *

Carla stepped out of her doctor's office and put a prescription slip and some forms into her purse. “I'll get this filled at the pharmacy near my house,” she said. “They're open late today.”

Carla's voice seemed subdued, even though she didn't look to be in any immediate pain, and her walking gait was steady.

“Sure you're okay?” Donna asked. “I'm not too keen about leaving you alone tonight.”

Carla grinned. “I won't be,” she said. “I just called Carol again. I'm going to join the sleepover.”

Donna smiled. “You have a great next-door neighbor,” she said.

“The best,” Carla nodded. “I love her and her husband like a sister and brother-in-law.”

“At least let me drive you home?” Donna asked.

Carla shrugged. “Sure, but how will you get home, then?” Carla knew that neither of the bus routes near Donna's house connected near the one bus going by where Carla lived.

“My Mobile GPS says there's an Italian restaurant named Marcel's about four blocks from your place,” Donna said. “I called my boyfriend and offered to treat him to dinner there, and then he'll bring me home.”

Carla smiled again. “Great Italian food at Marcel's, but stay away from the shrimp cocktail,” she advised. “The sauce is a little too watery and weak.”

“I'll keep it in mind,” Donna smiled back.

* * *

“Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six!”

Donna and Ethan chanted along with everyone else in the diner; patrons and staff alike as everyone watched the Times Square ball descend on big screen hi-definition TV.

“Five! Four! Three! Two! One! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!”

Everyone blew into noisemakers and sipped champagne. Some sang along with the crowd in Times Square, all of whom swayed side to side, singing Auld Lang Syne.

Donna and Ethan tapped crystal glasses with each other and the neighboring tables on both sides, and a passing waitress. Champagne was half off tonight; everyone seen to have gotten off the bus, which had a stop right in front of the diner, received the first glass free of charge.

The New Year's Eve show on TV launched into a rock number by one of the guest star bands. Donna got up and began to dance, holding a hand out as she did, inviting Ethan to join her.

“We'd better hold off on any more champagne,” Ethan suggested. “Just fifteen minutes of this and the alcohol will circulate enough to make us both pretty tipsy.”

“I don't mind that; it's a pretty expensive brand they broke out for tonight,” Donna said, leaning back briefly with Ethan bending over her, before he turned her in several circles.

“You seem better tonight,” Ethan noted. “You've been a little somber since you got back from Toronto.”

Donna waited until Ethan turned her in another circle. She didn't want to tell him about Carla, but she was too unskilled at keeping a straight face. “Just not as fun going alone, as I thought it would be,” Donna said.

“I know a website or two with tips for solo traveling,” Ethan offered. “I'll send you links tomorrow.”

“Or you could always come along next time,” Donna enticed, smiling at him.

“And maybe I will,” he smiled back.

“How was the holiday with your family?” Donna asked conversationally. Ethan had promised to be there with them, but she had the feeling he wouldn't have, had Donna told him of her holiday plans earlier.

“It was very good, don't get me wrong,” Ethan said, “I don't get to see Jean and Katherine often since they took their current jobs--” Ethan had told Donna about his sisters, and that they had to relocate to other states for their work opportunities-- “and it was wonderful to catch up with them again. But if it came down to it, I can work out an evening to sit down with them on the phone and have a long talk with them and spend time reconnecting. Bottom line, the reason I kept my promise is because it's just very important for me to do that. I don't want to make a promise I can't keep.”

“So what are your faults?” Donna teased, smiling mischievously.

Ethan laughed. “Aside from thinking that a woman who can't put the seat down herself is just as lazy as a man who can't do it for her?” he winked, and Donna laughed and lightly slapped his arm. A couple dancing nearby overheard, and the woman gave him a brief glare over her shoulder.

“Trust me, if we started sharing a room, you'd find out,” Ethan said more seriously.

