On Thursday morning, Katherine was sitting in front of her computer looking at more job openings when the phone rang.
“Is this Katherine Larsen?”
“Yes it is.” The voice sounded familiar.
“This is Ray McKenzie with Burns Pharmaceuticals. I’m calling to offer you a job.”
“Really? That’s great.”
“Your official job title will be Associate Engineer, and we are offering a salary of $50,000 a year. Does that sound good to you?”
That sounded like a pretty good salary to Katherine. It was about the same amount that Allen was being paid.
“Yes, it does sound good. What do I need to do now?”
“We will be sending you an e-mail with all the details- salary, insurance, vacation, etc. Just read it over carefully and if you accept the job send me a reply.”
“When would I start?”
“Would Monday morning be acceptable?”
“Yes, that would work for me.”
“Good. I’ll see you at 8:00 AM Monday morning then. Have a good weekend.”
Katherine paced around her apartment, jumping up and down a little bit from the excitement as she waited for the e-mail to come. She sent a text to Allen telling him the good news. After a few minutes, the expected e-mail arrived and Katherine read it through. Most of it was what she expected to see- a boilerplate letter extending the job offer and explaining the salary and benefits. Katherine was a little surprised at the job description:
You will be working as part of the healgel development team, using your knowledge and skills to increase the production of Burns Pharmaceutical’s core product as well as developing new products based on this technology.
You will also be part of our Gulf Aquarium dive team, helping to feed and maintain the sea life in the aquarium. Dive training will be provided.
That explained the tour of the aquarium. Although this was not what she expected, Katherine was actually pleased to see this addition to her job. She loved swimming, and the thought of spending part of each day swimming in a huge aquarium full of colorful fish made her very happy. The instructions said that she should bring a swimsuit with her on Monday, so she would have to go shopping. Her only swimsuit was an old tank-style one-piece that she had only worn once or twice while attending school. If she was going to be swimming frequently, she would need to get a couple more. She would probably need to get a business wardrobe as well. The jeans she wore at school wouldn’t be appropriate for an engineering job. After reading through the job offer a couple of times, Katherine sent back her acceptance and then went downstairs to her car and headed to store to buy some clothes. She decided to stick to one or two outfits at first until she had a chance to evaluate what the other workers were wearing. She also didn’t want to blow through all her money in one day. That first paycheck would be a few weeks in coming and she had to live on her savings until then.
Katherine and Allen celebrated her job with a nice dinner on the weekend. On Saturday, they visited Moody Gardens, one of the biggest attractions in Galveston. They did the zipline course, swam in the pool, and visited the rainforest pyramid. Next to the rainforest was the burned skeleton of the Aquarium pyramid, and a sign that explained how a pump had overheated and started a devastating fire that destroyed the attraction. The sign promised a new attraction soon. Katherine wondered if Audra would have built her aquarium in a different city had the fire not happened here.
On Sunday evening, Katherine packed a small bag with things she wanted to take to her first day of work. She had a picture of her mother, a picture of Allen, and her new red swimsuit. She added a towel just in case. The next day she took her bag and drove to her new place of employment. She parked in the employee parking and went inside. She learned that the receptionist’s name was Mark, and he gave her a stack of paperwork to fill out. Once the paperwork was done, Mark called Audra, who came down to meet her again.
“Hello Katherine. Welcome aboard.”
“Thank you for hiring me. I’m looking forward to working here.”
“You will be working directly for me, so I’ll show you to your office.”
“Wow! I’m surprised that I’ll be working directly for the owner of the company. Why is that?”
“I like to be directly in touch with the people who design our products. So at Burns Pharma I decided to hire managers for most things but keep the day-to-day management of product design under my own control. It does mean that you may have to work independently from time to time when I have other business to attend to.”
“Well, I just hope I can live up to your expectations.”
“Come, let’s meet the rest of the team.”
Audra took Katherine upstairs to an office area. Around the perimeter of the area were a series of offices, and in the center was a conference table with a projector and a screen that lowered from the ceiling, as well as a water cooler and a central printer and copier. The largest office near the door belonged to Audra. Audra led Katherine around the room to an office that already had a name plaque with Katherine’s name on it. She put her bags down in the room and then followed Audra as she introduced the rest of the group.
Mike Easterson – Mechanical Engineer
Kelly Benson – Marketing Representative
Alfonse Brewster – Chemical Engineer
Donato Gemelli – Medical Compliance Specialist
Samantha Hanes – Human Studies Specialist
Renna Kosmatka – Aquarium Diver
Lacy Zelinski – Aquarium Diver
Katherine was surprised when she was re-introduced to the two mermaids. Apparently Audra had a special interest in the divers as well as the product development team. Once the introductions were done, Audra left Katherine alone to settle in for a bit. She left her with a list of online training material that Katherine needed to work through in the next few days. It didn’t take long to arrange her two pictures on her desk, and then Katherine started learning about Safety and Personal Protection Equipment. She was halfway through the training on Compliance with All US and International Laws when Renna stopped in her doorway.
