PERFECT STRANGERS

"In the Dark"

It's a hot Thursday evening in early August, and Balki, enjoying the invention of the air conditioner, is at the sink, washing the dishes from yet another dinner that his cousin Larry has missed. While it marks the fourth straight night this week that Larry has not come home for dinner, Balki is understanding. He knows his cousin has been overworked at the newspaper, particularly over the summer when most of the other reporters on staff take vacation, leaving the newspaper short-staffed. Balki knows Larry has been the unfortunate one to be called upon to fill in most of – if not all of—the vacancies during the summer months, and can't blame him for putting in such long days.

Balki sighs as the hot summer night reminds him of the warmth of the Myposian evenings. He takes a moment to soak in the feeling and let it nestle in his heart, which often is aching from homesickness. Tonight is no different. He is somewhat maudlin as he stands in the kitchen alone and with his thoughts of his home country, his mama and his longing to go back for a visit.

He takes a moment, then resumes his chore of washing the dishes. Balki dips his hands back into the warm dishwater. The feeling of the water against his skin reminds him of the sea surrounding Mypos, which triggers memories of picturesque views of the Mediterranean. He smiles for a moment, then feels the sadness and begins to fight back the welling of tears in his eyes.

Balki's homesickness has been hitting hard lately, mostly due to his cousin Larry's absence from the apartment, and continual assignments that have been taking him away from the Chronicle building for hours on end during the work days. Being alone for so many hours at a time has given Balki too much time to think, and too much time to miss his home and what it's like to be surrounded by family.

He looks around the empty apartment – and misses his cousin and best friend.

With the stamina to compose himself and tell himself that he will not allow himself to be sad, Balki finishes up the dishes and marches over to the table to work on his homework. It's not what he feels like doing at the moment, but it's a good distraction.

* * *

"I can't believe you did that!" Jennifer snaps as she and Mary Anne enter their apartment, each awkwardly carrying dripping grocery bags that are barely containing the contents.

"I don't see what the big deal is," Mary Anne argues. "So I put the grocery bags down for a minute."

"Mary Anne," Jennifer retaliates as the friends place the disintegrating bags of groceries on the table and try to keep the splayed items from falling off the edges, "you put them down next to a puddle by the broken fire hydrant at the curb!"

"Well, how did I know that a car would drive through the puddle and soak our groceries?!"

"It was rush hour! There wasn't a minute when the cars weren't driving by!"

Mary Anne rolls her eyes as Jennifer fetches some cloths to dry their food. "Alright, I'm sorry. I didn't think."

"That's the problem. You never think."

"I do, too!"

"Oh, really? How about the time you left the curling iron on and almost set our place on fire?"

"It was only on for fifteen minutes!"

"Yes, but you left the curling iron sitting on the edge of the tub – right beside the shower curtain!"

Mary Anne stares blankly at Jennifer. "So what's your point?"

"My point is I can't live knowing that I could be killed by a curling iron fire, that I could break my legs tripping over your shoes or that I have to stop you from putting red clothes in with the white laundry!"

"Well, I'm sorry I'm not as perfect as you!"

Jennifer sighs tensely. "Mary Anne, I'm not saying—"

"And maybe you'd like to live with another roommate!" Mary Anne exclaims before storming off to the bathroom and slamming the door.

Jennifer grips the cloth in her hands tightly and mutters, "Sometimes it's just too much!"

* * *

"Oh, come on," Larry groans wearily as he starts fiddling with the knobs in his car. "Of all the days for the air conditioning to go out!"

It's been another long and frustrating day at work for Larry. The Chronicle's demanding investigative reporting team of Marshall and Walpole have had him running circles doing research; Mr. Wainwright has had him covering three different assignments to make up for vacationing personnel; the personal tape recorder he uses for interviews broke and, in doing so, ate up the cassette that contained an important interview he'd conducted with a corporate CEO that morning; he'd had no time for lunch and hadn't eaten since gulping down a muffin and a half-cup of coffee at 7 a.m.; he's beyond late for dinner again; and now his air conditioning has failed at the peak of a heat wave.

Too tired and frustrated to fight, he winces and resumes concentrating on driving. He rolls down his window, but the traffic is too slow to allow him to drive at a normal speed and generate any decent breeze. His head is hurting, his back is sore and he knows that in a few short hours, he'd be up again at daybreak to do it all over again. Suddenly, he hates the summer.

Larry creeps through the streets of Chicago and finally makes the turnoff towards his home, escaping the traffic mass of the main thoroughway. A bit of ease seeps in, as Larry knows he will be home soon, but not enough ease to make much of a difference. He is worn out. He wants nothing more than to go home, put his feet up for a short rest as he eats something – anything – then go to bed.

* * *

Jennifer is sitting on the couch, listening to the hums of the air conditioner and the outside traffic. She is feeling lousy – hot, frustrated, angry, worried and regretful. 'How could I jump all over Mary Anne like that? ' she wonders. Attempting to settle her regret by finding justifiable reasons to be right, she changes her mindset. 'Well, who can blame me, really? She's like a child. Why should I have to mother her? ' Jennifer folds her arms, confident that she is right.

Her conscience is trying to tell her otherwise.

"Why did she have to hurt me like that?" Mary Anne sobs quietly as she sits on the edge of the bathtub. "I'm not perfect, but I didn't deserve that." She looks over to see her curling iron, dangling over the edge of the tub – the cord is unplugged and is lying in a heap on the floor. Mary Anne looks at the positioning of the iron, then looks up at the shower curtain, and realizes that Jennifer was right – she could easily have caused a fire and destroyed their home.

