The next morning, Allen got dressed in a different t-shirt and the skirt, then got in his wheelchair to help Katherine make breakfast. He found that he wasn’t able to help much, as he couldn’t reach anything in the top cabinets, and the bottom cabinets blocked the wheelchair so that he had to park it sideways to reach anything on the counter, stove, or sink. Before leaving for the day, Katherine made sure any ingredients for his lunch were down where he could reach them. Not long after Katherine left, there was a knock on the door and his ride to physical therapy was there.
“Hello, you must be Allen.” Said the older man when Allen opened the door. “My name is Grant, and I’m here to take you to your appointment.”
“Hi Grant. Nice to meet you. I’m ready to go.”
Allen locked the door and Grant pushed his wheelchair down to the elevator, and then out to a wheelchair-equipped van. There was a lift to raise Allen to the height of the van floor, and special tie-downs in the van to clamp his wheelchair in place for the ride. When they got to the hospital, Beth met them at the door.
“I like the skirt, Allen. It seems like a practical solution for clothing. Are you ready to go to the pool?”
“Yes. Have you figured out the swimming suit situation?”
“Yes, I think I have. Come on in to the locker area and I will show you.”
When they got to the lockers, Beth pulled out what looked like extra-long tank top made of red swimsuit fabric.
“We have a seamstress that sometimes makes special clothes for people with various disabilities. I asked her to make this for you. It goes down to your knees and has elastic to hold it in place.”
Allen examined the suit and measured it against his body. “It kind of looks strange, but I suppose it should work.”
“Do you think you can change into it without help?”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve been learning how to do a lot of new things lately.”
OK. You go in the men’s room and get changed, and I’ll go get my swimsuit on as well. Then we’ll see how you do in the pool.”
Allen spent the next hour in the pool with Beth. Some of the time he was doing specific exercises under her direction, but for about half the time, he was able to just swim. Beth was impressed with his ability to swim with his legs together, and he explained about practicing with a monofin a few times. Allen much preferred the time in the pool to the regular physical therapy sessions. Beth explained that swimming strengthened a large number of muscle groups throughout his body while the water supported his weight. Once they were done in the pool and dressed in street clothes again, Beth suggested that Allen try using crutches. She found a pair for him to try and he quickly found that he could move around with the crutches far easier than with the wheelchair. Beth let him take a pair home with him.
After the van driver returned him to their apartment, Allen parked the wheelchair in a corner and used the crutches to get around. They made it easier to maneuver in the kitchen, especially when he had to reach the mayonnaise on the top shelf of the fridge. He spent the afternoon updating his resume. At least now he had some real full-time work experience in his own field to include. Once his resume was in shape, he looked around at employment opportunities in the area. There were a few possibilities, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready to apply just yet. Should he wait until his legs were separated? Or should he start applying right away and explain the situation to future employers? Doctor Hansen had encouraged him to wait for a while, but Allen thought he would likely get bored before the doctor thought he was ready.
Allen fixed some dinner and had it ready shortly after Katherine got home. Once the dishes were put away, Katherine asked Allen if he wanted to go shopping.
“Shopping for what?” He asked.
“You don’t plan on wearing that same skirt every day, do you?”
“I suppose not.”
“Let’s go get a few more then.”
Allen left his wheelchair behind and used the crutches to get to the car. They were a lot easier to transport, as they could go in the back seat instead of the trunk. They went to a department store in the mall, and Katherine led Allen into the unknown reaches of the women’s clothing department. Ignoring Allen’s embarrassment, she walked right up to a sales clerk and explained their situation.
“My husband is recovering from some really bad burns on his legs, and his legs are stuck together.” She explained. “So we need some clothes that he can wear while he heals. Do you have some comfortable open bottom girdles?”
The clerk was a heavy-set woman with black hair in two braids and a name tag that said “Corinne,” on her white blouse.
“We probably have something.” Corinne answered. “But he looks like he’s in pretty good shape. Why does he need a girdle?”
Katherine reached down and pulled up the bottom of Allen’s skirt to show his legs. “Like I said, his legs have grown together. An open-bottom girdle was the only kind of underwear I could think of for him to wear.”
The clerk’s expression changed from skeptical to helpful once she saw Allen’s legs. “I understand now. Come on over to the lingerie area.”
“I can talk, you know.” Allen said.
“I’m sorry dear.” Katherine answered. “But I figured I was more of an expert on women’s clothes. What did you want to say?”
