Charles P. Crawford >> Three-Legged Race (page 6)

«First course? How many are there?» Brent asked.

«One. But I ordered enough so you could have seconds.»

«I can hardly wait,» Kirk said. «If it's as good as the cocktail, I may barf.»

«You, kind gentleman, are no gentleman. Nor are you kind. If you do not appreciate my cuisine, you are welcome to eat the regular hospital dinner. I believe you can still get it.»

«Do you want to kill me?»

«It has crossed my mind once or twice,» Amy laughed.

«Hey, Amy,» Brent said, «I got a present for you. Kind of a housewarming present or something.»

«Oh, thanks, Brent. That's nice of you.»

Brent pulled the finished watercolor from under his sheet. He was pleased with the way it had turned out. He handed it over to Amy.

«Oh, Brent,» Amy said. «It's beautiful. I didn't know you could paint.»

Kirk leaned over and looked. «Wow,» he said. «Not half bad. You could give Andrew Wyeth a run for his money.»

«Thanks,» said Brent. «It turned out all right, I guess. It's the first picture of a person I've ever tried.»

«I love it, Brent. I know just where I'm going to put it.»

Amy got up from her chair and crossed the room. She placed the small portrait among the fronds of an asparagus fern.

Brent liked the way it looked there, like Amy peering out from the middle of a forest.

«When are you going to paint my portrait?» Kirk asked.

«I don't know,» Brent replied. «I'm not very good at painting like Picasso.»

Brent was enjoying the game: the candles, the forest of plants, the tablecloth, the jokes. He felt very special and even closer to Amy and Kirk than he had that afternoon.

We are, at this moment, a very close three, he thought.

There was a knock at the door.

«Perhaps that's dinner now,» Amy said. «Come in.»

A delivery boy appeared in the opened door. «Is this where the pizzas go? The nurse said this was the room.»

«They sure do,» Amy said and crossed to her bedside table and took out some money. «Just put them on the table please.»

She paid the boy and he left, closing the door behind him.

«Dinner is served. Pepperoni or mushroom?»

«My God,» said Kirk. «I, in all my born days, have never smelled anything so good. You, Amy, are a saint in a bathrobe. Let's eat.»

Amy opened the two large lids of the flat cardboard boxes. Steam and odors swept upward into the candlelight. It was beautiful: two huge pizzas, covered with sauce, bubbling with cheese, spicy with pepperoni and mushroom.

«Amy, no crap, you're a genius,» Kirk said.

«So I've been told.»

She pulled the slices apart and placed one from each pizza on two plates, for Brent and Kirk.

«I don't know how you're supposed to eat pizza lying down, but I don't care if it glops all over my pillow or dribbles in my ear.»

Amy took one slice from the mushroom pizza and nibbled at it, quietly smiling.

Amy ended up eating two pieces, Brent five and Kirk managed the other nine.

«You can't let the food of the gods go to waste,» he said as he started to chomp on the last slice.

«That was great, Amy,» Brent said. «Thanks. I really mean it.»

«Mmmm,» Kirk added through his last mouthful.

«You must come again some time,» Amy said. «I love giving dinner parties.»

Suddenly she gasped and blood gushed from her nose. It ran down her chin and spread across her bathrobe.

«Oh, good shit,» Kirk said. «What is it?»

Amy covered her face with her hands and shook her head. The blood came through her closed fingers.

«Get somebody!» Brent said.

Kirk grabbed at his crutches and hobbled and jumped toward the door. He swung it open and almost fell into the hallway.

«Somebody get down here! Sombody get down here fast!»

Nurse Schultz ran down the hall toward him.

«What's the matter?» she yelled.

«It's Amy. She's bleeding.»

Nurse Schultz shouted back to the nurses' station. «Jean, send for a doctor, quick.»

Kirk turned back to the room and stood just inside the doorway. Amy was holding her nostrils closed. She was streaked with blood.

«I'm sorry,» she managed to say.

«Don't be,» Kirk said. «It's been a lovely evening. Thanks. I really mean it. Perhaps you would like to be alone to clean up the dinner dishes.»

Kirk turned and left the room.

Brent lay in his bed imprisoned. He felt awful for Amy.

«I spoiled it,» she said.

«No you didn't, Amy. Don't be sorry about anything.»

The nurse packed Amy's nose.

The doctor arrived and said, «She'll be all right. Let's set up a transfusion. Nurse, get the stand.»

While the other nurse went for the equipment, Nurse Schultz began to wheel Brent's bed toward the door.

«Hey, Amy,» Brent said at the door. «You take care, you hear? I don't know when I've had a better pizza. Thanks.»