Realizing what she could have done, and feeling guilt, Mary Anne naturally diverts her emotions towards Jennifer. 'But she didn't have to be so cruel about it! ' she thinks. 'Why can't she treat me like an adult? '

Jennifer, meanwhile, is now standing at the window and watching friends and couples walking up and down the sidewalks. 'I wish I had some company right now…'

* * *

Balki is sitting on the couch, with Dimitri in his lap, petting his stuffed sheep gently and thinking about Mypos. It was no use toiling over schoolwork – it wasn't as good of a distraction as he'd hoped.

"Dimitri, I'm glad you're here," Balki says softly. "Of course, since you're a sheep, Balki should say he's glad ewe're here." He smiles subtly, quipping, "Where do I come up with them?" He tries to laugh, but one look into Dimitri's eyes brings his homesickness back, and he pulls his sheep into his chest.

Suddenly, Balki hears the sound of the apartment door being slowly unlocked. He turns to face the door to see Larry shuffle his way in and lock the door behind him. Balki looks at his cousin, who looks tired, ruffled and sticky.

'Hi, Cousin," Balki greets.

"Hi, Balki," Larry returns with no enthusiasm or tone. He bypasses Balki, oblivious to his cousin's unusual somberness, and goes to the kitchen.

"How was your day?"

"I'd rather not talk about it."

"Oh. Ok." Balki watches Larry, who is looking through the fridge and hasn't even looked Balki's way yet. He pauses, wondering what he should do next. He desperately wants his cousin's company, but can see that Larry is in no shape for communication. Balki decides to test the waters and offer up a generic comment to see what Larry's reaction will be. "I saved you some molinki loaf."

With little energy, Larry gently grunts as he pulls out some leftover pizza and a soda. Balki takes Larry's response to mean that he is in no mood for Myposian food…or for conversation.

Larry moves over to the chair by the couch and begins nibbling on his cold pizza. After one bite, he groans and looks at the food. "Cardboard," he moans, dumping it back in the box on his lap.

"I'm sorry, Cousin," Balki says. "Can I make you something?"

Still failing to notice his cousin's mood, Larry just slumps in his chair. "No."

Balki nods, gets up and slowly begins to walk towards his bedroom. An emotionally and physically exhausted Larry catches a glance of Balki out of the corner of his eye and suddenly realizes something isn't right.

"Balki?"

"Yes, cousin," Balki replies without looking back.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes, cousin." He continues walking to his room. As he gets to the door, he hears Larry again.

"Balki, what's wrong?"

"Well, cousin—" Suddenly, the lights go out and all becomes silent. Balki becomes panicked. "Cousin! Cousin!"

"It's alright, Balki. I'm here." Suddenly, a loud crack is heard, followed by a loud, deep, gravelly groan.

"Cousin!!" Balki cries in terror, clutching Dimitri and looking all around.

"It was just me, Balki," Larry grunts. "I hit my knee on the table."

"Cousin, what's happening?"

"It's a blackout." Larry pauses. "Didn't you ever have blackouts on Mypos?"

Balki replies in a calm manner, "Well, of course we did, don't be ridiculous. But what has poor skin got to do with what's going on now?"

"Not blackheads; blackouts. It means there was an overload of power usage and it caused all of the electricity to go out." He slowly maneuvers his way through the darkness and towards the kitchen window, using his knowledge of his apartment's layout as a guide.

"What we do—" Balki begins, until a loud crash is heard. "Cousin!"

"I'm ok, Balki. I just tripped over my briefcase." Larry stands up, holding his knee, and sighs with frustration. It's been just that kind of day where he can work his way through the dark only to trip over an object that is normally not there. He finds the briefcase with his foot and pushes it aside, then feels his way to the kitchen window.

"What we do now?"

"Oh, my Lord!" Larry gasps. "The entire area is pitch black. No one's got electricity."

"So what we do now?"

"Well, the first thing we do is get the flashlight so we can see what we're doing."

"Uh, Cousin," Balki begins as Larry finds the kitchen drawer that holds the flashlight, "there may be a little trouble with that."

"How can there be a little trouble with that?" he asks, flicking the power switch of the flashlight. "Wait a minute – why isn't this turning on?" He looks in Balki's direction, though unable to see his cousin.

Embarrassed, Balki answers quietly, "Balki was making shadow animals and…..used up all the battery power." He can hear Larry groan with frustration, and throw the flashlight back in the drawer. "So what we do now?" he asks again.

"I guess the other first thing we do is open up all the windows so we don't roast. Without the air conditioning, it's going to get unbearably hot in here." Larry pauses. "You didn't use up all the window's opening power, did you?" he asks sarcastically. Not waiting for a response, he feels for the latch and opens the window. "You get the bedroom windows, I'll get the window over here." He begins feeling his way over to the window by the kitchen table. "And be careful," he says, just as he hits his other knee against the stove, loses his balance and topples into the counter. He yelps in pain.

"Cousin!" Balki calls out, instinctively running towards Larry and falling over the back of the couch. "Ahhhh!" he yelps as he crashes to the floor on the front-side of the sofa.

"Balki, are you alright?"

"I…I think so. But I don't think I'll be doing the Achy Breaky anytime soon."

"Nobody should be," Larry grimaces, getting to his feet once again.

"Cousin, I just thought of something! Mary Anne and Jennifer! What if they're in the dark and scared and alone?"

"I didn't think of that."

"I'll try to call them!" Balki feels his way over to the phone and picks up the receiver. "Cousin, where the dial tone is?"

