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The stars above were bright and new (I pulled them down for you)

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Staying over used to mean crashing on the other’s couch just when the sun was starting to filter through the curtains, fully clothed and knowing the drums and nausea would be there the next morning, but drunk enough not to care. It used to mean serious girlfriends that had just been buried, or the extremely recent flipside of a long hospital stay, or an immediate threat against somebody’s life still pending.

That meaning faded when things went from I’m not leaving to do you want to-?; when the center of the world shifted from nausea and dizziness and grief to stolen kisses and soft, fumbling touches.

These days it doesn’t even mean that. These days they’re words rarely uttered but fully expected, because once you’ve stayed over and stayed over and stayed over, at a certain point the need to announce the wonderful yet obvious starts to feel silly. These days it hasn’t meant couches in a long, long time.

What it does mean, in this updated longform version, is what’s for dinner? and sure, I’ll put it on the grocery list and remember it’s your turn to take out the trash. It means two cars parked downstairs, and two brands of shampoo on the same little shelf in the shower, and one glass of water on each side of the bed.

It means that along with pots and pans and cutlery, there are two dirty plates in the sink night after night after night, which in turn usually means ugh – I wash, you dry?

That was Hutch’s line this time. Since then they’ve been going through the motions in comfortable silence: Hutch takes an item, dips it into the soapy water, runs his sponge over it and passes it off to Starsky. Starsky takes it, does the best he can with an ever more damp dish towel, and stores it away in the assigned drawer or cupboard.

And lets his imagination run wild while he does so, it seems. When Starsky accepts the first of the two wineglasses they used over dinner, he asks, “What would you say if I told you I wanted to marry you?”

The sponge drops into the water by accident, the same way Hutch’s heart drops into his stomach. It makes a little splash. “That you’re insane,” Hutch says, honest. “Two men can’t get married.” He fishes the sponge back out, but isn’t sure where to go from there. How do you kick a major organ back into place?

Starsky puts the glass on the counter, dry now. That’s not where it goes. “Hey, I’m not down on one knee here,” he says, and it sounds lighthearted and easy, like this is no big thing.

Hutch only looks out of the corner of his eye. He squeezes out the sponge, listens to the tinkling sound, pretends this means anything. “I can see that.”

“I just said that maybe I’d want to.”

What’s the difference? Hutch wants to ask, but Starsky would tell him You’re a cop, Hutch, you know there’s a difference. He’d be right. So Hutch tries, “That’s a different question.”

“Sure,” Starsky allows. He gives Hutch just long enough to start breathing again, and then drops, “But I would. If I could.”

“You can’t.”

“But-”

“Yeah. Yes.” The bubbles are almost gone and the water is getting tepid and Hutch doesn’t see any of it. He looks up and Starsky is watching him like he hung the moon, like he personally got up to the sky with a ladder and drove a nail into the black expanse of space and asked Does this look straight to you?, like Starsky sees all of that and is right there to say No, so come on down here and kiss me. “Of course,” Hutch manages, through a sticky throat.

“Oh,” Starsky says, as if he might not even have known that. Not truly for sure.

Hutch’s heart pounds so violently he can’t fish the last wine glass from the sink. It might shatter on contact with his fingertips.

He looks at Starsky again, who is whole and alive and would marry him if he could, and it seems insane, suddenly. It seems like the height of stupidity, like the most foolish thing in human history that they haven’t, that they aren’t, that they’ve never even talked about- “Do you want to move in?”

Starsky starts, and then he grabs the counter with the hand holding the towel, and then he asks, “Do you want me to?”

There are a lot of silly answers Hutch could give. Instead he says, “Two men can move in together.”

Starsky is radiating feelings now. Starsky’s hand on the counter is white-knuckled. “Hutch. Are you sure?”

“Stop giving me an out,” Hutch says, and then he can’t look at Starsky anymore for fear that he himself might fall down, and he might land on one knee, and he might travel the country to find any man from any religion willing to listen to them say their vows. “It’s insulting.” He dips into the water, going for that last glass.

He lets it slip away again when Starsky puts a hand low on his spine and that hand slides around to his front and then he has all of Starsky plastered up against his back, hands roaming and lips brushing kisses into the bend of Hutch’s neck like he’s trying to paint a better Starry Night: dot, dot, dot – there’s that crooked moon. “Leave it,” Starsky whispers, and Hutch thinks he just might.

Two men can leave their dirty dishes in the sink if they want. They can push wet hands into dry hair and kiss right up against their kitchen counter, and curse and giggle when they spin into their dining table on their way across their room, leaving a trail of revelation, of clothes peeled off with joyfully steady hands before they tumble into their bed, which is theirs, in their home, together.

And hidden in all of that, tucked away in making one out of two, there’s a version of the future where staying over doesn’t have to mean anything at all – where it’s a nonsense term, as foreign as being unable to kiss Starsky goodnight. Where a couch is just a couch and no questions need to be asked and still every day Hutch thinks, I do – yes, I do.