“Nothing. This is just a little strange to me.”
They went to the lingerie area and Corinne suggested two different girdles – one light control and one medium control. Katherine seemed to agree with her, so they got a couple of different sizes of each to try on. The women’s dressing rooms were empty, so Corinne told Allen he could change in there. Katherine went with him to help him evaluate the fit. Allen tried the larger light control girdle first, but found it fit pretty loosely over his hips. The smaller size fit better, so he asked Katherine for her opinion.
“The fit looks right.” She said. “But I think you need to try the firmer model. I can still see a bit of a lump in the front.”
After switching to the medium control girdle, Katherine was happy, so Allen left it on and put his skirt back on over the top. When they came back out of the dressing room, Katherine handed the tags from the girdle to the sales clerk.
“This one seems to fit well. Can we have 4 more like it?”
Corinne took the ones that didn’t fit and put four more of the desired model into a bag. “What else can I help you with?” She asked.
“Well, I think we need to find a few more skirts as well. Allen, do you want them all long like the one you have on, or do you want some shorter skirts as well?”
“I think some shorter ones would be cooler.” Allen replied. “Maybe we can get one more long one and make the rest shorter?”
“I can help you with that.” Corinne said. “I think you probably want narrower pencil-style skirts since your legs will always be together. Come on over to the business wear section and we’ll see what we can find.”
With Corinne’s help they found another long skirt and three knee-length skirts. Katherine teasingly offered him a pink skirt with a flower pattern, but Allen selected solid colors and no prints except for a single red and blue striped one that Katherine seemed to like. In fact, she liked it so much that she bought another one in her own size.
“Will that be all then?” Corinne asked when the skirts had all been added to the shopping bag.
“Well, I was thinking that it might be good to get something for Allen to sleep in. I get rather distracted when he sleeps in the nude.”
This time it was Corinne who seemed embarrassed. “Well, I suppose we could look at some nightgowns. Or perhaps he could use a half-slip?”
They went back over to the lingerie area. Allen quickly nixed the nightgown idea as they all seemed to have lacy decorations and were designed for people with breasts. They found a couple of simple white half-slips with only a thin band of lace around the bottom and those were added to the bag. At that point they finally stopped and paid for their purchases. Katherine seemed very chipper as they returned to their apartment. Apparently she enjoyed buying new clothes even when they were for her husband. By the time they got home, Allen was very tired. His muscles were sore from the exercise in the pool and from the unaccustomed effort it took to use crutches to walk. They sat on the couch to watch the news but Allen’s head began drooping before the first commercial break. So they adjourned to the bedroom and Allen fell quickly to sleep.
When he woke up in the morning, Katherine was already done with her breakfast.
“I let you sleep in because you seemed so tired. I think you need to take things a little slower for a few days.”
“Yeah, I think I felt good and so I overdid it. I’ll take it easier today.”
“Good. I put all your new clothes through the laundry last night. Your skirts are hanging up in the closet and your girdles are in your underwear drawer. Have a good day.”
Katherine gave him a long kiss and then left for work. Allen got up and dressed in one of his new outfits, then fixed himself some breakfast. Before long his ride came and he went to physical therapy again. They spent most of the time in the pool like they had the day before. The pool in the physical therapy area wasn’t very large, though, and Allen wished he had a little more room for longer swims.
“Do you think we could move to a bigger pool?” He asked Beth.
“Yes, if there is one available. In fact, you don’t really need my help as much now. If you had a pool you could go to every day, I could just assign you some exercises and have you check in maybe once a week.”
“That sounds good. I think I know of a pool I can use.”
Beth showed Allen the exercises she wanted him to do and promised to re-schedule their appointments for once a week on Mondays. When Allen got back home, he called Katherine at work and asked her if she thought he could use the mermaid pool for his exercise.
“Let me ask Audra.” She said. “It will probably be OK, but we may have to work out transportation. I not sure the medical taxi service will bring you here.”
“I’ll call them up and ask about it.”
