Wednesday morning, Katherine worked for a couple of hours and then went to the locker room at about 9:30 to change into her tail. When she got out to the pool, Fernando hadn’t shown up yet, so she started the process of wiggling into her tail on her own. Fernando arrived a few minutes later and helped her finish the job. He showed her a laminated piece of paper with photographs of some of the carnivorous fish on it.
“Renna and I have been working to divide up the fish into four groups for feeding at the four different times of the day. These are the ones for the first feeding. I’ll hang up this chart near the entrance so you can refer back to it as you work.”
Katherine looked over the chart. In addition to the pictures, the official species name of each fish was listed, along with a description of any identifying features. Some of the fish also had nicknames that they had begun to develop. One of the nurse sharks, for example, was called “Nurse Chapel” because of a triangular shaped mark on her body that reminded Lacy of the Star Trek logo. After studying the chart for a few minutes, Katherine had Fernando lower her into the pool and swam across to the aquarium entrance. When she was done with the feeding, Fernando lifted her back out of the pool but she stayed sitting in the sling on the crane and asked him to bring one of the wheelchairs nearby. There was a towel draped across the wheelchair and she used it to dry off before having Fernando lift her into the chair. Once she was seated in the wheelchair, Katherine wheeled herself into the locker room and took off her swimsuit top. She could just reach the latch to her locker, so she opened it and retrieved her bra and top. She put them on and grabbed a brush out of her locker. There was a sink with a mirror in the locker room, but Katherine couldn’t see into the mirror from her seated position. She backed away until she could see herself in the mirror, then brushed her hair. The hair made wet spots in her blouse where it fell on her shoulders and back.
Once she was changed, Katherine headed back out of the locker room. Fernando was there to help push her through the building to her office. Every time they passed another employee in the halls, Katherine had to answer questions and hear comments about her mermaid tail. Many of the others had heard about the mermaids, but had not yet seen them. After returning to her office, Katherine resumed her work logging the results of testing on the new healgel variant. When lunchtime rolled around, Audra stopped by.
“How is the wheelchair working out?” She asked.
“I’m getting a new appreciation of disabled people.” Answered Katherine. “Do you know how hard it is to simply open a door when you are in a wheelchair? But this does seem to be a good way of getting some office work done without having to change out of my tail.”
“Your press conference yesterday made quite an impression. Fernando deserves a bonus for talking about the aquarium. The aquarium switchboard has been jammed all day with people wanting to find out about the grand opening or to buy tickets.”
“Next time you can be the one kidnapped and you can have all the free advertising you want.”
“I think I’d rather pay for advertising. By the way, Maria will be here this afternoon for an interview.”
“That’s wonderful! I hope you decide to hire her.”
“Her résumé looked good. It looks like she is a diligent worker, so I think that there’s a good chance we will.”
“Would you like to have lunch with me?” Audra asked.
“Sure. Let me grab my purse.”
They headed down the hall to the elevator, passing several people who made comments about Katherine’s tail. She returned the teasing good-naturedly and continued wheeling herself down the hall. They rode the elevator down to the first floor and then Katherine wheeled herself after Audra to the cafeteria. It was difficult for Katherine to decide on what to eat, because she could not see any of it from her position in the wheelchair. Based on Audra’s descriptions, she chose a pork chop with gravy and a salad. It was easy enough to balance the food tray on the arms of the wheelchair, but once they got to a table, she found that it was difficult to get close enough to reach her tray comfortably. They moved from a rectangular table to a round one, and that worked a bit better.
“I can’t believe how well you handled being kidnapped.” Said Audra once they got comfortable.
“I think I’ll be having nightmares for a few weeks.” Answered Katherine. “Getting back to a normal routine helps.”
“Well I think I would have been hiding in my bed for a week afterwards. In fact, I’ve started to look for a bodyguard, and some increased security for the company. I want to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
After lunch, Katherine returned to her office to work. Before long, it became apparent that she would need to go to the bathroom before getting back in the water. So she wheeled down to the bathroom and into the handicapped stall. Her first hurdle was getting the stall door closed behind her. Once she figured that out, she used the grab bars in the stall to maneuver herself off of the wheelchair and onto the toilet. Then she rolled the top part of her tail down to about her knees and finally was able to pee. After cleaning herself up, she pulled the tail back into place and moved back into the wheelchair. Finally, she used the handicapped accessible sink to wash her hands. The whole process took close to half an hour.
“I am really, really beginning to empathize with disabled people.” Thought Katherine. “If I end up doing that every day, it won’t really save any time to leave the tail on between feedings. There’s got to be a better way.”
