«I know what you mean, Amy,» Brent said, and he did know what she meant. He almost felt like crying when he thought of leaving Amy and Kirk behind when he went back outside to the other world.
Kirk climbed into bed. The room was silent.
«Well, we missed the end of the movie, I guess,» Kirk said. «Tell us, Brent. What happened?»
«People died,» Brent said. He picked up his book again and began to read. He didn't look up when Amy said good night.
Kirk rolled up another Kleenex and heaved it at the bedpan on the other side of the room. He missed. Brent laughed quietly.
«If you hang around here long enough, you'll have the singular honor of watching me go out of my tree. I tell you, one more day of this crap and I'll go looney. They'll have to tie me up in my sheet and cart me off to the bananas ward,» Kirk said.
Amy sat in the easy chair curling and uncurling her toes.
Brent was staring at the ceiling, making designs in his head from the cracks that ran through the plaster.
«I believe you,» Brent said. «You aren't the most stable person I've ever met in my life to begin with.»
«Very funny. More jokes like that and I'll never be bored again.»
«It would be fun to do something exciting,» Amy said. «I'm a little rammy myself. It's tough to be cooped up in one place for so long.»
«Look, Brent, you haven't been here as long as Amy and I have, so maybe you don't feel it so bad. Besides, it looks like you'll be going in a few days. Listen, would you mind if Amy and I pulled something off on our own even though we usually do everything together, the three of us?»
«What do you have in mind?» Amy asked.
«No, it doesn't bother me,» Brent said.
«I don't mean to cut you out or anything, but you've got to admit, you're not the most mobile person I've ever met.»
«No, seriously. I mean it. If you and Amy can think of something fun to do, don't let me stop you. Really, I don't want you to worry about me holding you back.»
«Amy, what's the last time that you take your medicines each day?»
«Yeah, that's what I thought. No, forget it. It's a lousy idea.»
«No, tell us,» Amy said. «I'm excited already.»
«That's what I mean. It's no good. You look like you've been feeling pretty bad the last few days. It's a poor idea. Just forget it.»
«Listen, Kirk, you don't think you can get away with mentioning an idea and then not telling us about it. I'm all right. You let me decide. It's like saying you know this really great dirty joke and then saying that you won't tell it.»
«We can just skip it, is all. It was a stupid idea anyway. I thought you and I might sneak out of here for an evening, you know, go to a movie or something. It was stupid. Forget it.»
«Forget it, nothing. I think it's a great idea,» Amy said.
«So do I,» Brent said. «You can tell me all about the movie when you get back.»
«Amy, the doc says you're supposed to take it easy. I don't think it's such a good idea anymore.»
«What, sitting in a movie? That's a strain? After dinner the nurse never checks on me unless I ring for her. And Brent could cover for you here if anyone noticed that you were gone. I think it's a great idea. I just wish Brent could go along too. It doesn't seem right to be doing something without you, Brent.»
«Really, I don't mind at all. I'd be mad if you let me stop you. Besides, I've got some painting I want to do. Why don't you do it tonight? No one will ever know that you're gone,» Brent said.
«I don't know,» Kirk said. «You haven't been feeling so hot, Amy.»
«Well, I need to get out of here just as much as you do, Kirkus Hughes. If you don't ask me for a date for this very evening, I just may be forced to go out with that orderly who's been looking me over lately.»
«All right. If you think you're up to it. Miss Amy, would you be so kind as to accompany me to a flick tonight? I understand one of considerable merit is playing at the local cinema.»
«Why, Mr.Hughes, I thought you'd never ask. I would be delighted to accompany you. Would you call for me at eight thirty?»
«Of course. Eight thirty it is. Seriously, we should be able to sneak out pretty easily then. Visiting hours are over just then, and we can wander out with the crowd.»
«That's great,» Brent said. «I wish I were going with you.» Brent hoped he didn't sound too disappointed. He couldn't help envying them their time together. After being used to being so self-sufficient before the accident, Brent didn't know why he dreaded those few hours alone so much.
«It would look a little suspicious rolling you around town in a bed. Besides, I'm not sure they'd sell you a ticket for the movie. Beds always block the aisles,» Kirk said. «Besides, three's a crowd, you know. Forget it, I didn't mean that. I was just trying to be funny.»
«I know,» Brent said. «You should have a great time.»
At eight-thirty Kirk climbed into his wheelchair.
«It'll be easier than using my crutches and trying to clomp all over town,» he said to Brent.
