Again, my sincere apologies for the tardiness of this installment!
No Man Knows My Story
by "The Enduring Man-Child"
All standard disclaimers apply.
As always, thanks to cpneb for the beta.
Kim was relieved when she and Vivian reentered Ned's hospital room to see that Ron was sitting quite close to him, apparently engaged in conversation. Sure enough, on drawing closer she noticed that the familiar-figure-turned-enigma seemed to have come to, though he was still very groggy. As of yet, he hadn't noticed the new arrivals, and Ron's own unawareness of their presence was made obvious when he jumped at Kim's hand on his shoulder.
"KP! You guys are back! And look, Ned woke up! Isn't that great?"
"It's about time," Vivian said sarcastically as she too stood at Ned's bedside. "I hope you've enjoyed spending the last two days lying around on your backside. You should be ashamed of yourself, you lazy thing."
"Vi...Vivian?" Ned murmured weakly. "Sorry about that. I'll...try not to bust my...appendix again!" He looked like he would have liked to laugh at this observation but was too sore and too weak to follow through. "Look, Viv...Ron...Ron's here!"
"I know," Dr. Porter said, "he's come to carry you bodily back to Bueno Nacho. The poor guy's about to starve, waiting for you to feed him again."
"Yeah...I noticed he's skin and bones. I'll have to...get right on it."
Kim felt like an outsider watching her boyfriend and Vivian peering at Ned. And, after learning about him, she also felt something very unusual for "the girl who could do anything"--inadequacy. And a little guilt too, for taking for granted that Ned was just another burger flipper when his story was so fascinating and so unusual. This almost invisible guy, this familiar and oft ignored background figure in her daily life, was actually very special.
She was about to quietly sneak out of the room for a cup of hot chocolate or something and leave Ned to his real friends when Ron seized her by the arm and brought her up beside the bed as well.
"Look who else is here, Ned!"
Kim's unfamiliar self-consciousness wasn't improved by the fact that Ned's countenance seemed to darken.
"K...Kim? What is...she...doing here?"
"She was worried about you, Ned!" Ron answered. "Weren't you, Kim?"
Kim's discomfort increased at Ned's seeming disapproval of her presence.
"Hi Ned," she said at last. "I missed you at Bueno Nacho. I'm really sorry you got sick. Um...hope you get better soon. Middleton's not the same without you keeping everything running smoothly at BN."
"Yeah. Yeah," he said, his expression lightening. "I imagine...things have really gone to pot...without me there."
"You know it, buddy!" Ron assured him.
"Ned...?" Kim said, realizing this might be the first time she had ever addressed him, at least outside his usual station behind the counter at Bueno Nacho, "I'm glad you're awake. Uh...I hope you don't mind...I mean...is it all right for me to be here?"
Ron turned to her utterly perplexed at why she would ask Ned such a question.
"S...Sure. Just didn't know...you cared. Thanks...for coming."
"Listen, you two," Vivian offered, "I'm going to run down and see if there isn't someone in the insurance office to take this card. You keep this shirker company till I get back and then, now that he's finally decided to rejoin us, I say we leave him to the nurses here and get some rest. It's been a long day. What do you say, Specks? You think you can do without a baby sitter for a while?"
"Yeah. Sure," he said. "I'm just sore, that's all. Kinda...comes with the territory."
A nurse picked that moment to enter with some pain pills and a small glass of water.
"So we've got a sore belly, have we?" she asked. "I'm afraid that's going to take a little while to go away. But I've got you a Tylenol and a sedative here."
"What's this?" Vivian scolded. "You've just woken up after being asleep for two days and now you're going to nod off again? I've never heard anything more irresponsible!"
Kim winced at the way Vivian was speaking to Ned, though she assumed it was her usual way of bantering with him and that he understood. She certainly hoped so. She was relieved when, after the nurse had administered his medicine and left, Vivian leaned over and kissed the suddenly blushing patient.
"Sweet dreams, Specks," she said, "Sorry I let this happen to you. I'll have to take better care of you in the future."
"Ulp!" Ned said, grateful to feel the sedative beginning to kick in.
"Well, then," Vivian turned to the couple with her, "I'm going to run this card by the insurance office and call it a night. What about you two?"
"Will he be okay?" Kim asked.
"Are you kidding? They'll baby him so much when he gets out he'll be trying to think of a stunt to get back in."
She looked at Ned's once again sleeping face. "Yeah, he'll be all right." Then she hugged the two teens. "Thanks for worrying about him. I'm so glad his not being around was noticed by someone else. I worry about him so much."
"You kidding?" asked Ron. "Not miss Ned? How could everyone not miss him?"
With a grateful smile and one final glance at Ned, Vivian left.
"Well, ready to call it a day, KP?" Ron asked his girlfriend.
"Ron...do you think I'm a snob?"
Ron looked at her with astonishment, having no idea where the question came from. "A snob? You??? No way! You're the least snobby person I know! Er...why do you ask?"
"Never mind," Kim said with relief. "I'm just sorry I had to learn the same lesson twice."
"Which lesson?" Ron asked.
"Never take anybody for granted," she said, eyeing him affectionately.
Epilogue: One Week Later
Bueno Nacho was certainly working much more smoothly now that Ned was back. He seemed none the worse for wear, and the 'Welcome Back, Ned!' banner and collection of cards from well wishers taped against the wall certainly didn't hurt.
"Well KP, Ned's in his kitchen and all's right with the world once again!" Ron observed with his usual optimism.
"Yes it is," Kim agreed.
"So have a seat and I'll order for us. Er...what do you want, the usual, or a little something special to celebrate the prodigal's return?"
"Why don't you sit down and let me order, Ron?"
Both Ron and Rufus suffered a temporary shutdown of their faculties, their left eyes twitching perceptibly.
"Hey, it's no big," she assured them. "I just want to take a look at closer look at the menu and see if I've been missing anything. Besides...I want to say hello to a friend."
Both Ron and Rufus smiled.