HTG: Quarterly Gains and Losses
by Delilah Winston

Part 6

It was mid-afternoon when the baseball game ended. Donna gave an enthusiastic round of applause for the winning team as the last batter grounded out.

“Sometimes the minor-league teams give a better game than in the majors, and yet it's the major leagues that are on television and make millions every year,” Diane said, also applauding.

“It's not what you know, it's who you know,” Bobby recited in a deadpan, and both women chuckled. It was just the three of them for today; Ethan was out of town for the week, Geri was home with her hay fever acting up, and Colby was staying with her and taking care of her.

So it came as a surprise to Donna when she heard the ring of familiar voices as she, Diane, and Bobby were heading to their cars for the drive home.

“Donna? Hey, Donna! Fancy meeting you here!”

Donna hardly recognized them in their summer street clothes. “Nancy? KJ?! Omigosh, what are you two doing here?”

Both Nancy and KJ wore dark sunglasses to protect their eyes. KJ's hair was in a short ponytail, while Nancy had braided hers into loose cornrows. Nancy wore a faux crystal bracelet with large red crystal beads, a black Star Trek T-shirt with an image of Captain Sisko on the front, dark jeans and tan summer sandals. KJ wore a white cotton halter top, tan khaki shorts with a matching leather belt, navy blue tube socks with yellow stripes at the top, and dark hi-top sneakers. The two women held hands as they approached Donna.

KJ smiled as she trotted over and hugged Donna. “We won two tickets in a raffle,” she said. “So we came to watch. Really great game by both teams!”

Donna laughed. “Yeah, that's exactly what the three of us were saying,” she said, hugging Nancy.

Nancy returned the hug before again joining hands with KJ. She smiled at Bobby and Diane. “Hi, I'm Nancy, this is KJ. We're co-workers of Donna's.”

Bobby and Diane smiled back and shook hands with both women. “I'm Diane, this is Bobby,” Diane said. “And we're Donna's neighbors. We watch major leagues on television together, and the local minor league here at the stadium.”

“I didn't know you two were baseball fans,” Donna said, still pleasantly surprised.

KJ chuckled. “Well, I wouldn't say we follow professional teams as closely as you, but we take in all sorts of sporting events when the mood strikes us. Baseball, basketball, football, tennis, golf, skiing, you name it.”

Nancy leaned forward suddenly, taking a closer look at Diane. “Hey. Wait a minute. Aren't you--”

Diane grinned. “Here we go,” she said with a good-natured roll of her eyes. “I get to meet more of my fans.”

KJ and Nancy both laughed as Nancy shook Diane's hand again. “Diane Libow,” Nancy said, nodding. “I really like your articles in the newspaper sports section. Very well written.”

“Thanks,” Diane nodded in acknowledgment. “I credit Bobby. I started watching games with him, and he got my interest going.”

KJ smiled and nodded. “How long?” she asked curiously.

Bobby put his arms around Diane from the side, and she laid her head on his shoulder.

“Four years,” Bobby said.

Diane hesitated for a couple of seconds. “You?”

KJ smiled wider. “Just about three.” She gave Nancy's hand a squeeze.

Donna blinked, glancing back and forth between Bobby and Diane, and then KJ and Nancy.

The four of them looked back at her, all of them giving her a curious look.

Confusion registered on Donna's face. “What?” she asked them.

Nancy grinned and looked at KJ, who grinned back.

“She doesn't know, Nancy,” KJ said.

Diane's smile continued. “Don't you see it, Donna? Your co-workers are a couple.”

Donna stared at Diane, her mouth slightly open. Finally she looked back at KJ and Nancy, blinking slowly as she looked at the two of them holding hands.

“For real?”

Their smiles thinned out a little, Nancy looking a bit defensive as she nodded.

“For real, Donna. Since half a year before you started working at the company, give or take a couple of weeks.”

Donna chuckled nervously. “I'm sorry, Nancy, KJ. I'm just, the way you all looked at me, am I the only person who didn't see? Am I the only one at work who doesn't know?”

KJ smiled again. “Nancy and I don't make a big show of hanging all over each other,” she pointed out. “But it can be seen in the way we hold hands, the way we smile at each other.”

Diane's pager began beeping suddenly. She checked the number and flashed an apologetic smile. “My editor's asking for a last-minute article on the game. I need to start writing something up. It was great meeting the two of you-- Nancy, you said your name was? And KJ?”

Nancy nodded and smiled, shaking hands with Diane and Bobby again. “Yes, that's right. It was great meeting you too. I'll look for your article in the newspaper.”