She continued thinking about the problem as she went about the rest of her day. She took her second turn feeding the fish and then changed back into her clothes and got ready to go home. On the way out, she stopped by Audra’s office.
“I’m not sure leaving the tail on is going to work very well.” She told her boss.
“It took me half an hour to go to the bathroom, and there is no way I can hold it long enough to wait until after the second feeding.”
“I see. So do you want to just change twice a day?”
“I’m still thinking about it. Maybe there’s another way.”
“If you think of something, let me know.”
The next day, Katherine followed a similar routine, though this time she did the noon and 4:00 feedings. She still kept her tail on in between the feedings, but once again she found the bathroom trip to be difficult and time consuming. She was off duty for the next two days, but she decided that she would change out of her tail between feedings when she returned on Sunday.
Katherine spent the next day running errands and cleaning her apartment. When 5:00 rolled around, she changed out of her t-shirt into a dressy blue tunic with Indian-style embroidery, and she did her makeup and hair carefully. Allen knocked on the door shortly after she was done. He was dressed in a light blue dress shirt and a pair of khaki pants.
“Are you ready for the photo shoot?” Katherine asked.
“I guess so. You look fabulous, by the way.”
They got into Allen’s car and drove to the aquarium, where they met John Farishe, their wedding photographer. Katherine led them to a side door and up the stairs to the water storage pool. The photographer waited outside while she and Allen went into the locker room and she changed out of her leggings and into her mermaid tail, with Allen helping her to put it on. Allen helped her into the wheelchair and they went back to the photographer.
“Ah, you are very beautiful.” Said the photographer when he saw Katherine. “This will make for a very memorable wedding invitation.”
They all went outside and Allen wheeled Katherine down to the shore in front of the aquarium. They found a big rock for Katherine to sit on, and Allen stood behind her while the photographer took lots of pictures. In the close-up photos, Katherine looked normal with her tunic hiding the tail beneath, but they made sure to take plenty of full-body pictures showing her tail bent around the rock. With the sunset behind them, they hoped the pictures would be very striking. When they were done, they went back into the pool room, but instead of wheeling her directly to the locker room, Allen stopped Katherine beside the pool.
“What are we stopping here for?” Katherine asked.
“John wanted to get some indoor pictures too.” Said Allen. “Here, I’ll help you sit on the side of the pool.”
Allen lifted her out of the wheelchair and carried her to the side of the pool. Once she was arranged, he kicked off his shoes and sat down next to her. The photographer knelt at the adjacent side of the pool and took some more pictures.
“Very good.” He said after snapping the photos. “Now let me come and pose you a little differently.”
He walked up behind the two of them and turned Katherine’s head to one side, then had Allen put his arm around her.
“No, no, this is still not quite right.” He said. Then he suddenly pushed them both from behind. They splashed down into the pool. Katherine kicked herself up to the surface to find Allen treading water beside her. They both looked up at the photographer, who was snapping pictures wildly.
“Wonderful, wonderful! That was just the effect I was looking for!”
“I should splash your camera!” said Katherine. Allen just laughed, and soon Katherine was laughing with him. They swam over under the crane and explained to John how to operate it. He lifted Allen out of the pool and then Allen took over and lifted Katherine out. Allen pushed his fiancée back into the locker room in the wheelchair, and she took off her mermaid tail and tunic and put on a dry swimsuit. Allen dried off as well as he could with a towel, but there were no dry clothes for him to wear.
“We can go over to the men’s side and see if we can borrow one of Fernando’s swimsuits.” Katherine offered.
“That’s OK. I’ll just borrow a towel to sit on in the car. Let’s go see John out.”
They arranged to meet with John on Monday evening to design their invitation, then showed him out the door.
“What are they building back behind the pool?” Allen asked, pointing to the crane sticking up above the roof.
“I always assumed it was just aquarium construction.”
“If the aquarium is going to open in two weeks, they wouldn’t still be using a crane.”
“I guess that’s right. I’ll ask Audra on Monday.”
John arranged his towel on the car seat and drove Katherine home. On the way, he suggested they go swimming.
“You’re already dressed for it.” He said. “And I can go home and change real quick. Maybe we can pack a picnic to eat on the beach.”
Katherine agreed, so Allen dropped her off, then went to his own place and changed. She packed a simple picnic dinner and was ready for him when he came back. They drove out the Texas City Dike to the beach and had a leisurely evening of picnicking, swimming, and lounging on the sand.