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The Heart Still Aching to Seek

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 They met halfway at a darkened bar. Hutch wore the blue silk shirt, and knew that Starsky adjusted its collar in a poorly hidden excuse to touch Hutch, just once more. They made the usual promises to write, and in the quiet solitude of the bar's back alley, they shared a final solemn kiss.

"Go home to your old lady, Mr. Hutchinson," Starsky said. "Make a great life together, okay?"

"I'll try, but you know..." Hutch wavered.

Starsky took him by the shoulders. "It's better this way. Guys and girls, it's the right way of things. We had a good time, a beautiful time, but it's over now. You understand me?"

"No," Hutch whispered, understanding all too well. "No, don't..."

Starsky pulled him into a hug, squeezing him tightly. "Yes, Hutch. My beautiful, beautiful Hutch. I'll never forget this time, these...how many days, now?"

Hutch's chest hitched as he struggled not to cry. "Today makes twenty-eight. Four weeks ex-exactly. Oh, god, Starsk. It hurts. It hurts."

"Shh." Starsky swayed with him for several long minutes, until, wiping at his face with his sleeve, Hutch pulled back, resigned. He pointed his finger at his friend.

"You be careful, and damn it, you better write this time, Sergeant."

"I will. I really will."

 

~Ages of a Day

 

~*~*~

 

 

 

Reluctance

By Robert Frost

 

Out through the fields and the woods

   And over the walls I have wended;

I have climbed the hills of view

   And looked at the world, and descended;

I have come by the highway home,

   And lo, it is ended.

 

The leaves are all dead on the ground,

   Save those that the oak is keeping

To ravel them one by one

   And let them go scraping and creeping

Out over the crusted snow,

   When others are sleeping.

 

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,

   No longer blown hither and thither;

The last lone aster is gone;

   The flowers of the witch hazel wither;

The heart is still aching to seek,

   But the feet question ‘Whither?’

 

Ah, when to the heart of man

   Was it ever less than a treason

To go with the drift of things,

   To yield with a grace to reason,

And bow and accept the end

   Of a love or a season?

 

~*~*~

 

Hutch inhaled.

The gentle scent and rhythmic rush of the sea’s tide calmed him, centered him in a way his home life could not. Here he lived, body and soul, temporarily free of the ever-tightening noose Vanessa held around him.

Meditation had never been something he’d done – it was for the odd folks who did odd things, but out of desperation he’d read a book and decided that he had to do something, anything, to escape the sense of entrapment.

The ocean chanted a mantra for him and he slipped away, back to a time of innocent play, laughter and joy.

Only one person ever joined him in that quiet, hopeful place. A man thousands of miles away, fighting a stupid war.

Hutch opened his eyes, gazing beyond the starlit dusk, over the ocean waves as if he could project himself into the jungle and bring Starsky home.

Reluctantly he checked his wrist for the time, the watch his wedding gift from Starsky. With that, the spell broke.

Significant reality returned, and with it the weight of his responsibility, perhaps lessened by his time with the sea, but no less true.

Maybe tomorrow there’d be a letter. Starsky had promised, after all.

 

~*~*~

 

Drenched in a cold sweat, Hutch awoke.

He dreamed this horrifying dream nearly every time a new letter arrived.

It always began with the last time he and Starsky had touched, in a back alley and his blue shirt, giving promises, kisses, and more promises.  It then morphed into a nightmare filled with tangling jungle vines and screaming bullets, crying children and the smoke from burnt-out villages.  Dead soldiers, lying in muddy holes, flies buzzing around them. Envelopes, identical envelopes, exactly like the ones that arrived weekly from Starsky, lay scattered on the ground.  He was always looking for Starsky’s name, on a letter, on a uniform, on dog tags, but in the ways dreams often take, Hutch couldn’t read anything at all, and could never find his lover.

Former lover.

A large explosion behind him, and he would awaken, shaking with Starsky’s name on his lips.

The furnace clicked and a soft, warm breeze flickered the lacy, frilly white curtains hanging at the bedroom window, tendrils of warmth creeping up to the bed. The fabric undulated against the black sky beyond, the tiny nightlight Vanessa had had for years offering just enough light to make the movement seen.

He felt about as lost as a child, scared of the dark, and no comfort came from the heat. Fear for Starsky consumed him at unforeseen moments, and at night when the monsters under one’s bed came calling.

