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The "Best Friends" Thing

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It started out as a joke, the “best friends” thing.

Starsky had been dating Terry for a couple weeks, about a week less than he and Hutch had been volunteering as basketball coaches for the kids Terry taught at the Marshall Center (Starsky liked to move fast).

He and Terry had kissed — just a peck, really — during basketball practice, and in class afterwards an eagle-eyed kid asked Terry why she kissed Dave.

Terry said well, because he’s my friend. When another kid pointed out that she didn’t kiss Hutch, Terry, thinking fast, had replied — well, Dave’s my best friend. Once the line of inquiry had continued on through why Hutch called Dave “Starsky” and how they were also friends, Terry changed the subject before anyone could mention kissing again.

After Terry repeated the conversation that evening for Starsky’s amusement, “best friends” had become a running joke between the two of them — after all, they were fond of each other, not just in a jump-in-the-sack way.

Starsky did worry a little that Terry could maybe think the “best friends” thing meant more than a cute joke, but then he figured anybody could tell who his best friend was without him needing to come right out and say it. Hutch was right there, for crying out loud. Anyhow, whenever Terry called him her “best friend” he could hear the quotation marks around it. It wasn’t as if he ever said it back.

Turned out there were some things Starsky hadn’t figured on.

It was when Hutch caught on to the “best friends” thing that things got complicated.

 

***

 

At a Hornets v. Buffalos basketball game a couple weeks later, a snatch of conversation from two kids on the sideline drifted across the court.

“Did you see that before? Dave kissed Terry.”

“Yeah, dummy, ‘cuz he’s her best friend. She told us.”

Hutch raised an eyebrow at Starsky, who shrugged and took advantage of the distraction with a crossover, pushing past Hutch to score and putting the Hornets one up at the halftime whistle. The kids cheered and headed for the refreshments on the picnic tables. Hutch procured two drinks and strolled across the court to Starsky, a study in nonchalance.

“So Starsk, I hear through the grapevine you have a new best friend.”

Starsky took in the way everything about Hutch’s body language was carefully signalling “joking, see?,” accepted his drink and ran with the gag.

“Sure I do. I’m not dumb. This one’s pretty and gives me kisses.”

“Huh.”

Hutch looked down. Starsky felt it like a kick to the stomach. Maybe he’d played this wrong. Maybe best friendships were no laughing matter even if you were thirty-four-and-a-quarter and nearly-thirty-four. The silence stretched while Hutch studied his sneakers with the intensity of a devotee consulting an oracle. Starsky’s heart beat time against his ribs like a ball bounced hard on asphalt.

Maybe Hutch’s sneakers did actually contain hidden wisdom, because he seemed pretty certain when he looked up into Starsky’s anxious face, shrugged, and said,

“I can kiss.”

Starsky’s heartbeat stuttered and his drink hit the floor. It set off a bright flash of memory — standing in Hutch’s kitchen, chugging root beer from the bottle to quench a sudden thirst as he watched a shirtless Hutch kiss good morning to Molly, stewardess of the moment.

He swiped Hutch’s drink and drained the cup, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and finally trusted himself to speak.

“Yeah. I’ve uh, noticed that. From time to time.”

His heart was really going very fast now. Hutch tilted his head.

“So, David Michael Starsky, these best friend kisses…”

“Yeah?”

“…is there some kind of a statute of limitations on those?”

Starsky cleared his throat.

“Um, I never heard of one.”

“‘Cause you know, if we’re backdating, we’d have some catching up to do.”

Starsky’s heart swooped like it was making a break for the hoop. He stood slap bang in the center circle, looking wordlessly at Hutch and reconsidering his life choices as the universe swung around him. Hutch was looking pretty damn pleased with himself all of a sudden.

Over by the picnic tables Terry clapped her hands.

“OK Dave, we’re ready for the second half!”

Hutch winked as he lifted the empty cup from Starsky’s hand.

“Pretty lady’s calling you, Starsk.”

Starsky shook out his muscles like he was waking from a trance, fished a whistle from his pocket and pointed it at Hutch.

“I’ll see you after class.”

Hutch threw back his head and laughed, blond hair lit up in the sun like some model in a shampoo advert. Starsky threw caution to the winds and went for the slam dunk.

“Hutch.”

“What?”

“You’re prettier.”

Hutch’s grin was triumphant. “Ready for the second half?”

“You better believe it.”

Starsky blew his whistle and turned to go back to the kids. He could feel the heat of Hutch’s gaze follow him as he walked away—

“Don’t forget, Starsk! We need to discuss your arrears.”

Starsky pivoted as if Hutch had pinched his ass.

“After, I said.”

Hutch blew him a kiss.

Sure, Starsky had some explaining to do before he could get to After but, fond as she was of him, Terry had a full rich life. It wasn’t like it revolved around her newfound cop boyfriend who, as it turned out, was actually pretty slow on the uptake.

Some things you just couldn’t figure on. Sometimes things didn’t go the way you’d expect. But that was OK.

It was pretty fantastic, in fact.

 

***