«I thought I just might find you here,» she said. «I was going to look in the psychiatric ward but I checked here first.» Amy smiled at him.
Kirk gave his half-smile back. «I was there for a while this morning, but they kicked me out. Crazy as a fruitcake, they said, and asked me to leave. You aren't looking so good today,» he said.
«I didn't sleep much,» Amy said. «I've got the weakies and the achies this morning.»
«I know what you mean.»
«Brent seems like an all-right guy.»
«Yeah. He'll do. Seems like kind of a loner. But better than the Toad any day.»
«Nurse Rush is really pushing herself around here this morning. That woman's going to drive me up a wall one of these days. She was at me again about putting shoes on.»
«Yeah, I know. The bitch must have wolfed down too many vitamins this morning at breakfast.»
«Do you suppose she might cut off visiting privileges again? I'm not sure what I'd do if I couldn't wander around and drop in on people,» Amy said.
«She won't. How'd you like to stir her up a little?»
«What do you mean?»
«You know, give her a little of her own medicine, just to keep her on her toes.»
«She'll probably call in the Inquisition if anything out of the ordinary happens, but I don't care. I need a little excitement. Just as long as we don't harm anything. What do you have in mind?»
«I thought we might stage a small medical emergency. I could have my hip slip out again.»
«You mean slip that old epiphysis again, pins and all?»
«You guessed it. You game?»
«I don't think so. We shouldn't rock the boat.»
«Oh, come on, Amy. What can happen?»
«We'll get Nurse Rush mad at us.»
«She hates anything that breathes anyway, so what's the difference?»
«All right. I'll go along with it.»
Kirk leaned forward in the chair and fell onto his outstretched hands. He carefully lowered himself to the floor and curled up on his side. He started to laugh.
«I'm all set,» he said. He turned his face into a grimace of pain.
«Very convincing,» Amy said. «Have you ever considered limping to Hollywood?»
«Next week,» Kirk said. «But I would get tired of playing tall, dark and handsome parts.»
They both laughed together. Kirk felt better already.
«You ever heard me scream?» Amy asked.
«Well, brace yourself.»
Amy opened her mouth and let loose a yell which echoed down the length of the hall toward the nurse's station.
«Nurse Rush, Nurse Rush, come quickly! Poor Kirk has slipped his epiphysis!»
She gave a quick grin over her left shoulder. «Here she comes, start moaning,» Amy said in a whisper.
Kirk heard the quick clip of Nurse Rush's footsteps as she hurried toward the sun-room. She arrived in the doorway and took in the scene. Amy was standing in the center of the room with her hands pressed against her mouth.
«Oh, Nurse Rush, he fell. I think he popped his leg out again.»
Kirk gave a low rumble of agony and rolled his eyes at Nurse Rush.
«Don't move him,» Nurse Rush said. «He was probably trying to do too much again. I'll get a doctor and be right back.»
She hurried out of the sun-room and down the corridor.
As quickly as he could, Kirk struggled back to the easy chair. Amy sat in the chair opposite him. They each picked up a magazine and began reading. Before long Kirk heard the sound of footsteps again.
Nurse Rush appeared in the doorway with a young intern in white. She halted abruptly.
«Where's the injured boy?» the intern asked.
«That one,» Nurse Rush said, pointing to Kirk in the chair. «He's gotten himself off the floor.»
The intern strode forward to Kirk's side. «How did you fall?» he asked.
«Fall? I didn't fall,» Kirk said.
«Haven't you injured yourself?»
«No, sir,» Kirk replied. «I've just been sitting here reading a magazine.»
«That's right, Doctor. He hasn't left the chair. Is something the matter?» Amy added.
The intern looked confused.
Nurse Rush moved forward. «I'm sorry, Doctor, but it seems we've had a false alarm. Sorry to have bothered you.»
«That's all right, Nurse,» the intern said and left the room.
«With all the work I have to do around here, the last thing I need is two wise brats playing cruel jokes. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, you hear me? In fact, Kirk, I will be more than pleased the day you're released from this hospital. I don't need these pranks to interrupt my day.»
«Okay, Nurse Rush,» Kirk said. «We get it.»
«Listen, Nurse Rush,» Amy said. «I'm sorry we upset you. It's not easy for us to sit around for days at a time with nothing to do. I guess we get a little rammy. We'll try not to disturb you again.»