"The power's out. That includes the phone."

"Ok, then we must go up and get the girls."

"Up the stairwell in complete dark? Are you crazy? It's dangerous!"

"Well, it's better for us to go up than for them to come down!"

Larry thinks for a moment. "You're right. Ok, let me lead the way."

"Cousin, are you sure you know—"

"Balki, how many blackouts have you been in?"

"Uh—"

"How many?"

"Ah—"

"How many blackouts?"

"Well—"

"How many blackouts have you been in?"

Balki pauses, feeling foolish. "None."

"None? As in zero? As in you have never, ever been in a blackout in your lifetime?"

There is a pause. "I have, however, been in a room without any lights on."

Larry realizes he can't argue with Balki's answer, but he comes up with some quick-thinking reasoning. "Well, so have I! And I've been in blackouts before, so I have that much more experience at being in the dark than you!"

"That's true, Cousin. You are more in the dark than I have ever been."

"That's right," Larry states confidently, completely missing the insult. He then pauses, wondering if something went over his head. He continues; "And I will lead us upstairs to the girls' apartment. Follow me." Larry takes one step and trips over the coffee table, crashing to the floor with a thud.

There is a long pause.

"Cousin, are you alright?"

"Yes," Larry responds quietly but quickly.

"Do you need help?"

Larry pauses. "Yes," he concedes.

* * *

After finding her way through the dark and to the bathroom, Jennifer knocks on the door. "Mary Anne?" There is no answer, so she knocks again. "Mary Anne, are you alright in there? We've had a blackout!" There is still no answer. "Mary Anne, talk to me. I'm worried. Are you ok?"

Mary Anne's voice suddenly appears behind Jennifer, "I'm fine."

Jennifer jumps and yelps from fright. She turns around, unable to see Mary Anne but knowing she's there. "Mary Anne, why'd you scare me like that? I thought you were in the bathroom!"

"I was. But when the lights went out, I went to the bedroom."

"See, there you go, not thinking again! I was really worried!"

"I'm sure you were. After all, I'm irresponsible!"

"I never said you were irresponsible."

"Oh, how irresponsible of me to assume that, then!"

"Mary Anne—"

Suddenly, Jennifer hears Mary Anne turn and storm towards the bedroom, then run into something with a 'thunk'.

"Ow!" Mary Anne exclaims, before quickly recovering with, "I mean…", and slamming the bedroom door.

* * *

Larry and Balki exit their apartment, locking the door behind them, and make their way to the stairs. As they pass each apartment door, they hear different things – behind one door, two people are talking; behind another, someone has a battery-operated radio tuned to a radio station that is only partially audible through heavy static; behind another, someone is singing to pass the time.

The cousins find the stairs and slowly begin to navigate their way up. They stop half-way up upon hearing the sounds of someone descending the stairs from the floor above. From the sound of the shoes' click-clacks, they assume it is a woman.

"Hello?" Larry calls up.

The footsteps stop.

Larry is worried he may have scared the woman. "Hello? My name is Larry – I live in apartment 203."

"And I'm Balki. I live in apartment 203 with my cousin Larry!"

"Larry?" the voice from above calls. "It's Jennifer."

"Jennifer?" Larry replies. "Don't move! It's dark and I don't want you falling down the stairs. I'll be right up!" In his haste, Larry missteps the first stair and falls forward with a thud.

"Larry, are you alright?"

"I'm fine! I'm fine!" he responds, as his knees ache intensely. "Don't move! Here I come!"

"It's ok, cousin! I've got her!"

"Balki? How did you get up there so quickly?"

"Well, as soon as you fell, I just stepped right over you and here I am!" Balki turns his attention to Jennifer. "Jennifer, where Mary Anne is?"

"She's still upstairs. She won't come out."

"Oh, that's ok. I go get her."

"Be careful, Balki," Jennifer says, hearing Balki begin ascending the staircase.

"Jennifer?" Larry calls, just below his girlfriend now.

"I'm here, Larry." She reaches out, feeling his hands reaching for her. Larry takes her hands in his and begins leading her downstairs slowly. "I wonder how long it will take to restore the power?"

"Could take all night. It looks like the whole city is down."

Eventually, Larry and Jennifer reach the second floor and make their way down the hall to the boys' apartment.

"Jennifer," Larry begins, helping his girlfriend to the couch. "Why didn't Mary Anne come with you? It's dangerous for her to be up there by herself."

"I know." She gets comfortable on the couch as Larry sits down next to her. "We just had a huge fight."

"About what?"

"It's not important. She's really acting like a child, though." She pauses. "Do you think she's alright up there?"

Larry yawns quietly, suddenly feeling his weariness again after the sudden adrenaline rush of the blackout wears off. "I'm sure she is. Besides, Balki is up there. You know she's in good hands."

* * *

Balki knocks on the door. "Mary Anne?" he calls out quietly, so as not to disturb the other tenants on the floor. "Mary Anne, are you alright?"

"Balki?" Mary Anne returns as she fumbles her way to the door. She finds the handle and opens the door. "Balki?" She steps through the door but becomes engulfed in coats and lets out a scream.

"Mary Anne!" Balki calls, fearful. "Mary Anne!"

After a moment, Mary Anne collects herself and speaks as though nothing happened. "Oh, it's ok, Balki. I just walked into the closet." Seconds later, she manages to find the correct door and opens it. "Balki?"

"Mary Anne, why you don't come downstairs? Cousin Larry and Jennifer are down there."

