„Hey Cody, are you finally ready?" Nick Ryder shook his head when he didn't get an answer from his partner.
"Since when, it takes you so incredibly long to change clothes?"
Ryder stood in the door to the stateroom he shared with Cody and stared disbelievingly at the stack of T-Shirts and Shirts, his blonde friend had piled up on his bed.
"Cody, hey pal, what's the point of that?"
Allen impatiently fumbled around with a pale blue polo shirt.
"It appears bulky around my hips! Be honest Nick…it looks strange…somehow!"
Ryder took a very deep breath before he answered Allen's question.
"If I remember well, until yesterday, it was your favorite polo shirt, Cody!"
"You said it, until yesterday! But things are changing my friend and today, I think it is unflattering me!"
"Cody, what's wrong with you? Did I miss something essential?"
"No, not at all…everything's okay. I only can't decide what to wear tonight that's all. Do you have a problem with it?"
Ryder cleared his throat: "Well, then it is okay for me too. I have absolutely no problem that you are performing a fashion show in our bedroom…not at all but I have to admit that you are confusing me a little,here."
Allen sullenly threw the shirt back on his bed and groaned.
"I…I don't know, somehow, I don't feel comfortable in my skin today!"
"Hey Cody, what's wrong…I mean really wrong?" You know, you can talk to me, no matter what it is. Did Murray and I make something wrong…during the day…your birthday? I know, well you have trouble dealing with this day, especially since you are over forty! But man, listen…it's only a number! The key is how old you feel and believe me, it doesn't matter what you are wearing…you look always great!"
"You really think like that Nick?"
"Come on Cody, I would never lie to you!" Ryder took a striped shirt from the pile on Allen's bed and gave it to his friend.
"I really like when you are wearing this one!" Ryder cheered. "And now, please hurry up! We booked the table for 7 p. m….7 p.m. today!"
Ryder left the room and joined their third partner Murray Bozinsky in the salon of the Riptide.
"Everything okay Nick?"
"Uh…yes Mur. It's just…you know, Cody is kind of jazzed today! It looks as if he has more trouble dealing with getting older, than we anticipated!"
"You must be joking Nick! Forty three isn't old! By the way, he doesn't look his age at all!"
"Oh Boz, you don't have to convince me! What about some flatteries for poor old Cody?"
"Ups…flatteries? What are you thinking about Nick? I mean, I really cannot tell him that he is good looking for forty-three? How would it sound for him? By the way, I am sure he would give me a clip round the ear if I mention the number!"
"Of course you are not allowed to talk about his age! But you could tell him that he looks incredibly fresh and young…dynamic…something like that! I'm sure you'll find the right words Boz!"
They patiently waited until Allen finally came upstairs, properly dressed but still looking a little unconvinced.
"Oh man, I have no idea what to eat!" Allen complained later in the restaurant.
"Do I take fish or meat, vegetable or salad…and what about dessert?" The blond man shrugged.
"Listen Cody why don't you just order what you are in the mood for!" Ryder suggested.
"But that's exactly my problem Nick! I can't say what I would like to eat…or drink or hell what else!"
"Cody, why do you make it that complicated? There are enough dishes on the menu! Come on!"
"What do you take Nick?"
"I'll take the fish!"
"Listen, we really should have gone to Straightaways! I don't know but I don't like the menu here!" Allen moaned again. But after a hard battle, he finally chose a steak!
"Good Lord! This steak tastes…strange!" Allen announced after the first bite and made a face.
"Cody, it's enough! You are terribly uptight today!" Ryder tried to stay calm.
"I beg your pardon…it's not my fault that the steak is bad! Here convince yourself!" Allen held out his fork.
Nick took a bite.
"It tastes just the way you usually like it …hot and spicy! There is nothing wrong with this steak!"
"I say it tastes strange!" Allen insisted.
Suddenly, Ryder fetched Allen's plate and shoved his own towards his friend.
"Okay, then let's trade it! And now eat before everything gets cold!"
"No…Nick, no. You wanted the fish, so you'll get the fish!"
Allen wanted to push Ryder's plate back but the dark haired man clutched Allen's arm and whispered.
"You are going to eat my fish… and I am going to eat your steak…NOW! And believe me pal, if you don't stop behaving like a drama queen right now, I swear, I get up and leave the restaurant!"