«Never take a girl out without a set of wheels,» Brent said. «Too bad you don't have a sidecar.»
«Or at least a motor. You'd think that with modern technology, every one of these things would have four on the floor.»
«Be back before midnight, Kirk,» Brent said.
«Don't wait up, Mother,» Kirk replied. He wheeled himself out of the room. Brent put his book down and stared at the ceiling.
Amy was ready. She looked very pretty. It was the first time they had
seen each other out of pajamas and bathrobe. Her brown hair was tied
back and hung down behind her.
«Do you think I need a sweater?» she asked.
«Nah, the news said it was warm out. It's over seventy, still.»
«Okay. Here's the way I figure we can work it. I'll push your wheelchair out of here. Once we're off this hall everyone will just think we're outpatients or visitors or something.»
«Are you sure that you feel up to it?» Kirk asked.
«Yes, I feel just fine. You can't let me down now after I've spent all afternoon looking forward to it. There's no problem.»
They left the room, Amy pushing Kirk in his wheelchair.
«We have a small detour to make,» Amy said.
She pushed the wheelchair back into Brent and Kirk's room.
«Hi,» Amy said to Brent. «I couldn't take off without saying good night.»
«Night,» Brent said and smiled. «Have a good time.»
«We will,» Amy said. «It doesn't feel right without you, though. This is one of the few nights all three of us haven't been together since you got here three weeks ago. Well, we won't be gone long.»
«See you later,» Kirk said. «Stay cool.»
Amy and Kirk left the room and turned down the hall out of view.
All of a sudden Brent felt empty. Loneliness was something he had never minded before. He smiled over letting this one evening without Kirk and Amy get to him.
He reached over to his bedside cabinet and took out his watercolor pad and his brushes. He opened the pad to the painting he was working on. It was a picture of Amy, Kirk and himself. The painting was going fairly well, although he found it hard to paint a self-portrait even with a mirror handy.
I just can't walk out of here in a day or two and not leave anything behind, he had thought. He was going to give the picture to Amy. He was afraid it might seem too funny and sentimental to do one for Kirk. Maybe I'll do one at home and mail it to him later, Brent thought. Anyway, he hoped to get this one done in time.
The picture showed the three of them in muted colors. They were held together by a tangle of greenery and the swirling brown of Amy's hair. Brent liked the effect, and the likenesses were pretty good. He hadn't wanted to show it to Kirk and Amy until he left. He had been working on it in secret.
Maybe I can finish it tonight before they get back, he thought. Then I'll keep it tucked away until I have to leave.
He dipped the brush in water and began to paint.
Amy pushed Kirk's wheelchair to the elevator. The doors opened and they went inside.
There were two people standing against the back wall, one of them a resident in
his white uniform.
«It sure is good to see Johnny looking better,» Kirk said. «It looks like he'll be back at the swim club in another week or so.»
«I hope so,» replied Amy. «It's so good to see color back in his cheeks. That operation must not have been much fun, I'll tell you that.»
«A brain transplant,» Kirk said to the resident.
The resident smiled at them.
They left the elevator on the ground floor and maneuvered casually to the main exit. Out the front doors they went, and down the hospital driveway to the street.
«God, I don't believe it,» Kirk shouted. «We're free at last!» He spun his chair around three times.
The hospital was just a block from the center of town. The night air was warm and smelled delicious. Amy pushed Kirk along the sidewalk. He spun the wheels of the chair to help out. They passed the old houses around the hospital grounds that had been converted into doctors' offices. They passed a school and a library and a small park.
The light from the streetlamps sifted through the leaves of the overhanging trees and made small pools on the sidewalk. The air was soft, and dust particles drifted in the lamplight. Fireflies blinked and glittered above their heads. Moths fluttered and clustered about the streetlights. Amy's shoes made soft tapping sounds on the pavement. Kirk's wheelchair hummed in the summer air.
When they reached the main intersection of the suburban town, they wheeled left down the shopping street. Just half a block away was a movie theater. It generally showed art films and catered to the two colleges nearby.
The marquee said: The Ravished.
«It's not what I might have chosen if I'd had the choice,» Kirk said.
«I don't care a bit. A movie's a movie and I'm starved for one. Besides, Time said it was great. It's the only one in wheeling distance, so to speak.»
«What's it about?» Kirk asked.
«I don't know. It's foreign.»
«Just my luck. Let's go.»