Disconnected from himself, he stared through the darkness at the ceiling while Vanessa slept on beside him.  Still a kid himself, now married with a wife and a baby on the way, squeezed into her double bed in her childhood bedroom.

How did my life take such a turn?

Tense was not a strong enough word for the mood in that house. From Vanessa’s glaring father to her constantly weeping mother, Hutch was securely trapped inside four walls of righteous anger. 

Starsky was angry, too. Hutch knew he was upset that their nascent connection had been so suddenly and irrevocably severed.  As for Hutch, sad wasn’t a strong enough word.  Heartbroken, maybe. Despairing. Depressed. Resigned.

He turned onto his side and gently embraced his new wife, resting his hand on her abdomen where inside, his child grew. 

Boy? Girl? Would Vanessa let him name a son David?

Or would that be too obvious?

Vanessa turned to him, nuzzling his neck, her hand drifting low on his body.

He succumbed to her morning desires, taking her mouth as gently as he took the rest of her body, Starsky’s perfect face in his mind.

 

~*~*~

 

“Damn it!”  Tired of wrestling with oversized boxes, Hutch shoved the last one crookedly into place, then dropped to the floor.  Why Vanessa had thought they didn’t need professional movers was beyond him, though he noted sourly that she seemed to be reveling in the fact that her swelling belly excused her from doing much more than unpacking dishes, and even then she seemed to be spending more time sitting at the dining room table, dressed in a silky night gown and drinking Coke, claiming “morning sickness” all day long.  Not for the first time, he wished Starsky were here to help; jobs like this always went faster with two, and at least he’d have someone to complain to about his wife.

The house was tight and tiny, two small bedrooms and a closet of a bathroom, but at least it was theirs, though money provided by his parents had eased the way. A New Year’s gift for their coming grandchild.

He rose and headed for the kitchen. Vanessa looked over at him, dripping the last of the last Coke bottle into her glass. “Can you go to the store soon, Ken? We’re out—”

 “Yes, I know. We’re out of Coke,” he said sharply, slamming the refrigerator door shut and turning on the faucet for water instead. Mentally, he added beer to that shopping list, and could hear Starsky’s voice in his head, saying, “Top of the list, pal, along with some whiskey and rum.” 

He dropped onto one of the dining room chairs, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Can’t you run up? Have you figured out what’s for dinner?”

Vanessa looked at him, anger edging her eyes. “I am ‘with child,’ Ken. Your child. I’m sick and tired and I can’t deal with food right now! You’ll have to go yourself. Soon, please.”

Hutch closed his eyes and counted to ten. His mind cheerfully supplied him with images of a life with Vanessa. Finishing school with a crying baby in the house. Spoiled children, working himself to death, it would never be enough, ever.  

“Fine.” He grabbed his coat and very deliberately closed the door silently behind him.

The greater Los Angeles area never got as cold in winter time as the Minnesota winters he grew up in, but it was enough to calm him, cool his ire and clear his head.  Vanessa couldn’t cook, anyhow. Her mother had failed spectacularly to teach her and the few lessons she’d attempted  before Hutch and Vanessa moved out had been dismal failures. Still, Vanessa  sometimes did turn green at the sight of meat, and so far was only willing to eat the occasional scrambled egg, chicken broth, and crackers.

Pizza it was, then.  Tonight, anyway. Tomorrow…well, he knew how to cook a little from his time sharing a house with his roommates.

And Starsky had shown him some, the week they’d spent at Huggy’s.

Hutch stopped at his car and stared west, mentally erasing buildings until the ocean beyond filled his mind’s eye, sailing across it and landing in a dark, tangled jungle, full of beauty and horror and death.

He shook his head, clearing the image. He couldn’t think of Starsky there. Not now. Not so far away. The power of positive thinking. Starsky would continue to write. Starsky would come home again.

He’d promised.

And so far Starsky had kept his promise to write; almost weekly, an airmail envelope arrived, dirty and smudged and re-sealed, usually full of stories of a patrol and the people Starsky had met.    

Sometimes in his letters Starsky confessed his own nightmares and vaguely mentioned close calls that were thankfully only close, and so far, inasmuch as Starsky wrote anyway, not causing Starsky any injury to his sergeant’s rank by revealing anything Army-confidential. But for the most part, his role in the war remained a mystery to Hutch.

Hutch got into his car and turned it on. The radio blared “Soldier Boy” by the Shirelles and he had to chuckle and sing along.