«I should hope not, young lady. Because if you do, you can bet that your parents will get a full report. I'd make sure that you both were thrown out on your ear, ready to be or not. You're lucky that you have such a fine medical facility at your disposal.»
Nurse Rush turned and stalked from the room.
«Speaking of disposal, I wouldn't mind disposing of that old bitch permanently,» Kirk said. «You'd think she could take a little joke.»
«She's right, Kirk. I feel lousy. We don't have any right to mess up her day just because we don't have anything better to do.»
«Maybe we can have a bake sale and raise enough money to install pool tables and pinball machines. Or at least enough to send that woman on a very long one-way vacation.»
«Don't be wise, you crazy Kirk.» She smiled at him.
«Yeah, sure. Listen, Amy, I'll see you later. I'm heading on back to the room. I think I'll lie down and count the cracks in the ceiling. Got to keep busy, you know.»
«I'll stop by later. Maybe Brent will be feeling better. It looks like he could use a few friends.»
«Can't we all?»
«Sure, but he seems kind of lonely right now. You know the first few days in the hospital are always the worst. Maybe we can break him out of his shell.»
«See you later,» Kirk said and left the room. He wandered down the long corridor looking into all the rooms whose doors were open.
When Kirk got back to the room, Brent was lying on his back with his eyes closed. He opened his eyes when he heard the sound of Kirk's crutches on the tile floor.
«Christ,» Kirk said, easing himself onto his bed. «I've got so many pins in my hip I'm going to rust.»
He placed his crutches next to his bed and stretched out with his hands behind his neck. He looked over toward Brent.
«How are you doing? All right?»
«Not too bad,» Brent said and tried to smile. The pain was still there, raging along the middle of his back.
«Did you have a good walk?» Brent asked.
«Oh, great. Just fine. It's so scenic along these hallways it almost takes your breath away.»
«What's wrong with your leg?» Brent asked.
«Oh, it's something to do with the hip socket not growing fast enough to contain the leg joint or something. My leg popped out on me and they pinned it back. I have to take it easy and stay on the crutches or in the wheelchair until the hip catches up with the growth of my leg. I don't know for sure. I don't sweat the medical details. None of the operations were any fun, though, I can tell you that.»
«You been here long?»
«Awhile,» Kirk said. «And I don't think I'll get out until I'm eighty. They may have to move me to Geriatrics eventually.»
«You know, you get around so well on those crutches, I'm surprised they haven't sent you home.»
«Yeah, I guess. I don't know. My parents figure this is the best place for me. I have the feeling that the day I do get home they'll run me over with a car or something just so they can get me out of the house again. They're a real sweet pair, my parents.»
Brent felt embarrassed by Kirk's talk. He'd never heard anyone talk about parents like that.
«How'd you slip you leg out in the first place?» Brent asked, trying to change the subject.
«It was a little over three months ago,» Kirk said. «I was going to this school called Gable Prep. You know, a private school, all gray buildings and soccer fields. It was my third school since sixth grade. I get around in the educational circles, you might say. Anyway, Gable Prep's no worse than any of the others.
«So one day three months ago, I was sitting in English class. I was looking out the window as usual, trying not to pay too much attention to Mr.Davison, the teacher, who is a real horse's ass, I can tell you that. I don't even remember what the lesson was about. Something about lyric poetry or some other crap like that. I remember there was dirty slushy snow all over the ground.
«Anyway, at the end of the class, old man Davison passed out a test that we had taken on Huckleberry Finn the week before. I got an F on it. What the hell, I thought. It's no big deal. I'm not dumb, you understand, Brent. I'm what the guidance counselor calls an underachiever,» Kirk said with a laugh.
«Anyway, the bell rang and I got up to leave and Mr.Davison tells me to wait a minute. I figured I was in for one of his heart-to-heart talks, and I wasn't wrong.
«I walked over to the old guy's desk and stood beside it, holding my books behind my back.
«'That's the second test you've failed in a row, Mr.Hughes,' the old guy says. They always call you Mister Hughes at a private school. It sounds pretty phony to me.
«'Yeah, I know,' I told him.
«What I wanted to say was, Lay off me, will you. Just get off my back, why don't you. But I didn't. I'm really pretty good by now at keeping a straight face and looking sincere when adults are giving me a lecture, if you know what I mean.
«Well, the old guy takes off his glasses, which is always a bad sign. He stares at me with his beady little eyes and asks me if I have an explanation of why I'm doing so poorly.