It turned out the medical taxi would only take him to the hospital or other official medical facilities, but when he talked about it with Katherine that evening, they decided he could ride in with Katherine in the morning, do his exercising, and then catch a ride with Katherine or one of her friends at lunchtime. The other mermaids all agreed that they would be willing to give Allen rides when needed, and he could always hang out in the pool or locker areas if he needed to wait for someone to be available. So the next morning, Allen packed up his swimsuit and a towel and went to work with Katherine in the morning. Katherine showed her badge to the guard at the door, and the guard took Allen’s picture and made a badge for him as well. Katherine’s turn at feeding the fish wasn’t until noon on Wednesdays, so she escorted her husband to the pool and then headed to her office. Allen went into the small men’s locker room and put on his swimsuit. Fernando was there as well, getting ready to help the mermaids into the pool.
“I’m not sure I appreciate the competition.” He told Allen. “I’m kind of used to having these beautiful mermaids all to myself.”
“That’s why I decided to come.” Answered Allen. “I needed to keep an eye on my wife.”
Maria was waiting to be lowered into the pool when they came back out of the locker room. Fernando helped her first, then he helped Allen into the pool as well.
“I’m a little envious of your crutches.” Maria said after Allen joined her.
“They are easier to get around in than the wheelchair.”
“Yes, but I don’t think they would work with the mermaid tails. The big tail fins would get in the way. I hear you have some cute new skirts to wear.”
Allen’s cheeks blushed a bit. “Yes. They are the only clothes that work with my legs fused together.”
Maria chuckled at his embarrassment, then started swimming a few laps. Allen tried to keep up with her, but she was much faster. After a few minutes, Allen swam to the side and asked Fernando if there was a monofin he could borrow. With the monofin on, he found that he was more closely matched to Maria, though she was still more practiced and faster. After a few laps, Allen was starting to get a little tired, so he went through the exercises Beth had assigned him and then spent some time just floating in the water. After a while, Maria came back to him and asked if he wanted to practice holding his breath with her. He had heard about the process from Katherine, so he and Maria took turns holding their breath, with Maria coaching him on ways he could lengthen the time. Not long after that it was 10:00, time for Maria to go feed the fish in the aquarium. Allen asked Fernando to lift him back out of the water. He got out just in time to meet Audra.
“Hi, Allen.” She said. “How is the pool working for you?”
“It’s a lot bigger than the therapy pool. I like being able to swim some longer laps.”
“Good. Hey, I like your swimsuit design. We might try something like that for our mermaids. I know some of them would like a little more coverage sometimes. Would it be OK if I gave you a ride home today? I have some questions to ask you.”
“Sure, I’d be happy to ride with you. Thanks, by the way, for letting me use the pool and for letting the mermaids give me rides.”
“I’m happy to help out. Anything to help the husband of one of my most valuable employees. I understand you are looking for work?”
“Well, I’m not looking very hard yet until I recover some more, but I’m starting the process.”
“Did you learn about designing buildings in your mechanical engineering classes?”
“The civil engineers and architects learn a lot more than the mechanical engineers, but I took a few electives in structural design and engineering.”
“Well, how would you like to help me design some new buildings?”
“I’d love to.”
“I’ve also been thinking about adding a merman to our aquarium experience. Would you be interested in participating?”
“Go ahead and change and we can talk on the way to your apartment.”
As they traveled, Audra swore him to silence about her project, although he was allowed to share it with Katherine. She planned a major expansion to the aquarium. One part would be a large outdoor pool where customers could come and swim with the mermaids. This part was already under construction. Another section would be a dolphin pool with a large stadium, and a third section would be an enclosed area with several pools where the mermaids could stay in between performances. Audra wanted sleeping areas, an eating area, and a recreation and work area, all of which would allow the mermaids to stay in the water.
“This sounds like you want the mermaids to live here full time.” Allen said.
“Yes, that is the eventual plan.”
“But why? Won’t it be hard to recruit people to live like that?”
“I think there are people who would jump at the chance. Imagine if the situation with your legs was permanent. Wouldn’t you rather live in a place where you could swim about freely, rather than having to depend upon crutches and wheelchairs?”
“Maybe. But what about getting out and seeing places, doing new things?”
“Well, just because you live in your apartment it doesn’t mean you stay there all the time. It would be the same with my mermaid home.”
They arrived at the apartment, and Allen printed a copy of his newly refreshed resume for Audra to take back with her. His mind was already occupied with thoughts of the aquarium expansion. It sounded like an interesting project. When Katherine arrived home, he filled her in on the details.
“Wow! I knew she had a big project going on behind the aquarium, but this is really ambitious. What do you think about working for Audra?”
“You seem to be enjoying it. It sounds like a nice opportunity.”
“I think so too. It would be nice to be able to see you during the day.”