Bobby and Diane shook hands with KJ again, and then gave both of Donna's hands a squeeze. “We'll see you at our place for the final Red Sox home game of the season?” Bobby asked.

Donna nodded. “I'll be there. Good night.”

As Bobby began pulling out of his parking space, Donna turned back to KJ and Nancy. “I thought that was, you know...” she leaned in a little closer, dropped her voice to a hush. “I thought that was part of the sisterhood we all formed at work.”

Nancy chuckled quietly. “For KJ and I, it's a little more. Like KJ said, we don't make a show of it. We're secure enough in our relationship that we neither need to hide, nor push it under anyone's nose.” Donna noted, however, that as Nancy said this, she and KJ leaned in a little closer together, until their arms touched from the wrist up to the elbow. Donna knew she'd have overlooked that small gesture, too, if they'd done it at work.

Donna nodded in understanding. “There's no conflict of interest at work?” she asked curiously.

They both shook their heads. “We spoke to Mr. Westman and Mr. Steward, and to Carla as well,” KJ said. “Long as it doesn't affect our professional relationship, both with each other and with everyone else in the company, there's no problem.”

“My folks don't approve,” Nancy admitted. “They don't want me bringing KJ home with me. So I just don't see them for the holidays. I go with KJ to see her family, or we go to my brother and his family. I can't say Jack's thrilled, but he respects my decision.”

Donna nodded after a few seconds. “I'll do the same,” she promised, offering a small smile. “I wouldn't date a woman myself, I admit that, but it's your lives to live, and share.”

The two of them looked at her, their pleasant expressions thinning out again. Donna's stomach clenched. The few seconds of hesitation showed that Donna was a little slow to wrap her head around their relationship, in the same way that Nancy had said her brother was. Donna cursed herself inwardly. Had she crossed a line?

But a few seconds later, KJ nodded. Donna had promised to respect their feelings. They knew she wouldn't lie to them about it. Nancy looked at KJ and nodded back.

“Good enough,” Nancy said, hugging Donna. “We'll see you back at work, okay? KJ and I are gonna take in a movie at the Regal on 80th Street.”

Donna nodded, hugging KJ. “Have a great time, then,” she said.

They both waved to Donna as she started her car up, putting it in gear for the drive home.

As Donna pulled out of the parking lot, however, she gradually started feeling upset with herself. KJ and Nancy had accepted Donna's promise to respect their feelings for each other. But Donna had given herself away. She didn't find anything objectionable with the relationship they had with each other, but she still didn't understand it.

Donna still had KJ and Nancy's respect. But Donna was deeply concerned that her relationship with the two women as parts of the support group, the 'sisterhood' among the women of HTG, had taken a subtle change... and she began to worry about where it would steer to.

* * *

It had been a number of days, and Christina still seemed a bit of the mother hen. Donna tried to remind herself that she was still Christina's 'little sister,' even if now 'fully grown--' the terminologies used among the HTG women was yet another example of the weird in working there. Thinking about that made Donna have to smile. As long as she'd been working with the company, she was far from finished with learning new examples. She had no complaint about that, because it was still amusing.

The fire was still there in Donna's eyes as she struggled in her bondage. But she'd calmed down enough that she didn't need further big-sister attention. Donna was grateful for that. Christina could be a mother hen at times. As Donna kicked her toes back and forth, struggling against the ropes that bound her ankles, she had to wonder if this one of the things that Bea had against Christina.

Donna paused, remaining still for a couple of seconds, and then resumed shaking her head side to side, her shoulders hunching in while her bound wrists squirmed against the tightly tied ropes. Her loud cries into her gag masked the continuing train of thoughts whirling around in her brain.

'Here I go again,' she thought. 'My head working overtime. Am I just trying to help 45 minutes pass more quickly? Maybe I'm still not as forgiving of Down Time as I thought.'

It could also have been the need to temper her desire to win the competition. Donna didn't want to go through another outburst like that. Aside from the fact that Christina and Karen would both be hanging all over her like worried parents sitting over a sick child's bed, it could even bring Mr. Stone into it. If the aides had to be sent into Donna's office to untie her early, enough times, the whole department would have problems on their hands.

Donna's shoulders stretched and flexed into what looked as much like a shrug, as a push against the ropes that bound her arms against her sides. Her body was still flexible enough that she wasn't getting sore from the restrictive position until a few minutes before she was untied. Being hogtied was never comfortable; heaven forbid Donna or any of the HTG women should consider calling it that. But her body could endure it until the forty-five minute period was up. The question that was starting to arise in Donna's mind was, could her mind endure it? More to the point, could her mind continue enduring it as well as she'd been enduring it so far? And how long?