Donna nodded in understanding. They spent about another ninety minutes at the restaurant, alternating between dancing and nibbling on hors d'oeuvres, having one more glass of champagne each about twenty minutes before they left. They'd chosen not to drive so they could both have a glass or two of champagne, but limited themselves to no more than that. Ethan kissed Donna goodnight as the bus reached her stop. The bus would continue on its way for another fifteen minutes and reach Ethan's stop, an easy two block walk from there to where he lived.

“Happy New Year,” Donna said softly to the bus driver as she got off, and he smiled and wished her the same.

* * *

March arrived, its still cold winds blowing through the city. Spring training started for the baseball season. Diane started work in sports journalism, doing some local magazine and newspaper articles on community sports. The work came with a nice fringe benefit: tickets for Diane and up to five guests to watch up to three games by the local minor-league baseball team. She had little difficulty rounding up Bobby, Colby, Geri, Donna and Ethan to accompany her. If she did well at the job, she'd have a chance to earn an additional set of tickets every year, up to a maximum of ten.

And at HTG came some bittersweet news. Mr. Westman's admin assistant, Barbara, decided to leave the company and dedicate herself to raising a family. She and her fiancé were starting to attend premarital counseling and were seeking advice at a Planned Parenthood. Barbara, who had been working at HTG for ten years, used her middle initial, E, to distinguish herself from Barbara Bailey, who had still been working at the company when she began, and was affectionately known among the corporate women as “Barb E,” or Barbie. She wanted children badly, and was looking forward to spending time as a stay-at-home mom, raising kids, enrolling them in a good school and getting involved in its PTA.

Aside from the big retirement party that would be thrown in Barbie's honor at Jackson's, HTG was going a second mile for one of its beloved workhorses. Both Mr. Westman and Mary were lining up consultations with financial planners, and Karen would be assisting Barbie in rolling over her 401k into an IRA and starting a small portfolio. Barbie's fiancé, a personal trainer, made enough to support himself and her as well, but they would need to plan and budget their resources in order to raise children, especially now with only one of them still working. Mr. Westman called in a couple of favors to make sure Barbie would get some of the soundest financial advice available in the city, and with Karen and Mary in her corner as well, she was hopeful for the future, even with money inevitably getting tight at times.

As was usual at these gatherings, the whole back room had been reserved and paid for. A full buffet and bar was ready. All the corporate women brought a gift and most of them relayed a personal experience with her. The highlight of this portion of the gala was KJ, whose experience recounted more than just Barbie, but two others as well; one of whom still worked with HTG, and one who didn't.

“The day started out relatively routine,” KJ began. “I was settling into my new duties, and beginning my first big-sister role.”

All the women started to chuckle right away. KJ hadn't beat around the bush in explaining exactly what day she was relating. A number of women turned to smile or wink at Donna, who just sat with a bit of a silly grin on her face.

“I lunched with Barbie that day, and she gave me some pointers on being a big sister for the first time...”

KJ remembered her conversation with Barbie. "Your eyes and body language are going to speak volumes,You'll want to project a look of calm, no smiling or frowning, and you want to show that what happened to her, happened to you."

KJ had nodded and sipped her soft drink. "But I don't want to say that to her, right?"

Barbie had shook her head emphatically. "Definitely not. First thing you want to say is just that the women of HTG always invite a new hire to dinner after the first day is over, as a custom. You and Karen will be taking her to dinner."

"Why Karen?"

"My sister-in-law called just before I left for work this morning," Barbie had said. "She was called in for an early evening shift to cover for a co-worker who wasn't feeling well. She asked if she could drop her kids off at my place. My brother always is at work until around 8 PM, otherwise he'd take care of it himself."

"That's cool. I'll have plenty of support with Karen in my corner."

The women all began to chuckle again, and Karen gave a polite clap, her face fixed with a broad grin of amusement.

“I was as nervous as any of us would be on their first day as a big sister and mentor, as I finished up as much paperwork as possible before the aides came in to tie me up,” KJ continued. “We all re-live our own first days preparing to help a new hire through theirs. It's not easy. We know those four big strong men are coming into our offices any minute, and we need to distract ourselves as much as possible to 'forget' that, even though our stomachs are fluttering with butterflies.”