«I looked all interested and sincere and told him that I didn't have the foggiest idea except that I just didn't get the stuff, was all.
«So he tells me that he figures that I'm just not trying. He tells me that I'm a great disappointment to him, do you believe that? In his snotty old voice he tells me that I failed the test, if I would kindly remember, because I only answered one of the four essay questions.
«So I say, 'I know, sir. I didn't feel like answering the others.'
«Well, that really pissed him off. He goes on about how that's just what he means. If I'd just make the effort to do the required work, I'd be doing just fine. He even told me that the one essay question I did answer was the best one in the class.
«It was the old 'Get off your lazy butt and get to work' speech that I'd heard a million times before. He went on about the worst thing to see in life is when someone with real talent wastes it and all that crap. I wanted to tell him to stuff it, but all I said was, 'Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I'll do better, sir.' I tell you, Brent, if I want to screw up my life, what's it to him, anyway.
«My next class was gym, and since I figured I was late already, I stopped in the boys' room for a quick smoke. I did that a lot. So I sat in one of the stalls for a while puffing away, watching the smoke drifting around my head, cursing old man Davison and trying to cool off.
«Finally I tossed the butt in the john and wandered on to the gym. I knew that class would have started already and I felt about as much like sweating my ass off on the basketball court as I did hearing Davison's spiel about what a great mind I'm wasting. So I went up to the locker room and hung around there for a while. Finally I opened up my locker and got my gym stuff on. I wandered on down to the gym. I was about fifteen or twenty minutes late by then.
«I walked in the door, and the first thing I hear is the gym teacher screaming, 'Hughes! Where you been, Hughes?' He sounded like some sort of wounded hippo or something.
«So I say to him, 'I was talking to Mr.Davison.'
«He asks me if I've got a note and I tell him no, I don't. Mr.Davison didn't give me one and besides I had to stop at the bathroom.
«'Duck walks,' the guy screams at me. «Ten laps around the court duck walking. Move!'
«I should have told him where he could have put those duck walks. If there is anything I hate it's doing those damn duck walks.
«'Move!,' he shouts. 'And make it fast. If I see you out of a squat or slowing down, we'll make it twenty. Get going.' He's such a sweetheart, I can tell you.
«I squatted down and began duck walking like crazy around the edge of the basketball court. The stupid dribbling of the basketballs was giving me a headache. You ever have to do duck walks, Brent?»
«No,» Brent answered.
«Well, it's a real pain. Within about two minutes the muscles in your legs hurt like hell. I started getting cramps in my thighs before I was even around the gym once. I started to get up from the crouching position slightly, but the gym teacher shouted me down again.
«By the time I was around the court three times, my legs were hurting really bad. I had to slow down a little to keep my balance, so he shouted at me, 'Speed it up, Hughes. Make it twenty laps.'
«It probably wasn't the brightest thing I've ever done, but I yelled back at him, 'Thank you, sir. I'd love to, sir. Screw you, sir.'
«Well, I looked up and the gym teacher was headed across the floor toward me and he wasn't looking any too pleased.
«I started to brace myself for what I figured was coming, and a flash of pain shot up my left leg to my hip. I mean, it really hurt. I yelled and tumbled over. The gym teacher had gotten to me by then but my leg hurt so bad I couldn't get up. I was pounding my head on the floor it hurt so much.
«So the guy grabbed me and pulled me up. He lifted me right off my feet. He was really ticked off, I can tell you that.
«He said, 'Just what did you say, Mr.Hughes? Repeat what you just said to me.'
«I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I mean, I was really hurting. The gym teacher dropped me and my feet landed on the floor and I collapsed again.
«Being a real bright guy, he finally noticed I was rolling around on the floor and I wasn't exactly laughing my head off. He asked me if I was hurt.
«I couldn't answer that question either since my vocal chords seemed all frozen up. He sent a kid to call the ambulance, I guess.
«My mother arrived just before the ambulance did. I had been moved to the office by then. I was surprised they had found her home when they called. I guess they hadn't told her what was wrong, because she came barreling in the door shrieking about what had I done this time.
«I tried not to show her that I was in pain, but I guess I couldn't hide it. She patted and cooed at me all the way to the hospital once she figured I wasn't in trouble again. She was gabbing away about how she was going to sue the school and all.
«I didn't say a word to her all the way there.