“Where’d you get this jalopy from?”
Hutch smiled as Starsky suspiciously eyed the red car parked in the hospital visitor’s lot. He suspected that Starsky’s feigned skepticism belied the fact that his partner actually liked the new car.
“It’s a Huggy special.”
Leaning on his cane, Starsky slowly walked around the car, inspecting it.
“You keepin’ it?”
“Yeah, I think so. It gets me where I need to go. Do you like it?”
“Well, it’s definitely better than that junkyard-on-wheels you once called a car.”
“Ya know, Starsk, that old junkyard-on-wheels happened to be the love of my life before it was callously blown up into a million pieces.”
“Don’t forget it almost took you with it. But if you want this car to feel more like home, we could always throw some garbage in the back and bash the car with a coupla monkey wrenches, once I’m feelin’ up to it.”
“I might have to take you up on that offer, partner.”
Whistling jauntily, Hutch grabbed a bottle of beer out of Starsky’s fridge and headed towards the couch, but he stopped cold in his tracks when he saw Starsky sitting there.
It’s his couch…of course he’s gonna sit there. It’s not like he can stand around all day with that cane.
‘He’s in a coma.’
‘Starsky’s dying, Hug…’
“Hutch? You okay?” Starsky was eyeing him intently.
“Yeah….I’m uh…” But Hutch didn’t finish. As he sat beside Starsky, he absently began to hand his partner the beer before abruptly pulling his hand away. Can’t have alcohol with the meds he’s taking. Sharing a beer was one of those things they did all the time without even thinking about it. It just came natural to them.
Hutch realized his hand was shaking. If he wasn’t careful, he was liable to spill beer all over himself. He set the bottle down on the coffee table.
“And here I was, thinkin’ you’d be happy I’m finally home,” Starsky teased, reaching out to swipe away the tear that had slipped down Hutch’s cheek. But the simple act turned the single droplet into a watery deluge and Hutch found himself unable to stop as Starsky pulled him into an embrace.
“Turnin’ 36 isn’t so bad, is it?” Starsky teased again, a hitch evident in his voice this time, as he wrapped his arms tightly around his shaking partner. “Hey, it’s okay…I’m right here.”
Hutch held loosely onto Starsky, grateful for the closeness he once thought he’d never experience again.
“You can squeeze me tighter, Blondie, I won’t break, I swear.”
Hutch did as he was told, and he knew then that he never wanted to let go.
When they finally pulled apart, Hutch went into the bathroom to wash his face. As he looked in the mirror, he remembered the day Starsky was shot, when he’d gone into the men’s room to wash up and discovered the dead body. It hit him all over again how close he’d come to losing Starsky that day.
Pull yourself together, Hutchinson, and tell him. Tell him now.
As Hutch sat down beside Starsky once more, Starsky took his hand.
“Talk to me.”
Hutch took a deep breath and exhaled. “The doctors told me you were gonna die, Starsk. And I believed them. I gave up on you. I—“
“Don’t. Come on. I got hit with three bullets in the back. I was in a coma. What else were you supposed to think?”
“You know that day you woke up? When I was talking to you in your hospital room and you opened your eyes for the first time?”
“Yeah. How could I forget? You were so giddy with joy that you danced with the nurse.”
“Before I visited you, I’d gone home to shower and change, but on the way back to the hospital, I made a detour to your apartment. I don’t know why, but I just wanted to come here. I walked in and looked around, but it felt empty. So damn empty. And everything was immaculate. Bed made. Laundry folded neatly in the basket. Dishes washed and put away. As if the owner had tidied up before leaving, with no plans to ever return. Like someone checking out of a hotel room. It felt surreal.
Later I realized that your cleaning lady must have been here.”
He felt Starsky squeeze his hand.
“I didn’t think you’d ever walk through that door again, Starsk.” He shook his head sadly, immersed in the painful memory.
“Hey, did you really think I’d leave you so easily? Huh? Not a chance, partner. Some other poor schmuck woulda died from those bullets, but not me. Ya know why?”
“Because I got somethin’ they don’t.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“You.” Starsky was smiling, but Hutch realized his partner was deadly serious. “And speakin’ of you, whaddya want to do today? It’s your day, after all.”
“Well, I suppose tennis is out.” Hutch laughed for the first time since they entered the apartment.
“Yeah, no tennis for me today,” Starsky agreed. “How ‘bout fishing? We could go down to the bay. I think I can handle that. Besides, I’ve been cooped up in that hospital so long, maybe it would be good for me to get some fresh air, as much as it pains me to say that.”
“Or we could just get some takeout and eat it outside on the balcony. That way, you’ll be more comfortable.”
“Up to you, birthday boy.”
“Being here with you is all I want. I don’t need more than that.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Hutch. You’ve been though a trauma, too. You could use some relaxation.”
“I’m relaxed right now. Right here, with you.”
“Whatever makes you happy, Blondie.”
“You make me happy.” There, he said it.
“Well aren’t you the pushover. Okay, takeout on the balcony it is. After we get back from fishing.”
“Starsk…I didn’t mean what I said about my car.”
“When I said it was the love of my life. You know that was hyperbole, right?”
“Hyper what?” Starsky grinned.
“You’re the love of my life, Starsk.”
Now it was Starsky’s turn to shed a tear, but this one was of pure joy.
As their eyes met, Starsky leaned in and kissed him.
"Happy birthday, Detective Hutchinson," Starsky whispered and kissed Hutch again.