Soldier boy
Oh, my little soldier boy
I'll be true to you

You were my first love
And you'll be my last love
I will never make you blue
I'll be true to you
In the whole world
You can love but one girl
Let me be that one girl
For I'll be true to you

Wherever you go
My heart will follow
I love you so
I'll be true to you
Take my love with you
To any port or foreign shore
Darling you must feel for sure
I'll be true to you

Soldier boy
Oh, my little soldier boy
I'll be true to you

 

“Ah, Starsk,” he said when the song ended.  “I wish…”  He parked in front of the pizza shop, laid his head on the steering wheel, and waited for the ache in his chest to subside.

 

~*~*~

 

“Mother brought mail,” Vanessa announced, dropping some envelopes on Hutch’s lap as she walked by.  “There’s a package, too.”

From his comfortable corner of the sofa, Hutch reached for the familiar airmail envelope first, eagerly opening it and mentally already writing back to notify Starsky of their new address. He’d told him they were moving in the last letter, but hadn’t known the address yet.

“And how’s your mother?” he asked absently, turning the red-and-blue edged envelope over and sliding a finger under the flap.

“Fine. She says we’ll do the baby shower in March, at the church fellowship hall.”

“That’s nice.” She went on about décor—ducks or bunnies? Either would be perfect for a spring baby shower...  But he’d already tuned his wife out. His eyes skimmed over the scribbled writing, looking for reassurances that Starsky was all right, before settling down to read it carefully.

 

January 28, 1963

 

Dear Hutch,

What I wouldn’t give to be dumped into some Minnesota snow right now. It’s not particularly cold— about sixty-five during the day— but it’s crazy wet and that makes it feel kinda chilly. If this is winter, I want snow.  At least Bay City doesn’t rain all the damn time.  Jungles are weird places, Hutch.

One good thing— the bad guys don’t like it much either. Messes with their equipment. While I haven’t been here long, I’ve already been on a few patrols and had a couple of skirmishes, but nothing big. I went shopping in a village and found a few things for the baby I though Vanessa might like. Sending it in a package, if it gets there after this letter.  Lady makes these little gowns.  If it’s a boy, just don’t tell him about it— but take pictures for Uncle Dave, ok?

Aunt Rosie sent a care package. Of cookies. Enough said about that. Man, I want a cheeseburger. Thick, juicy, medium-well cheeseburger, dripping with ketchup and mayo, with relish and bacon. Man, I want bacon. Promise me we’ll hit up Huggy for food when I get back. Hoping for leave home around June. Maybe in time for the baby. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get two months.

Better get going. Got another five miles of vines to cut through tomorrow. Can’t say where.

Know I’m thinking of you and Van and the baby.

M&T

Starsk

 

Hutch refolded the thin paper, shaking his head. A few skirmishes, he says. Nothing big, he says. There was always the constant thrum of fear knocking in his skull, sure every time the phone rang that Uncle Al was calling with bad news.  He’d even imagined it. “Ken, son. It’s Davy. He’s— he’s not coming home.”

Nightmare fodder.

Getting the letters helped, at least. He set the envelope aside to be put in a shoebox with the other weekly letters, and took the package.

“Van, this is for you, too.” He didn’t notice her stony stare from the sofa until he looked up and felt the ice. “What?”

“I was speaking with you, Ken, and you were ignoring me.”

Of course. He stood and moved to the sofa, bringing the package with him.  “I’m sorry, Van. This is for you, from Starsky.”

Seeming somewhat mollified, Vanessa accepted the brown paper bundle and carefully opened it, peeling back one corner at a time until the box revealed itself. Hutch watched her, knowing how little she cared for Starsky, and hoping the gift he’d sent would soften her.

Vanessa opened the top and, pushing aside some tissue paper, gasped out loud.

“Oh! It’s exquisite! Ken, look!” From its nest of paper, she lifted a tiny, long white gown, embroidered and edged in lace, clearly done by hand, and a tiny pair of white baby slippers “It’s perfect. The baby can be christened in this. The slippers are so sweet! Oh, Dave, thank you! I’ll have to include a thank you note next time you write, Ken. Oh, I can’t wait to show Mother.”

Hutch stroked one finger across the fabric, a fond smile creeping across his face.  He placed the slippers in the center of his large palm and shook his head at the idea that anything could be so small. With this tiny white offering, Starsky had won over Vanessa, and this baby of his was becoming more real. A knot in his chest loosened. It would be all right.

That night he dreamed of bombs, of bloody white dresses and babies crying. He awoke in a sweat, hearing Starsky’s voice calling for him. “Huuuuuuuutch!”