“Hey Katherine. Want to join us for lunch?”
Katherine looked at the time in the corner of her computer screen. 11:58. “Sure. Let me grab my purse.”
They were joined by Mike and Samantha. Renna led the way back downstairs and down a hall to the company cafeteria. The food was OK, though the others groused about it. They spent their lunchtime getting to know each other a little. Mike was married with three children and seemed to spend most of his evenings and weekends coaching soccer. Samantha was divorced with a preschool aged daughter. And Renna was young and single and spent most of her free time at the beach. Katherine told them about Allen and then asked about the area. The others quickly chimed in with recommendations for restaurants, parks, and other attractions. When they were done with lunch, Renna came back to Katherine’s office.
“You’re with me this afternoon.” She said. “First we need to get you set up with a mermaid tail. Did you bring a swimsuit?”
“Yes. I have it right here.”
“First we need to take some measurements, so why don’t you run to the bathroom and change into your swimsuit? I’ll get my measuring tape and meet you back here.”
Katherine did as instructed. It felt strange to be walking back through the office in a swimsuit. She was glad she had purchased a modest one-piece to bring today. A couple of the men seemed to stare a little as she walked past their offices. When she got back to her own office, Renna was waiting with a measuring tape and a form. She had Katherine stand with her legs together and then took several measurements around her legs from her ankles to her waist. She wrote the numbers down on the form. Then she had Katherine sit at her computer and go to the web site of the mermaid tail manufacturer. Renna helped her select a tail and a color pattern, then enter all of the appropriate information and order her tail. It would take two weeks for the tail to be manufactured and delivered.
“This is really fast for a mermaid tail.” She explained. “Usually it takes several months, but Audra pays extra for high quality and fast delivery.”
Once her tail had been ordered, Katherine took her street clothes and followed Renna back to the water storage pool. They went to the far end of the pool from where she had seen it before, and entered a locker room.
“You can keep your swimsuits in here from now on.” Said Renna as she changed into hers. After a few moments Lacy joined them and changed into her suit as well. Both girls wore two-piece suits. Renna wore a blue bikini, while Lacy had a tank top and brief-style bottoms.
“You’ll want to wear a two-piece suit once your tail arrives.” Lacy said. “The top of the tail stays in place better if you have bare skin on your belly.”
The lockers were wide and tall to allow room for the tails to hang in them. Renna grunted as she lifted her tail out of its place. They were apparently pretty heavy. Katherine opened her locker and saw a couple of monofins in the bottom.
“Find the fin that seems to fit you best.” Said Renna. “You can practice with the monofin and work on your breath holding while we wait for your tail to arrive. Come on out to the pool. Fernando should be here by now.”
Katherine held the door as the other two women carried their tails out. They walked to the side of the pool, where there was a miniature crane with a sling hanging from the tip. Standing next to it was a muscular Hispanic man in a black swimsuit.
“Katherine, this is Fernando Salazar. He helps us put the tails on and serves as a lifeguard while we swim.”
“Nice to meet you, Katerina.” Said the man.
Katherine watched the process of putting the tails on. First the women covered their legs with baby oil and then laid down on the floor and slid their feet into the tails. Fernando pulled as they squirmed and wiggled until the tails were in place. When they were both transformed into mermaids, Fernando lifted Lacy up and sat her in the sling on the crane, then rotated it out over the water and lowered her in.
“Why don’t you just crawl over to the side and jump in?” Katherine asked.
“The silicone in the tails is pretty tough, but if we do a lot of crawling around it tends to get scuffed and scratched. Besides, we kind of like Fernando to carry us around.”
Katherine smiled and Renna grinned at Fernando, who blushed slightly.
“You know I am a married man, Renna.” He said.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my work.” She answered.
“Katherine, you can just sit on the side of the pool and slip your monofin on. Then you can either jump in or ask Fernando for a ride on the crane. I suggest you take advantage of the ride.”
Fernando picked Renna up and lowered her into the water with the crane while Katherine put on her monofin.
“Do you want a ride, Katerina?”
“Well, it was recommended. And I need to see what it will be like once I get my tail.”
The handsome man lifted Katherine up into the sling.
“Your wife is very lucky to have such a strong, handsome husband.” Katherine said as he helped her in.
“Thank you for the flattery. It seems Renna is teaching you her ways of teasing.”
Fernando lowered her into the water and she dove forward out of the sling. She experimented with using the monofin to swim and found it a little difficult. She was not used to having her feet stuck together. After a few minutes, she seemed to get the hang of the undulating motion required. Renna swam over to her.
“That boyfriend of yours will like what this mermaid swimming does to your body.” She said. “It can be quite a workout. Are you ready to practice holding your breath?”
“I have been swimming before. I already know how to hold my breath.”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s true. But we need to be able to stay under for three or four minutes when we’re in the aquarium. Can you hold your breath for that long?”
“No, I don’t think so. It’s been a long time since anybody timed it.”
“Come to the side of the pool and we’ll get Fernando to time us.”
