CHAPTER 5

Consciousness came slowly as the anesthetic began to wear off. The first thing that reached Larry Appleton's mind was the smell of bleach and latex. Something was definitely wrong. He wasn't home. Home always smelled faintly of wool, antacid, garlic and occasionally pig snout. It was an unusual odor but it made him feel safe and secure. The cold, overly sterile ambiance he sensed now made him nervous. He shivered slightly. The sounds were not right either. If he were home he could hear the rumble and honks of cars on the street below, or the old twenty's music the downstairs neighbor always liked to play in the middle of the night. Here there were far away voices, the crisp clicks of shoes marching across a hard floor and eerie rhythmic beeps.

As the strange drowsiness faded even further he forced his eyes open and found himself staring at a white ceiling divided into rectangles.

"Mr. Appleton, you're finally awake."

He started slightly at the voice. The nurse stepped up to the bedside and instantly Larry realized he was in a hospital room. "What happened?" He asked, his voice a bit slurred from the anesthetic. "Last thing I remember Balki and I were in the car on the way here."

"You had an appendectomy." The nurse answered with a sympathetic smile. "I'm told you're quite a lucky man. You'd be in the morgue instead of the recovery room if he hadn't brought you here in the nick of time." She motioned with her hand and Larry followed the gesture to discover Balki, his head and shoulders resting on the bed while his backside still sat in the chair. His face was buried in his crossed arms and his dark tangled hair fell softly over the neck of his red and blue Spiderman pajamas.

"He's been sitting there ever since they brought you in." She said as she pressed a stethoscope to his chest. "He only fell asleep about an hour ago." After scribbling a note onto her clipboard she brought the cuff out to take his blood pressure. "You've got a good friend, there."

Larry smiled affectionately down at his slumbering cousin. "I know."

After taking several more tests the nurse left and returned moments later with the doctor. Larry was given instructions on what to do in the next few days. He was told what pain medications he was allowed to take, advised not engage in any strenuous exercise and briefed on how to tend to the incision site. After making sure all his vital signs were stable, both the doctor and nurse left him alone to rest

He looked down at Balki who's upper half still rested on the side of the bed. He had not stirred once while Larry was talking to the doctor. Resting a hand on his friend's back he wondered just what he had been through that night. He was sure that the young immigrant had little experience with American hospitals. It must have been pretty scary for him. As he leaned back on his pillow and closed his eyes he hoped that someone had taken the time to explain things to him.

His forehead creased slightly and he opened his eyes as he felt Balki's breathing change. It became heavier and quicker. His whole body tensed let out a small moan.

"Balki? Are you alright?"

Balki's reply was mostly incomprehensible. But Larry did manage to catch 'Oh, Cousin, no!' amid the jumble of slurred Myposian. With another moan he shifted a bit and turned his head toward Larry. His eyes were closed with an expression of complete anguish on his face.

Larry put a hand on his shoulder and shook him gently. "Balki, wake up. It's okay, Buddy, I'm right here."

Balki's head shook imperceptivity from side to side. "No, oh please, no!" His words then reverted back to his native language.

Larry shook him a bit harder. "You're having a nightmare. Balki, wake up!!"

Balki's eyes suddenly opened wide and with a gasp he bolted upright. For a second he looked terrified and disoriented. Then he caught sight of Larry and leapt from his chair, arms outstretched. "Cousin, you're awake!"

Larry threw out a hand to stop him. "No, no, Balki!" He shouted frantically. "Don't hug me!"

He stopped immediately, dropping his arms to his side. His face fell into a look of complete rejection. He lowered his head sadly. "I…I understand." He took a couple of steps back. "After what I did I wouldn't blame you if you never wanted to see me again."

Larry frowned, perplexed by his cousin's words. "What are you talking about?"

Balki shook his head sadly. "It's okay. If I were you I wouldn't want to hug me either."

"I didn't want you to hug me because the doctor said to be careful of the incision site. It has nothing to do with you."

"But I make you sick. The chicken tongue…"

"Balki, I had appendicitis. Your cooking could not possibly have caused it." His frown deepened and he let out a small irritated grunt. He knew his Myposian cousin could be pretty hard on himself and Larry could just imagine the pain he had put himself through. "Nobody explained this to you?!"

"Well," Balki's voice was still humble and quiet. "Not at first. But when I was waiting for you Mr. Gorply explain things to me." His forehead creased in distressed confusion. "But…but he say that it was my fault."

Larry's eyes widened in surprise and anger and he sat up a little straighter. "Gorply was here? He told you that?!"