More chuckles and polite affirmative sounds, although the newer women were paying close attention to KJ. Even Cassie leaned forward, her head inclined and her ears perked up, listening closely.

“I had to correct a number of typos as I went along, so I was behind a few minutes in switching from my 'invis-align' hearing aids to the standard clip-on ones,” KJ said. “Nervous wreck that I was, I couldn't stop myself from laughing at how fast the aides moved, how they compensated; two of them, even as they each held one of my arms and wrists with one hand, fitted the clip-on hearing aids over my ears with the other; the third keeping my mouth covered as the fourth started wrapping the ropes around my wrists. I even tried to catch them off-guard, letting my body go slack and then twisting very suddenly in their grasp. They didn't fall for it, any more than the countless times we've all tried to do it before.”

Nods and 'mm-hmm' murmurings echoed in response; more experienced women employees nodding and winking to the newer ones. Donna gave a brief nod and a small smile to Cassie, who responded with her usual smirk. Christina grinned at the exchange.

“Once I started squirming and struggling in their grasp, it was pretty easy to keep it up,” KJ said. “I'd set the mood, I'd gotten into the right mindset. Brought a lot of memories rushing back as they held me fast, still taking their time even though they moved very quickly. Even an assault rifle would have done me no good because they were holding me too firm for me to be able to aim it. Each coil of the rope around my wrists had my pulse rate going just a little faster, peaking as I felt the first cinches being wrapped around the coils, making them settle snug and tight around my wrists even without digging into the flesh. A lot of us have always felt that 'the secret was in the cinches,' and we just had to solve that to defeat the aides once and for all. I gotta hand it to them, keeping that secret so close for all the years we've been working here.”

Again, more murmurings of agreement and a smattering of brief applause. The secret that KJ referred to, of course, was how the aides applied the cinches that tightened the coils of rope around each woman's wrists and ankles. That these cinches were what kept all the women of HTG from ever squirming free of her bondage before the aides came in to untie her at the end of the forty-five minutes, was accepted by all of them as 'the secret ingredient' for a number of years now. It still hadn't yielded an answer as to how to struggle free.

“I wasn't even exactly sure when the knot had been secured until I felt the fourth aide step back and the first one, in front of me, pinching my cheeks together so they could pull my gag between my lips and teeth,” KJ continued her story. “As they tied the knot, I even remembered how ridiculous it felt as they gagged me for the first time, on my first day. One of them holding my head steady as the fourth one, behind me, pulled the ends of the cloth around my head to the back of my neck, and the two on my sides continually straightening out stray locks of my hair to keep it all neat underneath the folds of the cloth. I had to roll my eyes as the knot was finally finished and tightened, wondering if I was going to see my face on the cover of a detective magazine in a month.”

KJ smiled, and paused as all the women laughed and gave cheering whistles. Cassie's usual smirk disappeared as she gave a knowing grin and a whoop for a cheer. As the only one who'd been involved in real consensual erotic bondage, Cassie's knowledge on the subject had infused a whole new level of determination among the corporate women. The only bit of knowledge Cassie couldn't bring to the table was actually getting free, but Mary in particular, felt it was one more notable step along the inevitable march to victory.

“Once we're gagged, a lot of the wind goes out of our sails,” KJ smiled with a small nod; a gesture copied throughout the room. “By then we're usually just watching with awe at how expertly they tie the ropes above and below our breasts, further holding our arms against our sides. As the cinches were tightened around the ropes around my knees and ankles, I'm wondering, again, how in the hell they never, but never, make just one snag or pull in my pantyhose. I don't think those guys increase the price tag on my overhead for replacement hosiery by a cent. I spend enough money on new pantyhose already, given how long one pair lasts on average.”

Not one woman in the room hadn't raised a hand.