They both took deep breaths and sank under the water while Fernando timed them with a stopwatch. Katherine came up after about 95 seconds, but Renna stayed under for two minutes 48 seconds.
“Wow. You’re pretty good at this.” Said Katherine.
“Actually, I started out at less than a minute. It’s mostly a mind game about learning to stay relaxed. There is actually plenty of oxygen left in our lungs, but as the carbon dioxide builds up the urge to breathe gets strong. Lacy and I have been working on it for a while every day.”
Lacy joined them and they continued to practice for a while. Katherine managed to squeeze a few more seconds out before surfacing. Then they practiced swimming the 300 foot length of the pool and back. It didn’t take long for Katherine to get tired out. It had been several years since her high school swim team, and she was out of shape. So she rested at the end of the pool while the other two women swam a few more laps. After a time, Fernando called down to them. “Feeding time!”
“Follow us!” Said Lacy, and began to swim the length of the pool again. Katherine followed them. When they got to the other end, Renna pointed out a large tube in the side of the pool. About two-thirds of the tube was under water. Katherine had noticed it before and assumed it was some part of the filtration system, but Lacy swam straight into the tube, and Renna motioned for Katherine to follow her. They swam for 30 or 40 feet until the tube met the side of the aquarium. Where the tube met the aquarium wall, the wall dipped down a foot or so and had a smooth, rounded top. The water came up to within an inch or two of the lowered area. Lacy grabbed hold of the top, gave a strong flip with her tail, and slipped over the edge into the aquarium. Renna held Katherine back when she tried to follow. Lacy treaded water in front of the tube, and they all waited for a few minutes. After a time, Fernando appeared on a catwalk above and behind them. He lowered a couple of tightly sealed buckets and set them into hooks on the edge of the catwalk. Then he handed a long pole down to Lacy. She pulled a fish out of one of the buckets and impaled it on the sharp point of the pole, then she grabbed the bucket and swam down through the pool towards the coral reef.
“There aren’t a lot of the bigger carnivores in the aquarium yet, but we’ve started to add a few. Lacy is going down to feed the moray eels. In a couple of weeks we’ll start to add the sharks and then we’ll need more help to do the daily feeding. Audra doesn’t want anybody going into the aquarium who isn’t wearing a mermaid tail, so you can stay here for now. I’m going to take the other bucket and refresh the seaweed for the grazers.”
Renna slipped over the wall into the aquarium and grabbed the other bucket. Katherine watched as she swam down to a clip that had been attached to the wall with a suction cup. Renna pulled some strands of seaweed out of the bucket and fastened them into the clip, then rose up to get a breath. Katherine watched as the two women swam from one location to another, rising up to get a breath in between each spot. No wonder they needed to practice holding their breath! Three minutes was not very long when you were trying to wrangle seaweed out of a bucket or convince an eel to swallow a fish. When the two women were done with the feeding, they brought their buckets back to Fernando and then slipped back over the wall into the tube. The tube was wide enough for two to swim abreast, so Katherine tried to keep up with Renna as they swam back to the water storage pool. When they got back to the far end of the pool, they waited for Fernando to walk back around the perimeter of the pool to the crane. Renna taunted him good-naturedly while he walked. Then Fernando used the crane to lift each woman in turn out of the pool, and helped the two mermaids pull their tails off.
Katherine volunteered to carry Lacy’s tail back into the locker room. It was indeed quite heavy – probably 40 or 50 pounds. Fernando came with them into the room and they carried the tails into a large washbasin. They used a disinfectant cleaner and a hose to wash the tails out, then hung them back up in their lockers. After helping the women with the cleaning task, Fernando left them alone in the locker room to shower and change back into street clothes. By the time they got back to their offices, it was time to go home.
When she got home, Katherine changed into more comfortable clothes and started cooking dinner. She had volunteered to make dinner for Allen that night. As she pulled off her slacks and changed into jeans, she noticed some soreness in her leg muscles. “I guess I needed the exercise.” She thought to herself. She decided to go Mexican and started cooking Spanish rice for dinner, with some grilled chicken breasts and some asparagus to go with it. She was almost done when Allen arrived. After a few hello kisses, they worked together to put the food on the table.
“So how was your first day of work?” Allen asked.
“Very good. I think I’m going to love this job. The biomedical part really didn’t happen today – it was all paperwork and training. But I got to spend the afternoon swimming. How lucky can you be?”
“Well, you could be swimming with me. I feel sad that I missed out on seeing you in your new swimming suit.”
“That’s OK. Fernando was there to take your place.”
“Our very hunky lifeguard and mermaid tail helper.”
“Very hunky, huh? Should I be jealous?”
“Lucky for you he’s already married. He’s fun to tease, though.”
“I’m still jealous.”
“Well, after dinner why don’t you come shopping with me? I need to buy a couple more swimsuits, so I can try them on and you will get your chance to see me before Fernando does.”
“Normally shopping ranks just slightly above a root canal in my book, but this sounds like it might be interesting. I’ll take you up on it.”