Still angry at her roommate, Mary Anne declines. "I'm fine up here."

"It's no safe for you up here by yourself. Come downstairs with me." There's a pause. "Mary Anne, are you ok?"

"I don't want to be in the same room with that person!"

"Well, I know he can get on your nerves, but Cousin Larry's really not that bad—"

"I'm talking about Jennifer. Although Larry can be a handful sometimes, too!"

"Jennifer? Why you are mad at Jennifer?"

"She treats me like a child and called me irresponsible. Balki, you don't think I'm irresponsible, do you?"

Knowing there's no safe way to answer that question, Balki avoids it altogether. "Oh, but Jennifer's your best friend. You two love each other. Besides, we should all be together right now. Will you come downstairs with me?" He pauses. "We can play Pin the Snout on the Pig."

"Oh, Balki. You really know how to peak my interest."

"On Mypos, they didn't call me a Peaking Tomopolis for nothing!" He suddenly feels a twang in his stomach upon the mention of Mypos.. Quietly, he says, "Let's go downstairs, my little lamb-ka-bob."

* * *

"—I mean, she could have burned our whole building down. Doesn't she see that?" Jennifer waits for Larry to respond. "Larry?" There is no answer. "Larry?" Jennifer starts feeling a little fearful as she sits in the dark, seemingly alone. Then, she hears Larry's deep breathing. She leans over to where the noise is coming from and realizes that Larry has fallen asleep. "LARRY!!!"

Startled, Larry jumps out of his sleep. "Oh, uh, what? Huh?"

"Larry, you fell asleep while I was talking to you, when I really needed you to be listening!"

"Oh, Jennifer, I'm sorry. I, uh—"

"Save it, Larry."

"But, Jennifer—"

The door to the apartment opens. "Cousin Larry?"

"Over on the couch, Balki. You didn't happen to bring down any matches did you? We're all out and I have nothing to light our candles with."

"No," Mary Anne replies. "I forgot to buy some."

"Typical," Jennifer huffs.

"What do you mean 'typical'?" Mary Anne demands.

"Girls, girls," Balki intervenes. "Why we don't just sit down, have something to eat and chat. Maybe when the lights come back on, we can bob for snouts!"

"I don't want to bob for snouts," Jennifer says. She suddenly hears Larry's deep breathing again. "LARRY!!!"

Again, Larry is jolted out of his sleep. "What? What?" He looks around, seeing nothing but dark. "Huh?"

"Well, maybe I'll go downstairs and see if Mrs. Schlegelmilch has some matches," Balki offers.

"Just be careful, ok?"

"Don't worry, Cousin Larry. I be back shortly." He exits the apartment, leaving the three in silence.

"Larry, you haven't fallen asleep yet, have you?" Jennifer asks facetiously.

"No, no," Larry responds with as much enthusiasm as he can muster. "Uh, uh…..uh, Mary Anne, why don't you have a seat?"

"I'm already sitting."

"Oh, sorry. It's a little difficult to see right now…what with the dark and everything." He laughs nervously amid all the tension between the girls. He turns to Jennifer, "Well, uh, Jennifer…..uh, how was your day?"

"Why do you want to know?" Jennifer asks. "Do you need to take a nap?"

Mary Anne chimes in. "Don't mind her, Larry. She's against anything imperfect."

"I never said I was perfect!"

"You never said you weren't either!"

"Ladies, ladies," Larry interrupts. "How about some molinki loaf? Balki just made it tonight!"

Jennifer and Mary Anne stop speaking and turn away from one another, as Larry is left to wonder what is happening since he can't see either one of them.

Moments later, Balki returns. "Eureki!" he announces. "Mrs. Schlegelmilch gave me all the matches she got from her trip to Vegaaaas last year, including a Liberace Wax Museum book of matches! It's actually one match with several tips – it's shaped just like a crossyourheartbra!" He gets no response. "Maybe I just light the candles."

"I put them on the counter, Balki," Larry says, the weariness reappearing in his voice. "Incidentally, it's candelabra, not crossyourheartbra."

Balki, trying to hide his homesickness and feelings of disappointment that his American family is not talking, lights the three candles on the counter and places them around the living area – two on the coffee table and one on the mantle of the fireplace. He looks around the dimly lit area to see Larry fighting to keep his eyes open, and Mary Anne and Jennifer sitting opposite one another with their backs to each other.

He sits down on the floor near the chair and looks at each of them. "My first blackout," he tries to announce happily, rubbing his hands together. "I'm so excited." Larry and Jennifer work up slight smiles and direct them to Balki half-heartedly.

Mary Anne quietly says, "I'm happy for you, Balki."

Balki again looks at each of his friends. "Maybe you would like to hear Balki tell a story?" No one responds. "Ok. Once upon a time, on Mypos, there was a goat herder named Geirgos, and he had a friend named Komatos. Komatos was the worst farmer on Mypos, because he was so lazy. He was always wanting to sleep, so he never got any work done."

Jennifer looks over her shoulder at Larry. "Hmmph!"

"Geirgos," Balki continues, "was always trying to get Komatos to join him after work. Geirgos wanted to go out to eat, or go to the Robadindos Festival, or go dancing, or take in the monster plough shows. But no matter what he did, he couldn't get Komatos to go with him. So one day, he decided to find someone else to go with. He searched high and low, all over Mypos, for the perfect friend. Someone who would always be there when Geirgos wanted to go out, someone who would always be there to exchange stories with, someone who would always be there to share a gourd with.