Amy managed a smile and a wave, which Brent just saw as he was rolled into the hallway. Nurse Schultz wheeled him back to his room.

The evening was over.

«All in all,» said Kirk after the lights had been turned out and the hall was quiet, «it wasn't a half-bad evening.»

«I'm worried about Amy,» Brent said.

«No shit. Go to sleep, why don't you?»

Brent tried, but it wasn't easy. He lay awake for a long time. He wondered whether Kirk was still awake too, but he didn't say anything or try to find out.

Brent lay in the darkness staring up at the ceiling that he couldn't see.

I wish Amy were well, he thought. I wish we were all well and together somewhere by ourselves. It would be good, he thought. It would be special. Chapter Five 

Two days later Amy was up and around again. It had been a long two days for Brent. After lunch she stopped by Brent and Kirk's room. It was the first time Brent had seen her since their dinner. Kirk had been able to stop over the day before but Nurse Rush hadn't allowed him to stay too long.

Brent and Kirk had joked some during the past two days, but Brent had been worried about Amy and he could tell that Kirk had been too, although he tried not to show it. Besides, it wasn't the same without Amy around. The jokes weren't as funny. The talk didn't come as easily. It needs all three to make it work, Brent had thought once the day before. Brent, who had finished the Tolkien books and was reading Dune,looked up from his book and smiled as he saw Amy standing in the doorway. She braced herself against the doorjamb. Kirk was lying inhis bed reading the new issue of Sports Illustrated. «Hi, Amy, Kirk said you were feeling better. You okay?» Brent asked.

«Just fine,» Amy said and smiled.

«You look like fungus to me, you're so pale,» Kirk said.

All three laughed out loud. It's back, Brent thought. Amy's here, and everything's all back together again. He couldn't stop himself from grinning.

«Fungus, huh?» Amy said. «I'd hit you with your own crutch, wise guy, but the doctor said not to exert myself for a few days. Consider yourself lucky.»

«I'll take a rain check. You can hit me any time. What you need is a trip to Jamaica. A little sun would do you good.»

«It's not the sun, Kirk. If you had maybe a tablespoon of blood left in you, you'd be washed out too, you know.»

«I suppose so. Did the transfusion help?» Kirk asked.

«Yeah, I guess so. Except I've got my period. It seemed kind of futile.»

«That's what I've always liked about you, Amy, your timing. I remember saying to Brent here the first day he arrived, 'You know that Amy girl? What I like about her is her timing.'»

«I don't believe it. You probably said, 'You know that Amy girl? She looks like fungus.' I know you too well to believe what you tell me. Anyway, it wasn't fun having Uncle Wiggily and a transfusion at the same time.»

«Uncle Wiggily?» Brent asked.

«Yeah. That's what the girls at the scout camp used to call menstruating. I never did. I felt kind of foolish running around saying, 'Here comes Uncle Wiggily. Uh-oh, I've got Uncle Wiggily.'»

«I don't blame you,» Brent said. «Anyway, I'm glad you're better. I was really worried about you the other night.»

«It's okay. The doctor says it was a relapse, but I'll be fine.»

«A relapse of what? Mono?» Kirk asked.

«Yeah, I guess so. I don't know. No one'll tell me anything. I feel fine now, that's all I care about.»

«Well, what do you know. Here we are again, the terrible threesome. Poker?» Kirk said.

«I don't much feel like it today, thanks,» Amy replied.

«Neither do I,» said Brent.

«What we need around here is something to liven the place up.»

«You're right,» said Kirk, «but we've been saying that for over a week now, and except for that great feast you gave, we still haven't come up with any other answers.»

«You know what I was thinking yesterday?» Amy asked.

«No. And I'm not sure I want to. You've got a funny little gleam in that shifty eye of yours.»

«What I thought was this: Last week I took a stroll down to Pediatrics and met this little kid called Zero. He was kind of sad. I ended up telling him a story and he really liked it. You know, all those little kids down there are just as bored as we are. Maybe we could do something for them.»

«That might be fun,» Brent said.

«Yeah, just what I need. A hundred and fifty screaming sickly kids climbing all over my crutches. Your timing may be great, Amy, but you mind is somewhere else.»

«No, I mean it, Kirk. Just listen for a second. You know, we could give a party or something in their playroom. Have cake and ice cream. Play some games. We could tell them some stories, stuff like that. It wouldn't be much, but they'd like it. And we'd have something to work on for a while.»

«I think it's a good idea, Kirk,» Brent said.

«Well, I think you are both out of your trees, but there sure isn't anything else to do in this godforsaken hole. I'll go along with it.»

