The rest of the week continued in the same vein. Katherine worked on healgel in the mornings and practiced swimming and holding her breath in the afternoons. Renna and Lacy told her some of the quirks of the individual fish in the aquarium. They also drove her pretty hard to practice swimming with the monofin and holding her breath for longer times. They seemed to be pretty self-motivated individuals, and Katherine enjoyed working with them. She went home every evening with sore muscles, but Allen chivalrously offered to massage her legs, so even the soreness had an upside.
Friday after work, Katherine changed into her little black dress and put on some makeup for her date with Allen. When he picked her up he was wearing dress slacks and a nice shirt. He took her to downtown Houston to a very swanky restaurant. Katherine started to get little butterflies in her chest. Was this going to be the day? After a nice meal, Allen pulled out a little jewelry box.
“Will you marry me?” He asked.
Tears of joy started leaking out of Katherine’s eyes. “OH, yes I will!” She answered.
Allen opened the box to reveal a ring. “This was my mother’s ring. I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t buy you something new, but I thought this would be something special to remember her by.”
“That’s actually very sweet. And it’s a beautiful ring.”
“We may have to get the size adjusted, and if you want to we can ask the jeweler to add a little something to make it your own.”
“What about you? Will you wear your father’s ring?”
“No, Cherise has that. We decided after the accident that I would get Mom’s ring and she would get Dad’s. So we will need to get the jeweler to find something that matches.”
One of the other diners noticed what was going on and started clapping. Before long the whole restaurant was clapping, and their server came over to see what was going on. Once he saw the ring on Katherine’s finger, he offered them free desserts to celebrate with. They ate their desserts and then drove back to Katherine’s apartment, where they called Katherine’s mother and gave her the good news, followed by Cherise, Allen’s sister. Then they spent a few hours discussing their plans, and decided on the traditional month of June for their wedding. The exact date would be decided in consultation with Katherine’s mother. It was late when Allen left for his own apartment, and June seemed like a long time away as he slipped into his lonely room.
Through the weekend and into the last week of March, most evenings were consumed with talking and planning for the wedding. As new employees, neither Allen nor Katherine had much vacation time or money, so they planned for a short weekend honeymoon. They made a trip to the jewelry store and picked out a ring for Allen. His mother’s ring actually fit Katherine’s finger pretty well, so all it needed was an inspection and a good cleaning. Katherine proudly showed her ring to her new friends and acquaintances at work. When she showed it to Fernando, Renna and Lacy made sure to tease her about it, especially since she took it off before her swim practice.
After her second week of work, Renna invited Katherine and Allen to a picnic on Saturday. So they packed up their swimsuits and sunscreen and headed to the beachfront park where it was being held. Renna had suggested that Katherine bring her monofin with her as well. When they arrived at the park, Renna welcomed them and introduced them to her other friends. Lacy was there, as well as Fernando and his wife Anna. Two other women were also present – Teresa and Maria. They were neighbors of Renna’s. The group found a picnic table and spread out their food to share. Allen and Fernando took turns at the grill, cooking up hot dogs and chicken breasts while the women chatted and Renna showed off her ring to the three who hadn’t yet seen it. They were just finishing up their lunch when they heard a voice from the direction of the parking lot.
“Well, this is a surprise!” Said Audra as she approached the group.
“Hi Audra.” Said Renna. “What brings you to this park?”
“I like to come here and swim sometimes. It is usually a pretty quiet little beach.”
“We have plenty of food left. Would you like to join us?”
“That’s very kind of you. Yes, I can join you for a bit – as long as we all promise not to talk shop.”
“I think we can all make that promise.”
Renna introduced Audra to the rest of the group and she joined in with the festivities. In accordance with Audra’s request, they didn’t talk about work, but they did chat about where they worked. Anna stayed at home as she and Fernando were trying to have a baby. Teresa and Maria both worked in the tourist industry- Teresa as a clerk at a hotel, and Maria as a hostess at a restaurant. They chatted while Audra finished her lunch, then went down to the beach to play in the water. Katherine slipped on her monofin and went for a swim, and Allen tried to keep up with her. After a few seconds it was obvious that Allen would be left far behind, so Katherine slowed down and they swam together for a while. When they got back to the beach, Allen commented: “That monofin really seemed to help you swim fast!”
“Would you like to try it?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure it would fit.”
Audra overheard their conversation and chimed in. “I think I have a couple of extra fins in my car. I’ll go see if I have anything that might fit you.”