“mmmmMMmmm MMMMmmmm!” If it wasn't Mr. Stone monitoring her today, then whoever was, would have no idea if that latest vocalization was part of Donna's usual attempts to cry out through her gag, or if she was trying to talk to herself. The funny thing was, right now, Donna didn't know either.

Donna tried to quiet her mind and focus on her body. Her struggles to free herself continued until she felt something pressing on her shoulders. Her head poked up and she found herself looking right at a black-clad, burly leg heavily bent into a squatting position. She let out a small, muffled chortle. It wasn't often that the aides came into her office without her noticing them at all.

Nodding in thanks and stretching her arms out, Donna watched the aides head out of her office. Christina came in with the lotion bottles and Epsom salt. Donna thanked her and got up to head to Cassie's office.

“I'm sorry, you're heading there too?” Donna noted that Christina was following her.

“Cassie's starting to get interested in administrative assistance, so she has some questions on the qualifications,” Christina answered. “Besides, it just seemed a great time for a three-way girl talk chat.”

'Yup, a mother hen,' Donna smiled to herself, making sure she was walking in front of Christina so the brunette couldn't see it on her face.

* * *

“It's not that they're grading or quizzing you during work,” Christina chuckled softly. “You'll have access to your computer's calculator program. But sometimes you need to be able to work with variable percentage rates, and sometimes you need to use a little algebra for placeholder values. Finally, just being able to do some arithmetic in your head, on the fly, always comes in handy.”

Cassie nodded, scribbling some notes in a notepad. “That part shouldn't be a problem,” she said smugly.

Donna and Christina nodded. “You sure have a good head for numbers,” Donna said.

“You WILL be given a math exam to qualify for the promotion,” Christina reminded her. “And the 'steps' on the ladder aren't set in concrete. Karen started as a secretary without doing reception time. So did Nancy. Mary went from secretary straight to investment exec, and Claire is doing that, too. Speaking of which--”

Cassie smirked again. “Yeah, yeah. The little celebration party on Friday. I'll be sure to wear my finest dinner jacket to work.”

“You don't care for all the social events we hold together, do you?” Donna smiled when she asked, although it was more etiquette than amusement.

Cassie shook her head. “It's nice to sit and chew the fat with some of you now and then,” she conceded. “But all the pomp and circumstance, that I don't get.”

Christina finished rubbing lotion into her wrists and wiped her hands clean with some tissue paper, depositing the paper into the trash bin and the empty lotion bottle into the recycling bin. “Well, if it means anything, a lot of us are happy that you endure them,” she said graciously.

Cassie gave a simple nod, saying nothing. Donna was likewise quiet, although she looked at Cassie with some interest. No longer a new hire, she was fast approaching her first-year anniversary at the company, and her unique outlook on life at HTG was still refreshing to Donna. The blonde couldn't help but wonder if--

Donna turned her head slightly to one side and blinked. 'Wow. I'm not her big sister, but the thought of... that's a little silly. Isn't it?'

“Hey, check this,” Cassie said, her face lighting up in satisfaction. “I got a rise from them. I really did!”

Christina's lips parted curiously. “From who?”

Cassie made a head-scratching motion with her left hand, and an underarm-scratching motion with her right, and made a grunting ook-ook noise.

“Get out,” Donna gawked.

“Eat your heart out, rookie,” Cassie crowed. “The monkey probably earned himself a write-up for his reaction, but that's his own damn fault.”

Christina leaned forward. “What happened?”

“Caught him staring at my ass while they were undoing the first rope. I told him next time he stares at my ass, I'd whoop his. Then for good measure, I told him I could do his job better than he could.”

Both Donna and Christina laughed out loud, gawking. “So what did he do?” Christina asked.

“Idiot half-turned over his shoulder as they were leaving, and his shoulders twitched, and his head jerked,” Cassie said, grinning at the thought of it. “In a way that showed he had to struggle to keep from busting out laughing. Idiot monkey. I CAN give him a can of whoop-ass, too, and I'll do it if I catch him letting his eyes wander again.”

All three women laughed; Christina taking longer to finish than the other two. “Coming from you, of all the women here, I believe it,” the brunette grinned.

Cassie leaned back against the backrest of her chair and put her hands behind her head, again looking smug.

Christina smiled again and shook her head a bit. “A few of us are gonna hit Jackson's for dinner after we're finished for the day,” she said. “Want to join us? No pomp and circumstance; just some food, some coffee, and some girl talk.”

Cassie leafed through her pocket memo and then nodded. “Sure, why not?” she said. “Season doesn't start for a month and a half, yet.”