"After a few weeks, he met a girl at the Robadindos Festival – Alinki. Alinki loved to dance and go to restaurants, and she even was the Mud Girl at the monster plough shows. So Geirgos and Alinki began spending time together – they went everywhere together. And soon, Geirgos forgot all about Komatos, who never missed Geirgos anyway because all he wanted to do was sleep.

"One day, Geirgos and Alinki fell in love, but they knew their love was never to be. Their parents had already chosen who they would marry, by the Myposian custom of Dimbodega Dabodega. Geirgos and Alinki were miserable – they wanted to get married, but did not want to dishonour their families. So with nowhere else to turn, Geirgos went to see Komatos.

"As usual, Komatos was asleep when Geirgos came by the hut. When Geirgos was finally able to awaken Komatos, he told his friend about his troubles and asked for advice. Komatos looked Geirgos right in the eye and said, 'Marry Alinki.' Then he went back to sleep.

"Geirgos thought to himself, 'What kind of help that was?' He couldn't believe his long-time friend could only give him two words of advice. Geirgos was very angry, and felt more confused than he did before he went to see Komatos.

"But the more Geirgos thought about it, the more he realized that Komatos was right. It was that simple. Just marry Alinki. He would not be dishonouring his family, he thought; he would be bringing them a wonderful daughter to make his family better. He would be bringing wonderful grandchildren to his mama and his papa. He would be carrying on the family name with people his mama and papa would be proud to call their own.

"So Geirgos and Alinki got married, and Komatos was chosen to be Geirgos' piggly wiggliki. And Komatos stayed awake for the entire ceremony! And after Geirgos and Alinki were married, Komatos took them aside and presented them with a very special gift." Balki pauses. "And do you know what that gift was?"

"No," Larry replies.

"I don't know either, but it's crawling up your arm!!!" Balki then bursts out laughing, clutching his stomach.

Larry, Jennifer and Mary Anne all stare at Balki in disbelief as he rolls around on the floor, laughing loudly. Larry peers at Jennifer, who returns the glance while Mary Anne watches Balki. Suddenly, with Balki's laugh filling the air, Larry feels his lips quivering. Jennifer starts to smirk, while Mary Anne starts giggling at Balki. Larry tries to divert his attention away from Balki and to his sore knees, but he soon notices he is fighting to keep from laughing. Jennifer turns away, trying to mask her smile. Mary Anne then bursts out laughing. Moments later, Larry realizes he can no longer contain himself, and he starts laughing quietly. He chortling grows and grows, until it becomes as loud as Mary Anne and Balki. Jennifer, the last to give in, continues to hide her face as she breaks up, too. Before long, she is laughing as hard as the other three.

A couple of minutes later, the laughing finally dies down as everyone wipes the tears from their eyes and sits back up.

"That's my fah-vourite party joke," Balki says. "It used to work everytime on Mypos." He feels the ache in his heart again. "Mypos," he repeats quietly, reflecting. He looks at his friends, then clears his throat. "I could use some water." He quickly gets up and goes to the kitchen.

Larry, realizing that he'd noticed something wrong with Balki earlier but had never had the chance to discuss it with his cousin, follows. "Balki," he begins quietly, out of the girls' earshot, "is something bothering you?"

"No, Cousin. Why you do ask?"

Larry just looks at Balki. "I know you too well. What's wrong?"

Balki returns the look. "Cousin, you can read me like a schnook." He pauses. "I miss Mypos."

"You're homesick?"

"Yes. I'm also mamasick, sheepsick and MediterraneanSeasick."

"Well, Balki, that's normal. You're a long way from home and you haven't been back in a long time. It's only natural that you miss Mypos, and your mama, and everything else there."

"But why do it have to hurt so much?"

"I don't know, it just does. I miss Madison, and my family – and that's homesickness. But I know that they miss me, too. I also know that I'll be back to see them again, and that makes it a little more bearable. I know Mypos is a lot further away, but you'll go back to visit. In the meantime, it's perfectly alright to miss Mypos. You just have to remember how many friends you have here, and how much they care about you. You've made a home here, and we're all very lucky to have you."

Balki nods, trying to hold back his emotions. "Thank you, Cousin." He pauses. "I guess I have been thinking about it too much lately."

"Well, how long have you been feeling like this?"

Balki looks at Larry, not wanting to make his cousin feel bad for leaving him to feel so alone all week. Larry looks into Balki's eyes.

"This isn't because I've been away so much this week, has it?" Balki doesn't answer. "Oh, Balki, I'm sorry. I had no idea."

"It's alright, Cousin," Balki interrupts. "You are very busy at work right now. You cannot help if you are not here."

"I wish there was some way I could make this up to you." Larry thinks, then a smile grows upon his face. "We can go to the carnival on Saturday. You can go on all the rides!"

"Oh, Cousin, you don't have to—"

"Including the bumper cars," Larry adds subtly, trying to sweeten the pot.

Balki's eyes start to light up. "Can I get a red bumper car?"

"Absolutely. I'll even buy you a balloon and a candy apple."

"A red balloon?"

"You bet."

"Cousin, you have got yourself a heel!"

"I assume you mean a deal."

"And a red one at that!" He looks at Larry. "Thank you, Cousin." He gives his friend a hug before returning to pouring himself a glass of water.

Larry turns as Jennifer approaches the kitchen. "Balki, if it's not too much trouble, I wonder if I could have a glass of water."

"I'll get it for you," Larry offers.

"No, that's alright. I wouldn't want you to fall asleep on the job."

