Sunday was Opening Day at the aquarium, so Katherine had a quick breakfast with her mom and then headed off to get ready for her part. When she arrived at work, she was surprised to find the front door open. Behind the reception desk sat a large, muscular man with a crew cut.
“How can I help you?” He asked.
“Hi, I’m Katherine. I’m here to get ready for work.”
“Good Morning, Katherine. I’m Joe, with the new security company. Can I see your company ID, please?”
Katherine dug through her purse and found her ID buried at the bottom. After she showed it to the guard, he told her to have a nice day and waved her past. Apparently Audra had hired a security company like she had mentioned. It made sense to have them start working right at the grand opening time. After passing the guard, Katherine went directly to the locker room. Before long, Renna, Lacy, and Maria were there as well. Although Maria didn’t have her tail yet, she was going to be there to help them with their tails and push them around in their wheelchairs. She was wearing a long dress with a skirt that flared out at the bottom and a scale pattern in the fabric, but she changed into a swimming suit for some early practice before meeting with customers. Lacy had a schedule of the day’s appearances for each of them. Renna and Katherine would start out in the aquarium at 10:00. Even though there were two of them, Lacy wanted them to go slow with the feeding so that it would last an hour. Then at 11:00, Maria would push Lacy around the aquarium in a wheelchair, so she could pass out toys and interact with the customers. At Noon, Lacy and Renna would go back in the aquarium, and Katherine would go do customer contact at 1:00. The pattern repeated throughout the day. Once she knew the schedule, Katherine called Allen and her Mom and told them when to look for her. Fernando showed up about 9:00, and he helped them all into the pool, where they swam gently for a time and helped Maria practice.
When the time came for the first feeding, Katherine and Renna swam over the entrance wall into the aquarium. As soon as she entered the water, Katherine could see the customers on the other side of the walls pointing and gathering at the wall to watch her and Renna work. As they had planned, before doing any feeding the two mermaids swam around the aquarium, waving at the customers as they passed. They paid special attention to the children, making sure they all had a chance to see them pass by. After making their pass, they went back to the entrance area and picked up some food. Katherine put a big fish on her feeding stick and then swam down to where Nurse Chapel usually hung out. To make it fun for the children, she held the fish out where she knew the shark would find it, then turned her head as if she were looking for something. When she felt the tug on her stick, she turned around and acted surprised. As the big nurse shark swam away with her meal, Katherine shook her finger as if she was scolding her, then swam to the surface for a breath. Katherine and Renna continued to feed the carnivores, making sure to take plenty of turns swimming around the aquarium in between each feeding task. After feeding one of the bamboo sharks, Katherine looked up to see Allen and Janice watching her. She waved at them and then went on with her tasks.
When she was done with her turn feeding the fish, Katherine dried off, got in a wheelchair, and went to her office to work. The pharmaceutical offices seemed quiet after the hustle and bustle of the aquarium. When lunchtime came around, she wheeled herself out to the cafeteria. Now that the aquarium was open, the cafeteria was open on weekends to serve the aquarium staff. Maria came to meet Katherine, escorting Allen and Janice, who wore visitor tags.
“How do you like the aquarium?” Katherine asked them.
“It’s impressive.” Replied Janice. “We have only seen a part of it, but the huge tank in the middle is a real show-stopper. Having mermaids swim around inside of it is a nice touch.”
“We saw Lacy in the gallery, passing out stuffed mermaids to a crowd of little girls.” Allen commented.
“That’s what I’m going to be doing after lunch.”
“It seems like a fun part of your job.” Said Janice. “What about your biomedical work? Will we get to see that part of your workplace sometime?”
“Some of the processes we use are company secrets, so I can’t show you everything. But maybe you can come by sometime later when the grand opening is past and I will show you what I can.”
“I would like that. I suppose there will be plenty of time after you are married for me to visit both of you and see all the sights around Houston.”