Donna laughed. “Ah, the joys of disparity between the various sports seasons.”

Cassie shrugged and flashed a quick grin as she finished up her last forms.

“Let's finish up the last of our papers so we won't be late,” Christina grinned, nudging Donna's elbow.

The blonde returned the smile, excusing herself to Cassie as she headed back to her office. But she was impressed, not with the rise Cassie says she got from the aide, but something she said to him.

'Told him she could do his job better than he could,' Donna grinned to herself as she thought about it. 'Talk about girls having cojones. How many aides have been told THAT before?'

But as she closed the door to her office behind her, Donna stopped short and blinked again.

'Coming from you, of all the women here, I believe it,' Christina had told Cassie, both about that, and about her warning she'd give the errant aide an 'ass-whooping.'

The more Donna thought about it, the more she believed it, too. A realization that made Donna more nervous than she'd have cared to admit.

* * *

Donna got off the bus and turned her face up to the warm summer sun. Just another three weeks and summer would be over, although the extended weather forecast predicted that warm weather would last until the end of September. Taking out her pocket memo, she reviewed some notes on the Greyhound bus line going to Milwaukee. Donna had some extra vacation time saved up, and had decided to work through the Christmas season and claim a nine-day period in October to take a bus to Milwaukee. She and Ethan would take in an Oktoberfest celebration or two, visit a couple of museums, and maybe take a boat ride on Lake Michigan, depending on prices. Both Donna and Ethan made a good salary from their jobs, but they still needed to budget-- one reason they were going to take a bus. That, and, of course, they'd have the opportunity to enjoy taking the scenic route.

For now, of course, it was another work day. Christina would distribute all the forms and paperwork, and Donna would handle her share. She'd make a few appointments for potential investors looking to meet with Mr. Stone, or Karen, or another of the executives, about starting or managing a portfolio. Lunch would almost surely be delicious, as it had been since Donna's first day. And, of course, at 3:30, give or take a few minutes... four of the departmental aides would come into Donna's office, and hogtie her and gag her. She always told herself this would be the day the ongoing competition had its first winner, even though she had yet to get free, and even though she'd managed to rein herself in after she got carried away with it.

Donna was coming in a little early. The building was open, and she'd be able to get a cup of coffee in the cafeteria. Breaking from her thoughts, she took another deep breath and started toward the building.

A male worker was just entering the revolving door as Donna started to approach it. He wore a black suit and carried a briefcase. He wore a hat, but Donna could see his hair was gray.

As the man entered the revolving door, Donna got the briefest glance at his face. The man looked to be in his sixties, and ruggedly handsome. Come to think of it, just from that brief glance, his profile had a resemblance to...

Donna stopped in her tracks and put her hand up to her mouth. Recovering, she dashed for the revolving door.

She saw the man's back as he entered an elevator; heard Officer Brown say, “Have a good day, Mr. Go--” The sound of Officer Brown's phone ringing drowned out the rest of the sound of his voice.

Just as the elevator door closed, the man turned enough that Donna got a look at his face. She shook her head in wonder. The resemblance was there, even though the man wasn't a spitting image.

Officer Brown smiled and nodded as Donna signed in. Seeing the look on her face, he held up a finger to let her know he'd be with her in a moment.

A couple of minutes passed before Officer Brown hung up the phone and sighed slightly. “Hi, Donna. Sorry, I have to hurry to take care of something. If you want to write down what you wanted to ask me, I can have a message sent up to your office later.”

Donna blinked, but then smiled and shook her head. “It's not that important. But thank you anyway.”

Officer Brown tipped his cap and headed off on his errand. Donna started toward the elevator and then paused at a large-sized portrait along one wall, that showed the three founders of HTG, Inc. Donna had seen the portrait many times, but never really took a long, up-close look at it. Having some time on her hands, she figured she could do so now.

Donna stopped in her tracks again as she looked at the man on the far right in the portrait. She hadn't gotten that close a look, but he looked a lot like the man who had entered the building just ahead of her. All three men in the portrait were in their sixties, all with neat gray hair. The one on the right looked ruggedly handsome, like the man who came in ahead of her. The thought of it made Donna have to smile. She'd never expected to see one of the company's three founders in the flesh.

Donna glanced down at the inscribed plaque along the bottom of the portrait.

She gasped, and covered her mouth again.

“Wow... just wow. Is that just a coincidence?”

'Founders of HTG: Stan Hill, Eric Talbot, and Martin Goldman'

End of part 6

Copyright© 2015 by Delilah Winston. All rights reserved.
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