Larry nods. "Jennifer—"

"Save it, Larry. I'm in no mood to hear another Larry Appleton excuse. Balki, may I have some water, please?"

Larry realizes he has no choice but to refrain from saying anything, knowing any additional comments may make things worse. He quietly moves past Jennifer and goes over to the couch.

Balki hands Jennifer a glass of water. "Is something wrong?"

Jennifer takes a sip of her water. "He fell asleep as I was opening up to him! Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?"

"Jennifer, try not to be too hard on Cousin Larry. It's not his fault."

"I'm sure it isn't. What's his excuse this time?"

Balki takes Jennifer's water from her and sets it down on the counter, before he takes her hands in his and pats them. "Cousin Larry has been running the cutlet at work all week. He's been doing many assignments for Mr. Wainwright and has been doing research for Mushroom and Flagpole, and has even been writing the ovaries—"

"Obituaries."

"He hasn't been home for dinner all week. I don't even think Cousin Larry is eating lunch, which cannot be good for his dissective system."

"Oh, Balki," Jennifer groans, closing her eyes in embarrassment, "you mean he's just tired because he's been overworked?"

"Yes. He don't mean to fall asleep while you're talking. He just couldn't help it."

Jennifer looks at him somewhat startled for a moment, then realizes he didn't mean that the way it sounded. "I feel terrible. I've been so awful to him."

"I'm sure he'll forgive you. He know you didn't mean what you said."

"I hope you're right."

"I'm sure I am. You know what they say: to err is human, to forgive is bovine."

Jennifer smiles with relief. "Thanks, Balki." She looks over her shoulder at Larry, who is walking to the kitchen. Balki leaves as Jennifer walks over to Larry at the sink. "Larry—"

"Don't worry," he begins, "I'm just getting a glass of water, then I'll get out of your hair."

"Larry, wait." She puts her hand on his arm, causing him to look at her. "Balki just told me why you're so tired. I'm so sorry for how I acted. Why didn't you tell me you've been overworked?"

"I thought you didn't want to hear any excuses."

"You're right. I should have listened." She lowers her voice. "Can you ever forgive me?"

Larry looks at her for a moment, then smiles. "Sure. After all, I've given you plenty of reasons why you should doubt me. Like the time I lied about going to the gym all the time. And the time I exaggerated about what happened with Mad Dog Krauss."

"Oh, and the time you told me you could rollerskate!" She starts laughing. "If you could have seen your face when you were going face-first over those barrels!"

Larry's facial expression changes to one of embarrassment.

Jennifer stops laughing. "Oh, sorry, Larry. Uh, anyway, is there any way I can make this up to you?"

"Oh, you don't have to—"

"What if I put together a picnic for us for Sunday? Just the two of us. I'll even make a cake!"

"A chocolate one?"

"Absolutely."

"Jennifer, you've got yourself a heel…..I mean deal!"

"Great!" She leans over a gives Larry a gentle kiss on the lips, then quickly goes back to the couch.

Larry stands for a moment, suddenly feeling more alive than he has all week. "It hasn't been such a bad day after all." He returns to the sitting area.

"—I just don't know why she always treats me like a child," Mary Anne continues in a hush to Balki, who is kneeling beside her chair and facing Jennifer and Larry. "I didn't mean to get the groceries all wet. It just happened." Mary Anne looks over her shoulder at Jennifer, who is talking with Larry.

"Mary Anne, why you not try to talk to her about it?"

"I have, but we just end up yelling at each other. Maybe I should just move out."

"You don't want to do that. Jennifer is your best friend. You love her…..and she loves you."

Mary Anne looks over at Jennifer again, then back to Balki. "You're right. But what am I going to do?"

"Well, maybe you could try talking to her again. Tell her you try to be a little more careful, and maybe she try to be a little less critical."

"Well," Mary Anne starts slowly, "I guess I haven't been as careful as I could be."

"There you go. Now once you talk to Jennifer, the clouds of understanding will open up and shower you both with love."

Mary Anne smiles. "What a neat saying! I think I'll put that on my answering machine!"

"Mary Anne, I've got a great idea. How about I take you to the carnival on Sunday?" He lowers his voice and speaks romantically. "I know how much you love bumper cars."

"Can I get a pink one?"

"Well, of course you can, don't be ridiculous!"

"Ohhh!" Mary Anne says joyfully before hugging Balki.

"It's just so frustrating," Jennifer says to Larry. "I know she doesn't mean it, but sometimes it's like she doesn't even try."

"Have you talked to her about it?"

"I have, but we just end up yelling at each other. Maybe I should just move out."

"Now that's not the answer," Larry says, stroking Jennifer's hand. "You know you don't want to do that."

Jennifer thinks for a moment. "No, you're right, I don't. I love Mary Anne. But I don't know what to do anymore."

"The only thing you can really do is talk rationally. If you don't stay calm, you're not going to get anywhere."

"It's just so hard. And it always seems like there's no good time."

"Well, no better time than the present!" Larry quickly turns Jennifer in her spot so that she is facing Mary Anne, who has just suddenly had her chair spun around by Balki so that she is looking directly at Jennifer.

"--but first, you know what you have to do," Balki instructs his girlfriend. "Mary Anne and Jennifer, you need to talk. Boosh boosh boosh boosh boosh!"

The girls look at one another before Mary Anne starts slowly. "Jennifer, I'm sorry. You're right, I'm not always very careful. I'll try harder to not burn our building down."

"I'm sorry, too," Jennifer replies. "I've been too hard on you. I'll try to be more understanding."

The girls smile, then get up from their seats and hug one another.