She went back to the parking lot and came back in a few minutes with several different monofins. “I bought several different monofins a while back when we first started thinking about divers for the aquarium. One of these should fit you.”
Allen found a fin that would fit him, and several of the other guests decided to try them as well. Soon they were having an impromptu monofin swimming class taught by the three mermaids. Allen and Fernando kept at it the longest. Once they got the hang of swimming with the fins, they decided to have a little race out to a buoy and back. They were pretty evenly matched, but Allen got tired on the way back, and Fernando beat him to the beach by a few seconds. As they climbed out of the water and started to rib each other, Allen noticed something wrong up by the picnic table. A group of four tattooed men appeared to be harassing the six women. Allen and Fernando dropped their fins and raced toward the group. When they arrived, two of the men had grabbed Audra and Katherine, while two of them turned to intercept the new arrivals.
The man who approached Allen was tall, heavily built, and muscular. He grinned as he approached.
“You’re out of your league, punk. Go back to building sand castles or you might get hurt.”
Allen said nothing. He just continued to approach them man, a grim look on his face. When he got within arm’s length, the man stepped forward and threw a punch. Allen stepped quickly to the side and caught the man’s hand. With a well-practiced pull and twist, Allen used the assailant’s own momentum and body weight against him. There was a dull cracking sound and the man fell to the ground. Meanwhile, Fernando resorted to more traditional methods. He blocked his attacker’s punch and counterpunched to his solar plexus. The attacker clutched his chest, wheezing, and Fernando hooked his ankle around the man’s feet, knocking him to the ground. After dealing with the first two miscreants, Allen and Fernando headed for the two that were holding the women.
Katherine’s arms were trapped against her side, but she remembered some techniques that Allen had taught her. She brought her right foot up and stomped down upon her captor’s instep as hard as she could, then threw her head back. The man quickly let go, backing up and holding his bloody nose. Everyone turned to the last attacker, who had Audra in his grasp. Seeing what had happened to his friends, this man let go of Audra with one hand, long enough to pull a knife out of his pocket. He held it up to Audra’s neck.
“Now you made us mad.” He said. “You better just back off or the redhead gets it.”
But in the confusion, the man had not kept track of Maria, who was now standing beside him with a small pistol in her hand. She stuck it into his side.
“If you hurt her, I will make a hole in you.” She said. “You just drop the knife and let go.”
Feeling the cold barrel of the gun in his side, the thug let go of Audra and backed up. Then he turned around and ran. His three friends quickly followed him, nursing their bruises and injuries. Teresa quickly picked up her phone from where it had fallen when one of the men knocked it out of her hand and called 911.
“Should we leave?” Asked Allen. “They might come back with guns or friends.”
“No, we stay here.” Said Teresa. “The police are on their way. They will want to see the location and talk to us.”
So they stayed in place, though Allen and Fernando picked up the monofins and returned them to Audra. The police arrived within minutes, and took a statement from each of them. Teresa even had a picture of the men on her phone that she had taken before it got knocked away. As soon as the police looked at the picture, they recognized the men in it.
“They are with the Kings gang. See the crown tattoos they all have? We’ve dealt with them before.” Said one of the officers. After getting phone numbers and addresses from everyone, the policemen left to go check the hospitals for the man whose wrist Allen broke.
“How did you do that?” Asked Maria. “He was much bigger than you and I thought you didn’t have a chance fighting him.”
“Aikido. I studied Aikido for 8 or 9 years, though I haven’t practiced much lately.”
“Maria, I didn’t know you carried a gun!” Renna chimed in.
“I may have a good job and a nice place to live now, but I grew up on the bad side of town. I got a license to carry a handgun several years ago. I never had to use it until now, though.”
“Well, I’m certainly glad you had it.” Audra said.
After their little adventure, everyone was ready to go home, so they packed up the picnic supplies and left.
“Thanks for teaching me how to get away from that guy.” Katherine told Allen. “I never expected to use that.”
“And I never expected to use my Aikido. I hadn’t thought about it for quite a while until today. I had to quit after my parents died. The money they left was enough for school, but not for any extras like Aikido classes. But now I have a good job, so maybe I could start going again.”
“I think that would be a good idea. You’ll probably never need it again, but it’s a good way to keep in shape.”
“Want to do it with me?”
“I don’t know. Do you think I can?”
“Sure, you’re certainly healthy enough. It’s more fun if we do it together.”
“OK. If you find a good class to go to, I’ll come with you. We may be pretty busy until after the wedding, though.”
“I’ll look around.”