They arrived at the box office and Kirk paid the three dollars apiece for the tickets out of the money his father had left him.
«What's the deal?» he asked the ticket seller who sat in her glass booth snapping her gum. «Is the popcorn gold or something?»
The movie had already started.
«You can't be too picky when you're escaping,» Amy said. «We can sit through the beginning later if we want. It's freezing in here. Why do they always have the air conditioning down to below thirty in movie theaters in the summer?»
«Would you like some popcorn or candy?» Kirk asked.
«Oh, I'd love some. I haven't tasted popcorn in weeks. Make mine with butter if you don't mind.»
«Right,» Kirk said. He wheeled himself to the refreshment stand. The woman behind the counter was immense. The maroon blazer didn't help.
«Two popcorns,» he said. «Lots of butter. Pretend you're a cow.»
The woman snorted, and scooped the popcorn into the tall wax-covered cups with a practiced hand. She splashed butter across the top and handed them to Kirk without saying a word.
Kirk paid for the popcorn, and he and Amy pushed through the lobby doors into the theater itself. The darkness and the cool air flooded over them. The screen flickered with colored images, pastels and greens.
Amy and Kirk went down the aisle. About halfway down, Amy asked, «How's this?»
Amy sat in the seat next to the aisle. Kirk parked the wheelchair next to her and put the brake on. They began to munch on their popcorn.
The movie was a love story. Kirk enjoyed the parts where the girl took off her clothes. Amy cried at the end, when the girl was hit by a train in slow motion.
They moved out into the warm summer night among the crowd of quietly talking moviegoers. They remained outside the movie theater until the street emptied. There were very few cars. The sidewalk was deserted.
«That was a lovely movie,» Amy said.
«Yeah. It was okay. A little mushy for my taste, and you needed a speed-reading course to keep up with the subtitles.»
«I'm glad we came.»
«So am I.»
«I hope we can get back to the hospital without being caught, though,» Amy said.
«It would probably be safer to wait until later, when things really slow down there, after lights-out. Want something to eat?»
«Sure. While we're on the loose, we might as well take advantage of all that the outside world has to offer. I wonder what Brent is doing?»
«He's fine. Probably reading.»
«I wish he could have come.»
«Yeah,» Kirk said.
They started down the sidewalk to the right. Three stores down was a small restaurant called La Creperie.
«How about here?» Kirk asked.
«Wonderful. I love Crepes.»
«I'd rather have a Gino's Giant, but what can you do?»
«You've got no couth, Kirk. You'll like it.»
They went into the restaurant. It was almost empty. Kirk wheeled up to a table for two and Amy sat down. A waitress came with menus and quickly left. Kirk lit a cigarette.
They both looked over the menu.
«What kind of a place is this anyway? No pizza Crepe?»
«Funny boy,» Amy said. «I think I'll just have a dessert one. How about a Crepe Grand Marnier?»
«Fine. Me too. It better be good or I'll break your leg.»
«Just try it. Why can't you be romantic like the guy in the movie?»
«I'm not your lover. If you put out for me, I'd bring you candy.»
«My, aren't we suave tonight? It's not part of the game, I'm sorry to say.»
They ordered the two Crepes Grand Marnier and ate them with delight. They tasted the sweet powdered sugar, the thin crisp Crepe and the sharp flavor of the liqueur. The dim candlelight and quiet music were the backdrop, and they sat for a long while after they had finished eating.
«It's so nice to be away from the hospital for a night. Sometimes it gets to seem like it's the only world there is,» Amy said.
«I know what you mean, although sometimes I wonder if it's such a bad world compared to the real one.»
«I liked the movie tonight. But it was so sad. I wished the girl hadn't died in the end.»
«They always die in the movies. You know that. It's tough, but so what? It's only a movie.»
«Have you ever cried in the movies?» Amy asked. «I cry all the time. It's silly, I guess, but I can't help it.»
«Yeah, I cried once. I was five years old and I was taken to see Bambi. I cried when the mother died. I was just a little kid then.»
«I guess I shouldn't let movies get to me so much. They are just movies after all.»
«I had to leave my seat once when I was six,» Kirk said. «It was during The Wizard of Oz. I took a dollar from my mother's purse. I sneaked out of the house one Sunday and went by myself. Well, when those flying monkeys came swooping down and picked up Dorothy, I almost wet my pants I was scared. I ran up the aisle and watched the whole rest of the movie from the lobby.»