“So they lay me on my stomach, tie my wrists to my ankles, and then it's time to throw caution to the wind and hope I luck out and win the competition,” KJ said, and smiled, to another round of muted affirmative sounds. Carla and Claire rubbed the shoulders of a new hire from Surety Bonds encouragingly, before Carla reached into her purse and took her prescription medication for her acid reflux.

“I give it my best, just like every day,” KJ said. “I twist, I contort, I squirm and wriggle, looking tirelessly for any way that will give me just an inch of give, and just like every other day, I can't find it. My tongue is working overtime trying to push my gag in just the right way that I can slide my lip underneath and then push the cloth down out of my mouth. The same thing we all do, trying to beat the house in our little competition just as much as each other, and the house is still undefeated.”

KJ smiled and rolled her eyes, and some of the women copied, sympathetically.

“Before I even know it, forty-five minutes have passed and in come the aides to untie me. Sometimes I try to stir them up a little, and that never works either. I think it's because we know that they're under very strict orders that we never be hurt. They can't give us just a light smack even when we provoke them, and I think that's why we sometimes get the urge to provoke them a little, just to ruffle their feathers because we can do that with impunity.”

A number of women nodded their heads, a couple of them smiling as they did. Donna smiled at Christina and raised her hand. The brunette returned Donna's smile and gave her a high five.

“They finish untying me, and leave my office. Karen comes in a couple of minutes later. Barbie was untied ten minutes early, as I'd learn the next day, so she could get home in time for her sister-in-law to drop the kids off there. Karen gives me the extra bottle of lotion and packet of Epsom salt, a brief pep talk and rubs my shoulders. I'm feeling, I'm ready, I can do this.” KJ paused to smile and shake her head, and a few women laughed softly, comfortingly.

KJ had paused in front of the door and took a short breath. Even without opening the door, and despite her hearing impairment, when she listened, she could hear the new hire crying uncontrollably. KJ silently counted to three and opened the door.

She projected the right look, kept her voice properly controlled. She approached just close enough to put the bottle of lotion and packet of Epsom salt on the desk. “We have a tradition here, two of us bring a new hire to dinner at the end of--”

KJ laughed softly as she looked all the women over. “I think I got a little full of myself, feeling very big sister like. Boy, did I learn my lesson there.”

KJ looked right at the new hire but never saw it coming. The young lady had bolted to her feet, darted around her desk and workstation with a few fleet steps and uncorked a right hook that blasted KJ right across her mouth, sending her to the floor. If she hadn't remembered to close the door behind her, she'd have been sprawled on her back halfway outside the office.

“How's THAT for dinner?!” Sasha Frederickson rubbed her fist and bent over KJ in a threatening manner. “Want the left one for dessert?”

KJ scrabbled to the side before she pulled herself to her feet. She almost stumbled again before regaining her balance and looking at Sasha with a sense of dread.

Sasha pointed intolerantly at the door. “Get. Out. NOW,” she hissed. “Go right to your phone and call your lawyer. If you don't have one, get one fast.”

As KJ fumbled with the door knob and hurried out, Sasha added, “I know someone high up in here must be pulling strings to keep you out of trouble. Tell him one of your co-workers screwed up in front of me. Told me she hadn't met her manager even though she's been here almost half a year. Let's see if he can cover that up when I put her in front of a jury to explain it.”

KJ paused, took a soft breath, and turned, smiling warmly and proudly. “Well, we know by now, how that turned out, right?”

The women of HTG all commenced a standing ovation. Nancy put her two pinky fingers in her mouth and gave a loud whistle in place of a 'bravo.' Donna smiled, wiping a couple of tears away, and went up to KJ; the two of them exchanging an emotional hug.

Barbie came up and put her arms around both KJ and Donna. “I wish I'd been able to be there, KJ,” she said like a mother lioness. “I'd have given that hussy what for, and you know it.”

End of part 4

The ovation grew louder, infused with cheers and whistles. Copyright© 2014 by Delilah Winston. All rights reserved. I welcome your comments. Email me at