«Oh, great, Kirk. I was hoping you'd agree. It wouldn't be any fun unless the three of us did it together.»

«Yeah, it'll be fine,» Kirk said. «Adults don't think much of me, but I get along with kids okay.»

«All we have to do is get organized. Here's what we'll do. Brent, you can't go anywhere, so why don't you think up some stories to tell. Kirk, you're good at games. You think up some fun games to play. I'll check with Rush and Jewel and the Pediatrics people, and get the food and permission. Deal?»

«Yeah. Okay. I always wanted to be a social director,» Kirk said.

«Okay,» Brent said. «I wish I could do more.»

«Thinking up the stories is fine. They'll love that. We'll give it for the kids two days from now. That should give us enough time.»
Jewel had been a big help. She had helped butter up Nurse Rush to get permission for the party. She had helped get the crepe paper and the paper plates and cups from outside, and had helped Amy decorate the Pediatrics playroom.

Amy had been flushed and excited for two days. Even Kirk had warmed a little to the idea. Brent spent hours discarding one story idea after another, trying to think up one that would be entertaining for the kids.

The party was ready. The playroom was strung with red and blue streamers. Nurse Rush bustled around setting up the punch and cookies. She even smiled once in a while, although she made everyone well aware that she didn't really approve of parties of any kind. The kids had been told nothing, just as Amy has insisted. They just knew that they were not to come into the playroom that morning.

After lunch, the nurses and the aides went to the rooms of all the children and told them to come to the playroom. Three kids had to have their beds rolled down the hall. Brent was already there in his bed.

All of the children stood in the doorway with their eyes wide open. One small girl with a bandage around her head giggled and rushed forward. All the others followed.

«This is a party,» Amy shouted over the din. «This is a party for you. We've got food and games and stories, all for you. Everybody take a seat.»
When the party was over, most of the children filtered back to their rooms reluctantly. It had been a fine afternoon, but Amy had promised Nurse Rush that the excitement wouldn't last more than two hours.

The party had gone well. Amy and Kirk and Brent couldn't help feeling pleased. Kirk had led the kids in a couple of games. They'd played one like Hot Potato, where they'd passed an Ace bandage around the circle, and Pin-the-Hypodermic-on-the-Nurse. Zero had won that one. He'd managed a bull's-eye. Then after Nurse Rush had left the room, they'd had wheelchair races, dashing down the corridor to the sun-room and back.

The kids had clapped and laughed at Brent's story about three good friends – a mole, a rat, and a sparrow – who together outwitted a fox. Brent was glad that the kids had had such a good time.

Now the playroom was almost empty. Jewel lugged away the trash can full of paper cups and party napkins. The crepe paper drooped from the ceiling. Kirk swung at one of the streamers with his crutch. It pulled the crepe paper down from its moorings, and the streamer drifted gently until it rested on the carpet.

«Nice party, huh?» said Brent.

«Sure was,» Amy said. «Shall we go on home?»

Kirk pushed one side of Brent's bed and Amy pushed the other. The threesome made their way back to the youth ward. The bed wheels hummed and the rubber tips of Kirk's crutches made soft tapping sounds on the tile. All three couldn't help but smile.
After Brent and Kirk were back in their room and Amy had gone to hers for a rest, Kirk's parents stopped for a visit.

Kirk was sitting up in bed with his arms folded behind his neck. Brent was working on a sketch of Kirk. He was having trouble getting the smile just right. Each time he tried to show the half-turned-up look that Kirk always had, it just seemed as if he was smirking, and that wasn't what Brent wanted at all. He would start over again. This was the third try.

Brent looked up when Kirk said, «Well, well, if it isn't the prodigal parents.»

«Hello, Kirk,» Mrs.Hughes said. «You look well.»

«Thanks, Mother. I feel pretty good. How's the Main Line's most successful adman and home maker of the year?»

«We're fine,» Mrs.Hughes said. «I'm sorry we haven't been by sooner, but things are pretty hectic right now. Your father's been absolutely swamped with work.»

«Your mother and I are on our way to the Baxters' for dinner, so we decided to stop in for a visit,» Mr.Hughes said.

«That's okay. I appreciate it. I'd almost forgotten what you looked like.»

«Oh, Kirk,» his mother laughed. «It hasn't been that long, after all.»

«I know, Mother. I'm just giving you a little grief.»

«So how's it going, Kirk?» Mr.Hughes asked.

«All right, I guess. I haven't died of boredom yet. Actually we've been having a pretty good time lately. Not that I'm looking forward to spending the rest of my life here. What's the latest?»

Title: Three-Legged Race
Author: Charles P. Crawford
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