"I'm sorry Nick, it's just…I don't want you to go without your fish…I mean…"
"It's okay Cody…no problem! It is your birthday today and you are the cock of the walk! No question that we switch the meals!"
"If it is like that…!" Allen started to dig in.
Murray had listened to his partner's conversation without intervening but now, he thought it would be the right moment to give Cody some warm, encouraging words…just like Nick had asked him.
"Cody, by the way, you are looking great! I mean…so fresh and young…it's incredible. Just, as if you came right from a beauty farm!"
Ryder, nearly choke over his food and pressed his napkin against his mouth.
"Murray, what do you want to tell me?" Cody asked kind of amused.
"Well I mean it just like I said it Cody! You look in the pink…well and your shirt…unique!"
"I really don't get it Murray! What's up pal?"
"Uh Cody, look at Nick! I mean…I don't want to offend you Nick, but those cargo pants you are wearing…they really don't fit you!"
Now it was Cody, who nearly choke over his food and the blond had to suppress a loud laugh.
"Well Nick, when he's right, he's right!"
"Thank you Boz! Thanks a lot! You are a true friend! But now that we are just so honest with each other…I would say, the rubber tape, you repaired your glasses frame with, is really the ant's pants!"
Bozinsky carefully touched the pale green tape with his forefinger.
"Are you serious Nick? You really think it's stylish?"
"For Christ's sake Murray, of course not! That was a tit for tat! And now, could we please focus on the food again? I am hungry and I like my steak the most when it is hot!"
Somehow, the evening didn't warm up and after the dessert, the three friends decided to go back to the Riptide.
"Hey guys, what about celebrating Cody's birthday with a real good Whiskey and a nice cigar?" Ryder suggested.
"Wow Nick, that's the best suggestion for today! But where do we get the cigars from?"
"Calm down Cody, I took care of that!"
After the second whiskey, Allen visibly relaxed and suddenly it doesn't felt that bad-being forty three!
" Listen guys technically you are right …its only a number. But when I saw all the candles on the cake…well I suddenly realized how many years I'm already on earth!"
"Okay Cody, perhaps we should have bought a bigger cake, I mean the candles would have scattered more!" Ryder answered with an evil grin.
"Yes, or we could have spared the candles!" Bozinsky thought aloud. "On the other hand, Nick insisted that a birthday cake only deserves its name when it has candles on it! Yes Nick, those were your words!"
"Well, so I owe you my fairly serious depression?" Allen asked towards Nick.
"Ah, come on Cody! Don't be so ungrateful. Look, I burnt my thumb while I set all those candles on fire!"
"Very funny Ryder but my time will come…very soon! In November it will be you who gets the tiny, tiny cake with all the candles! I'm really looking forward to this event!"
The boys joked with each other and it was nearly one in the morning when they finally went into bed.
Cody woke up in the middle of the night because he was thirsty. He didn't want to wake his roommate up and so he went to the kitchen and drunk a glass of water without making light.
Suddenly he heard a noise coming from the deck of the boat. Fairly concerned he fetched the baseball racket that was disposed next to the kitchen cabinet – for the worst case- and carefully sneaked onto deck.
"Good Lord Nick! What are you doing up here?" The blonde asked surprised but moreover relieved that he hadn't to face a burglar.
Ryder, who was dressed only in briefs hung over the rail, head on his arms, breathing heavily.
"Nick, what's wrong with you? Are you sick?"
Allen got a prompt answer when Nick threw up flying out.
Cody put a hand on Nick's back: " Nick are you doing better now?"
"Aw Cody, I feel so sick…"
"Why didn't you wake me up? And what are you doing here on deck?"
"Uh, I woke up because I felt sick…I thought the fresh air would be good. Believe me I never planned to puke my guts out into the dock, much less half-naked!"
"Come on, I'll bring you back to bed and put a bin next to you on the floor! What are you waiting for Nick? You'll freeze to death! Shall I make you a tea?"
"Better not! I guess I couldn't keep it down very long!" Ryder moaned on the way downstairs.
"Oh God, Cody…I'm sick again!"The dark haired man groaned but Cody couldn't react fast enough and Nick's stomach contents pitilessly hit the blond man.
"Oh no…Cody, I'm so sorry!" Ryder moaned.