Balki nodded meekly. "Yes."

"Why that…! I can't believe he would tell you something like that." He rolled his eyes, realizing just who he was talking about. "What am I saying? Of course I believe it." He just couldn't understand how anyone could be so cruel.

Balki blinked, trying to understand just what his cousin was trying to say. "You…you mean is no true?"

"No! I already told you. It wasn't you. It wasn't your cooking. It wasn't your fault!" Larry put a restraining hand to his mouth, realizing that he had just yelled at Balki because he was mad at Gorply. He consciously softened his tone. "It wasn't your fault."

Balki let out a deep sigh as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. When he looked up his frown was more curious than sad. "I don't understand. Why he would tell me that is no true?"

"Because Gorply's a jerk that gets his kicks making other people miserable!" After a moment's pause he asked. "What was he doing here anyway?"

"A woman who take a fence slam his hand in a door." Balki squinted one eye with a look that betrayed confusion over his own words.

"Why does that not surprise me?" Larry said wryly, easily interpreting his cousin's linguistic blunder. He shook his head in irritation. "I just can't believe one of the staff couldn't take a few minutes and clear things up for you. Maybe you didn't ask enough questions."

Balki gave a small shrug. "Every time I do the doctor give me that look."

"What look?"

"The one you get when you want me to shut up."

Larry's frown deepened and Balki wished he had not said anything. He was upsetting his cousin and he was sure that it wasn't good for him in the condition he was in. "It don't matter now because you're getting better."

Larry's expression softened as he looked up at Balki. "Thanks to you."

"Me? What I did do? All I done all night is sit and worry for you."

"The nurse tells me that if you hadn't brought me here when you did I would have been in a lot of trouble." He smiled and put a grateful hand on Balki's arm. "Thanks, Buddy."

Balki smiled in return, but not because of the praise. He knew now that everything was going to be alright.

Four days later…

"Balki, I can do it myself!" Larry rose from the chair and headed into the kitchen with his dirty dishes. "You don't have to wait on me."

Balki followed close behind. "But the doctor say…"

"I hardly think putting a plate in the sink constitutes strenuous exercise." He moved to scrape the remainder of his meal in the garbage when something inside caught his eye. "Balki, what's this?" Larry held up a notebook that was covered with gold chain, sequins and Myposian kri-kri tassels.

Balki looked at it sadly. "My Myposian cookbook."

"What's it doing in the trash?"

"When you were in surgery I promise that if you got better I would never cook Myposian food again. So…so I won't be needing that anymore."

Larry gazed at the gaudily decorated book in his hands. Part of him would be glad to see it go. He always dreaded Balki's cooking and usually avoided it like the plague. After all, organs and snout didn't appeal to your typical American. (this from a man who eats hot dogs) But the other part of him knew how much Balki loved cooking, especially dishes from his home country. It was something that truly brought his friend joy and he knew very well that it would be terribly selfish to take that away from him.

He also knew that his cousin was very determined when it came to keeping his promises, so this was going to take a bit of fast talking. "Just who, exactly did you make that promise to?"

"You…I guess." Balki answered, looking a bit perplexed.

The notebook in Larry's hand jingled as he gestured. "Well, in America you can't make a promise like that to someone unless they agree with it."

Balki blinked. "You can't?"

"Of course not! I mean, you made it to me, don't you think I ought to have some kind of say?"

"Well, I…"

"So, since I wasn't conscious at the time and didn't have a chance to consent, I'm afraid that promise is annulled." He handed the overly decorated book to his bewildered cousin. A tiny voice in the back of his head screamed at him: Are you insane? You're giving up the chance to be rid of that disgusting stuff forever! No. This was the right thing to do.

Balki stared at the notebook he held tightly in his hands. "Thank you, Cousin."

Larry smiled, and even as that little voice was still yelling at him he said: "I've got an idea! Why don't you whip up some ding ding machmud and I'll see if the girls want to come down for dinner tonight."

For a moment Balki just stared at him in disbelief. "You want me to cook pig snout?"

"That's what I said, Balki. Please, don't make me say it again." His mouth quirked to one side. "I don't think I can."

Elation exploded across Balki's face and he bolted for the front door.

"Where are you going?"

"To the butcher! I've got to make sure he don't throw away that snout I ordered early this week." He grabbed his coat and was gone.

Larry stared at the closed for a long moment. What had he done??

THE END

Yay! I finally finished. Please tell me what you think.

You can view some of the illustrations for this story on my 'homepage'.