"There," Larry chimes, "that's much better."

"Thanks, guys," Jennifer says.

Balki grins. "You're welcome. Hey, how about a game of Pin the Snout on the Pig?"

"Oooooh!" Mary Anne coos.

"Balki, maybe we should just sit and talk," Larry suggests. "It's been a long evening."

"Ok, Cousin. What should we talk about?"

"I have a funny story!" Mary Anne offers.

"Well, swivel my hips and call me Elvis! I'd love to hear it!"

"Ok." Balki, Larry and Jennifer face Mary Anne, giving her their full attention. "Today, Jennifer and I went out grocery shopping. Right outside the store, there was a broken fire hydrant that had been leaking water into the street." Seeing where this is going, Jennifer purses her lips with amusement and looks at Larry, who returns the eye contact. "Jennifer had to go back inside to get some milk," Mary Anne continues, "so I stayed outside with the bags. I put the bags down and…..Oh, right – this isn't a funny story, is it?"

Jennifer pauses, then smiles. "Actually, it is kind of funny. Did you see the shape of the bread when we unpacked it at home?" She starts laughing, soon followed by Mary Anne. Larry chuckles along.

Balki waits a moment, thinking. He starts to laugh, then looks at Larry and mouths, 'What are they talking about? ' Larry just waves his hand, motioning for Balki to forget it.

"Oh, what a day," Jennifer giggles, winding down from her laugh.

"Yeah, I wonder how long the blackout will last."

"Well, Mary Anne," Larry answers, "I remember being in a blackout that lasted nearly a week when I was fifteen."

"A week? Wow!"

"How did you manage?" Jennifer asks.

"It wasn't easy – and it was cold. Fortunately, we had a fireplace to keep us warm, but we didn't have much else. My sister Elaine was scared to death and would cry a lot." He smiles as he looks off into the dark, reflecting. "I remember singing to her all the time to ease her mind. It used to help her fall asleep when she was a baby. But when the blackout hit, the darkness at night really bothered her, so I'd sing to her. There was one really bad night, near the end of the blackout. We were all tired of it, but Elaine was really upset. She kept crying and crying. My parents couldn't do anything to settle her, and Billy kept teasing her. So that night, after everyone went to bed, I went back into Elaine's room and sang to her." Larry laughs quietly. "I almost lost my voice after a couple of hours, so I just sat with her the rest of the night. She finally fell asleep – I don't remember when – but I stayed with her til the morning. My brothers thought I was crazy – they still do!" He laughs again.

Balki looks at Larry. "You stayed up with your sister all night?"

Larry shrugs. "Yeah."

"Larry, that is so sweet," Jennifer says.

"Yeah," Mary Anne adds, "you're just like Peter Pan! Except you don't wear tights!" She looks at Larry. "Do you?"

"No, I definitely don't wear tights," Larry says. "How about you, Jennifer and Mary Anne? I know this is Balki's first blackout, but have either of you ever been in one?"

"Just an occasional power outage, nothing special," Jennifer replies.

"I get them all the time," Mary Anne says sadly as the rest turn and stare at her in disbelief. "It usually happens when I think too hard."

"Mary Anne," Jennifer explains, "that's not a blackout, that's—" She looks at Mary Anne's perplexed expression. "Nevermind." She turns to Balki. "Have you ever been in anything like this before?"

Balki thinks for a moment. "Well, we did once have something similar. It was called the Lavithos Touradinaki, or the Day of Darkness." He leans forward as he begins his description of the events. "Many, many years ago, during an old Myposian ritual called the Savilakos Destolikinos, a dance to honour the sun and all its warmth, the sky filled with thunder, and lightning cracked all around the island. A storm had suddenly hit, and performing the Savilakos Destolikinos without the presence of the sun has a reverse effect and causes the Lavithos Touradinaki.

"I was only knee-high to a sheep at the time, so I was very scared of what was going to happen. The sky became black, and everyone go to their huts for shelter. Myposian legend say that when the Lavithos Touradinaki appears, the thunder would come right out of the sky and take a child away. Mama was crying – she was afraid the thunder would take Balki. She hide me in with the potah-toes and ginko root til the storm go away.

"After three days of the Lavithos Touradinaki, the sun came back and warmed everything again. We all left our huts to repair the damage and take a headcount of all the children."

"And? And?" Larry encourages as he and the girls lean forward.

"And it turns out the Lavithos Touradinaki was just a big legend of baba sticki!" Balki announces. "All the children were safe and sound – as were the animals, I might add!"

"So you spent three days in a dark room with potah-toes and ginko root, wondering if you were going to die? You never told me that."

"I didn't? Well, I'll be snookered!"

"That must have been awful," Mary Anne exclaimed.

"It was. Three days of eating raw potah-to and ginko root was bad enough, but going without pig snout, Dimitri and Wayne Newton for more than a day was more depressing than anything!"

"That's so strange," Jennifer says. "I didn't realize there are Myposian legends that aren't true."

"No, no, Jennifer. That's the only one. Every single Myposian legend, except for the Lavithos Touradinaki, is real." He thinks for a moment, trying to remember. "We think that legend was started by Minkini the fortune teller when her psychic hot line failed."

"That must have been some storm."

"Oh, it was, Cousin Larry. Mypos never see anything like it since."