"Uh, that's the very least but it's not your fault! You didn't plan to puke over me, did you? As long as you don't declare it as a belated birthday present, I'll forgive you!"
"Ah, pal…I love your sense of humor in situations like this!"
"Uh, great that it amuses you but we should go straight to bed now before you keel over right here! You are as pale as death Nick!"
Sleep was out of question for the rest of the night. Nick literally got everything out of himself and Allen started to worry about his partner.
"As soon as it gets light, I'll bring you to a doctor Nick!"
"Nah, probably I upset my stomach. Who knows, perhaps I'm getting old just like you and can't stand whiskey…or cigars, or both!" Ryder protested.
"Sounds plausible but I think the steak is the reason why you feel so bad! I told you that it tasted strange…you should have listened to me and you shouldn't have eaten it!"
"Cody, please stop talking about food! Oh God I'm getting sick again! Where is that damn bin?"
"Nick, I think I should call an ambulance. I don't like this affair!" Allen said after he had cleaned the bucket one more time.
"No, don't overstate it! Probably it's a stupid stomach virus. It came on its own, so it will leave on its own as well!" Ryder answered audibly exhausted.
This statement couldn't calm Allen down but the blond was too tired to argue with his partner.
Nick didn't come to rest. Bad stomach cramps started to torture the man and it was almost a relief when he could throw up. Unfortunately the ease didn't last very long.
"How about a tea now," Allen asked after he had wiped Ryder's sweaty forehead with a cold washcloth.
"Tea sounds good!" Nick answered but alone the thought of it caused his stomach to protest and he vomited bile and acid out.
It was around six in the morning when Nick finally fell into a light sleep and Cody hoped that his partner was over the worst now.
Totally tired out, Cody shuffled into the kitchen and set on a kettle of water and a pot of coffee.
Suddenly Murray was behind him. "Cody, what are you doing here in the kitchen so early in the morning? Let me guess, the early bird gets the worm, right?"
"I make some coffee and tea as well." Allen answered and turned around.
"Good heavens Cody, you look awful!" Bozinsky exclaimed.
"Thank you Murray. That really builds me up!"
"What's wrong? Did you sleep at all?"
"No, Nick was very sick tonight, well he still is. He must have upset his stomach. He didn't stop vomiting and he had severe gripes. I wish he had never eaten this damn steak!"
"Oh how awful! Why didn't you wake me up? I could have helped!"
"Murray what more could you have done? By the way it's enough that Nick and I didn't sleep a wink!" Allen answered.
"How is he doing now?"
"He is doing not so great…" a voice from behind answered and when Cody and Murray turned around they saw Ryder staggering in the doorframe.
"Nick, why aren't you in bed?" Cody's voice sounded worried.
"Thirsty…I…I" Suddenly the totally exhausted man collapsed to the floor.
Cody was like paralyzed for a few seconds. Then he knelt down to his friend.
Nick was chalk-white and he was shaking like a leaf.
"Murray, call an ambulance…now!"Allen shouted.
Ryder opened his eyes and fetched his partner's arm.
"Cody…please, no ambulance…don't want to go to a hospital…please!" He pleaded.
"Nick, listen to reason! What else has to happen until you get wise pal?" Allen asked with a trembling voice.
"Oh God, Nick! But we call Doc Harris! No discussion now!"
After Murray had called their longtime physician and had described Ryder's desolate shape to him, the thin man helped Allen to bring their nearly unconscious friend back to bed with pooled forces.
Doc Harris sat on the edge of Ryder's bed and gave his patient a very worried look.
"What have you done to yourself son?" The grey haired man asked and shook his head.
"You belong to a hospital, no matter if you want to hear it or not! You have a nasty food poisoning…it might easily go wrong Nick!"
"Doc, no…listen I'm a lot better…really…just need some sleep!" Ryder murmured weakly.
Doc Harris looked at Allen and Bozinsky.
"He is fairly dehydrated and his circulation acts up! I know how much he hates hospitals…I make you a proposal. I'll give him an injection that calms his stomach down. Then he gets a big infusion with saline solution. When it's through, I check him again and if he is stable then, he can stay here at home for Christ's Sake! If not, I cannot take the responsibility any longer. Then he has to go to the hospital! You got it?"
Cody and Murray nodded anxiously.
"Do you have a hanger or something like that in your Odd couple?" Doc Harris asked after he had given Nick the injection.