After a leisurely lunch, Allen pushed Katherine back to the staff entrance to the aquarium. Once they entered the aquarium gallery area, Maria found them and took over as Katherine’s helper. Allen and Janice hung around for a few minutes but soon Katherine became busy dealing with the aquarium guests, so they left her there to go finish their tour. Katherine spent the next hour answering questions from children and adults.
“Are you a real mermaid?” A young girl asked.
“No, mermaids are just pretend. But I’m as close as you can get.”
“Can I touch your tail?”
“Yes, you can.”
“It feels rubbery! Do you have normal people legs underneath?”
“How can you walk with a tail?”
“I can’t. That’s why I have to use a wheelchair when I’m out of the water. But with the tail I can swim really well – much faster than people with legs.”
“Can I be a mermaid?”
“Do you know how to swim?”
“I can hold my breath and get my face wet. And Daddy holds me up so I can practice kicking.”
“That’s a good start. You keep practicing and maybe one day you can be a mermaid too.”
Some of the questions from adults were not as entertaining.
“Hey, you look pretty hot. Wanna go get a drink with me later?” A bearded man with a large beer belly asked.
“I’m very flattered by your offer, but I’m engaged.”
“So you’ll have to find someone else to drink with.” Katherine turned away from the man and Maria pushed her wheelchair away from him. The man got a good look at Maria in her snug mermaid-style skirt and started to switch his unwanted attentions to her. But then a muscular man in a polo shirt with the aquarium logo stepped in front of him.
“Hello, sir. My name is Kent and I’d like to ask you a few questions about your experience at the aquarium today. Do you have a moment?”
With the man temporarily distracted, they made their escape and found another group of kids and parents to talk to. After her hour was done, Katherine decided that dealing with the public was more tiring than swimming in the aquarium. Maria wheeled her back to the water storage pool and Fernando lowered her in. She made a quick stop at the potty tube and then it was time to feed the fish again. Lacy came with her this time, and they tried to make the process as entertaining as possible. Katherine’s little trick of looking away and then acting surprised when the shark grabbed a fish off her feeding stick seemed to be popular. Lacy would swim upside down with her tail vertical and feed the fish on the bottom, or she would sit on one of the tubes and slide down the side. When they were done, Katherine had an hour to work in her office before she did the 4:00 feeding with Renna. As they changed, Katherine asked Lacy about the man who did the survey.
“Who was that guy who headed off the rude man? I didn’t know we had people doing surveys.”
“We aren’t doing any surveys just yet. I think he was one of our security guards.”
“Well, I’m glad he was there.”
They finished taking their tails off and went home. When Katherine arrived at her apartment, Allen was there with her mother.
“How did the rest of your aquarium tour go?”
“We had a good time.” Janice answered. “And I got to know Allen a little bit better. I think I’m pretty happy with your choice for a husband.”
“I’m happy too.” Answered Katherine as she stood next to Allen. Her arm was around his waist and she gave a little squeeze.
“Now you’re both embarrassing me.” Said Allen. “Shall we go out for dinner tonight? Or would you like to come to my apartment and I’ll cook something for us?”
“Oh, you mean he cooks, too?” Said Janice. “I think I’ll vote for that option. What are you planning to make?”
“I think I’ve got the ingredients for Swedish meatballs. Does that sound good?”
“It does.” Said Katherine. “You make the meatballs and Mom and I will make a fruit salad and bring it with us.”
Allen left for his apartment and Katherine and her mom cut up fruit for a salad. They got together a bit later and had a nice dinner together. On Monday, Katherine dropped her mom back off at the airport and then rushed to the aquarium. The schedule had been changed a bit to accommodate her, so she spent most of the afternoon feeding fish or meeting customers to make up for being gone in the morning. Maria’s tail arrived in the morning, so the schedule for the rest of the week was less taxing with all four mermaids trading time in the water. None of them took their usual days off that week. On May 9 the grand opening week was officially over and they shifted to having only one mermaid feeding the fish and none visiting the customers, though the plan was to continue having occasional meet-and-greets on the busier weekend days.