"I remember getting caught in a really bad storm," Jennifer recalls. "Mary Anne and I were working a flight to Denver when a snowstorm hit as we were flying into Colorado. The turbulence was awful, and the passengers were really scared." She pauses. "Oh, who am I kidding – I was really scared! I didn't think we were going to make it. After fifteen of the most terrifying minutes of my life, we started our descent, but I was so shaken, I didn't notice. I was walking up the aisle when we hit a big air pocket, and I was thrown to the floor. The next thing I knew, I was pulled away just as a case of wine in the overhead bin came crashing down to the floor where I had fallen." She looks over at Mary Anne. "Mary Anne pulled me out of the way."

Balki and Larry look with astonishment to Mary Anne. "You save Jennifer's life!" Balki gasps.

"Mary Anne," Larry says, "you're a hero…..er, a heroine!"

"It was nothing," Mary Anne replies. "If there was no one there, I wouldn't have had anyone to pull out of the way, and then I wouldn't be a heroine."

"What???"

Jennifer smiles at her friend. "I'll never forget you saved my life. You're my best friend, Mary Anne!" She rushes over and hugs Mary Anne.

"Awwww," Larry and Balki underscore simultaneously.

Jennifer parts from Mary Anne and returns to sitting next to Larry on the couch, as he speaks up. "Well, it's been quite the night, hasn't it?"

"Sure has," Balki answers.

"So what should we do now?" Mary Anne inquires.

Balki looks at Larry with a grin. "Alright," Larry concedes, "one round of Pin the Snout on the Pig."

* * *

Hours later, Larry seeps into consciousness. After a playing Pin the Snout on the Pig – which turned into four rounds of the game – Larry, Balki, Jennifer and Mary Anne sat around the living area and talked and laughed for another 90 minutes before each of them began drifting in and out of sleep, one at a time. Larry first, then Mary Anne, Jennifer and finally Balki. It was now the wee hours of the morning, and Larry is slowly waking up.

He struggles to pry open his eyes to see where he is. The apartment. The blackout. Larry realizes he is sitting on the couch, with Jennifer sound asleep beside him. Her head is against her shoulder and her hair is tickling his skin. The subtle smell of her perfume mixed with the scent of her hair puts a smile on his face.

Larry tries to crane his neck around to look out the window. The lights outside are still out; the blackout hasn't ended. He looks over to see Balki and Mary Anne sharing a chair, and both are asleep.

Larry leans his head back against the couch and enjoys the moment. He is tired but doesn't want to sleep. He is surrounded by friends, the woman he loves is nestled up against him and sleeping peacefully, the room is quiet with soft, flickering candlelight, and he has a wonderful weekend to look forward to.

A few minutes pass when Larry hears slight movement. He looks over to see Balki starting to stir. Balki's eyes open slowly, and he looks over to see Larry looking right at him. Larry nods towards Mary Anne, who is cuddled up to Balki.

Balki looks down at Mary Anne then over to Jennifer, and back to Mary Anne again. His eyes open a little more, then he looks at Larry again. Larry gives a small grin, nodding to each of the girls, and Balki returns the grin. Larry's lips curl into more of a smile as he raises his eyebrows at Balki and, again, nods to each of the girls. Balki makes an excited face as he grins brightly and tilts his head away, then back. Larry breaks out into a full-fledged smile, causing Balki to do the same.

Suddenly, Balki blurts out, "What are we talking about?"

Larry goes to shush Balki, but it's too late. Jennifer and Mary Anne start waking up, as Larry shoots a look of frustration and anger at Balki, who realizes his mistake.

Jennifer blinks several times, then looks at where she is. Her eyes meet Larry's body, and she looks up to his face. She focuses in on her boyfriend for a moment, suddenly realizing how comfortable she had been nestled up to him and how safe she felt sleeping beside him. After the evening's events, Jennifer notices that she is seeing Larry in a different light than before.

"Hi," she says softly. Larry looks at her with a small smile, which Jennifer returns before resting her head on his shoulder again and going back to sleep without even inquiring about whether or not the blackout is still happening.

Mary Anne, meanwhile, is having her hair stroked gently by Balki while her eyes remain closed. "Mmm, Balki…" she instinctively whispers as she begins drifting off again. Balki softly kisses the top of his girlfriend's head and holds her close.

Balki and Larry look to one another again, nod and close their eyes.

* * *

The next day, the blackout is over by just after 5:00 a.m.

At work, Larry is inundated with assignments yet again, knowing he will not make it to dinner for the fifth straight night. He knows lunch will not be an option for him again. He knows he can expect Marshall and Walpole to run him ragged, and can expect Mr. Wainwright to bark at him each time he sees Larry. He knows Balki will be feeling lonely again and that there's nothing he can do about it today. And he knows he will be making another long drive home without air conditioning during another humid summer day.

Balki goes about his usual work day, but again without the company of his cousin Larry. Despite the fact that it's Friday, he's having to deal with Chronicle employees – especially Mr. Gorpley -- who are cranky due to the hot spell. He knows he'll be having dinner alone again tonight. And there's still a part of him that misses Mypos greatly.

Jennifer and Mary Anne are preparing to work a flight to Los Angeles. Jennifer nearly trips over Mary Anne's suitcase, which has been left in the middle of the bedroom floor, and is trying to avoid her roommate's unkempt half of the room. Mary Anne, meanwhile, is rushing to get ready so Jennifer has time to use the washroom to get ready for work. She is careful to let her curling iron warm down, then wraps the cord around the iron and puts it away. Knowing Jennifer is waiting for the use of the washroom, Mary Anne looks at the rush job she's done on her hair -- it isn't to her liking.

But none of the obstacles seem to matter today. All any of them can think about are the events from the blackout the night before.

It's going to be a perfect day.

23