"A hanger?" Allen asked in surprise. "What are you going to do with it?"
"I have to tinker an apparatus for the infusion or would you prefer to stand next to the bed lifting it up over hours?"
Murray handed a wooden hanger over to the physician. "Is this one okay for you Doc?"
"Please don't tell me, Nick got into this trouble from Straightway's food? I wanted to invite my staff for dinner next week and I planned to book a table there." Harris said while he hung up the infusion on the board over Ryder's bed.
"No, we were in a restaurant at the harbor – it just opened recently. Last night there was a lot of tom-tom at Straightaways, a Karaoke event or something like that. But we wanted to spend a quiet evening and so we ended in this restaurant." Murray explained.
"Give me the name of this honky-tonk. I wouldn't call it a restaurant after all!" The physician demanded.
"It's called Blue Sea and something else…I cannot remember." Murray scratched his head." But you cannot miss it. Why do you need its name Doc?"
"Because I'll send them the Local Health Authorities Bozinsky, that's why!"
"Uh, do you think they made it on purpose?"
"I assume it for now! A good cook realizes when food is bad! But times are hard and a lot of restaurant owners creep at the breadline. They sometimes use illegal means, yes. They are really inventive with spoiled meat, you know. Either they serve it as goulash or they pickle it in a very spice sauce so that you can barely make out that it is spoiled!
Anyway, you see how it can end! At the worst it can be lethal! Therefore you have to keep a sharp eye on them."
"What happens in case the Local Health Authorities find the proof for a manipulation?"
Then they will close the restaurant immediately and that's good, before more people get ill!"
After the first infusion was through, Doc Harris checked Nick's vitals again and nodded satisfied.
"Okay it looks as if he has recovered a little and the injection worked as well. He hasn't vomited since I gave it to him.
I'll put the next IV on but it has to drop very slowly because I'll add another medicament to it. I have to go to my practice as soon as possible, before the waiting room is bulging! If there occur any complications, call me at once…then he has to go to the hospital. Otherwise I'll check on him again during my lunch hour!"
"What complications are you talking about Doc?"Cody asked anxiously.
"I talk about fever, bloody vomiting and or diarrhea, cramps, disorientation…but I don't think it will come that far!"
"Okay Doc and thanks for coming so soon!"
"Don't thank me Allen, you get my bill! Ah, before I forget it, if he is awake, try to give him as much fluids as possible. Tea, water, salty broth…it doesn't matter! The more the better…everything except juice and sparkling beverages, you got it?"
Nicks condition improved a little over the day and Cody decided to apologize to him. He went down to their bedroom and sat down on the edge of Ryder's bed.
"How are you Nick?"
"Better…a lot better! Thank you Cody for not bringing me into a hospital."
"Yeah, it's okay. Listen Nick, I am so sorry! It was my fault!"
"You are talking nonsense! How can it be your fault when people serve spoiled food?"
"You know what I mean Nick! If I weren't that uptight last night…then, well we would have never switched our plates and you were not that ill!"
"Ah Cody, believe it or not…I would have eaten that damned steak even if I knew that it was spoiled and what would happen in the night you know?"
"Why the hell should you do something so silly?"
"That's easy pal. Because I cannot bear it when you are sick, that's why!"
"You want to tell me that you would risk it again just to protect me from the worse?"
"Every time and on every occasion, yes Cody!"
Cody gently stroke Ryder's hand.
"This is incredible Nick. Did someone tell you that you are totally mad?"
"Yeah, I heard people said something like that. But Cody to tell you the truth…I guess I will never be able to eat a steak again!"
"Okay, listen, I have an offer for you: As a sign of redemption for what you have done for me, I promise that I will never eat a steak again in my whole life as well! What do you say?" Cody asked and wiped Ryder's sweaty forehead.
"Nah…I would never ask you to do that. I know how much you like steaks! Besides, you had more than enough work with me during the night. That was redemption enough!"
"Okay, that's incredibly nice of you Nick…and honestly, I knew that you would reject my offer." Allen grinned.
"You knew it and you dared to make me that proposal? Cody…you are a real rascal…you know?"
Allen shrugged and answered: "Yeah, I heard people said something like that!"
"Hey Cody, you might be a rascal but you are surely the best nurse a sick man could ask for." Ryder murmured and fell into a deep, healing sleep.