Vanessa slept on, undisturbed by her husband’s nightmares. Swiping a hand across his face, he rose, closing the bedroom door behind him with a quiet snick.

The refrigerator light threw a pale yellow glow across the kitchen floor, spilling across his bare feet. The carton of milk was nearly empty; for a moment he considered  leaving it for Vanessa in the morning. He compromised and left just enough for a mug of tea, pouring a smaller amount than he wanted into a glass. He carried it the few feet to the living room and sat on the sofa. The room was lit only by streetlamps through the curtains, sending shadows into the corners.

He needed to sleep. He had work in the morning, throwing freight at the grocery store a few blocks away, then home to shower and head for school. He’d cut his class load down to allow for a job, something he regretted having to do, but circumstances dictated.

He tossed the milk back, spilling some on his bare chest. He stared at the droplets, entertaining salacious thoughts about what they looked like.

The nightmare had wired him, too much adrenaline for the milk to counter. With a glance at the bedroom door, he stroked himself through his pajama bottoms, hoping a quick jack-off would allow him to sleep.  He thought of his wife; her dark hair and sparking green eyes, breasts so soft that fit perfectly in his hands, the taste of her nipples, of her mouth, of her sex...the taste of his tongue, his cock, his semen....

Starsky stole into Hutch’s dreamscape, taking the stage and putting on a show. All lights in Hutch’s mind shone on his buddy, his friend, his first real love before he even knew what love was. Jagged memories of their last night together flashed by: the fingered grip of a talented hand here, the sweet softness of a mouth kissing there, the drag of a nubile tongue rightthereohgodrightthereStarsk, entering, being entered, loved, loved….

As he came back to himself, catching his breath, he spotted the wetness on his chest, his own come mingling with the milk he’d left there. Gently, he let go of his cock and ran his hand across his chest, rubbing it into his skin as if it were Starsky’s come, imprinting into his body. He shook his head slowly.

“It’s over,” he reminded himself. “Starsky said so. He said it was beautiful, and it’s over. Quit torturing yourself and be glad he’s still your friend.”

 

~*~*~

 

“Honey, I’m home!” Hutch closed the front door behind him and carried the bags from the Italian restaurant into the kitchen.  It had been a month, and the nightmare hadn’t returned, Vanessa was feeling better, and he’d aced an exam at school.  Valentine’s day was around the corner. He hummed a love song as he unpacked their supper.

“Ken, guess what. I felt the baby today!” Vanessa appeared at his side, her smile bright. She guided his hand to her belly. “I don’t know if you can feel it from the outside yet, but I felt her.”

Ken dropped to his knees and put both hands on the tiny mound of her belly. “Her?”

“I don’t really know but I feel like it is. A little girl with your blue eyes and blonde hair.”

Hutch chuckled. “Oh, genetics are going to be on your side, I’ll bet. Gorgeous silky dark hair, those eyes…we’ll have to lock her up,” he teased, pressing a kiss to his child inside. He stood, taking Vanessa’s face in his hands, running his fingers up into that very hair. Bending, he kissed her, a long, slow, sweet kiss, the kind he knew would leave her breathless. Knowing his child stirred in her had stirred something in him.

“Eat,” she reminded him. “I’m starving. Growing a person inside you does that.”

He served her as if she were a queen, and cleaned up after. She rewarded him with a kiss of her own, fingernails dragging on his skin. She performed a slow strip tease in their own living room, her belly round and beautiful, unbuttoned his shirt, unzipped his pants, and pulled him to their bedroom.

 

~*~*~

 

He’d never forget that night. That moment seemed frozen in time—that night when Starsky had done as Hutch had asked, leading him gently into a joining that Hutch later felt could only have been the definition of a true marriage, love and heart and body and blood and soul sealed together.

Fantasizing now about Starsky while fucking Vanessa was a given, no matter what he’d told himself about putting that wish away. His only fear was in saying Starsky’s name in passion and giving himself away.

Vanessa had reached the point in her pregnancy where she wanted him every night, dirty and erotic in her swelling breasts and belly. Tonight he urged her to her hands and knees, entering her from behind. Vanessa loved when he did this, the position easier on her pregnant belly without his considerable weight pressing down on her, but also for the naughtiness of it. She encouraged him on with moans and sighs. He reached around to finger her and she bucked back against him.

Her willingness unwittingly gave Hutch full reign to let his imagination fill in the shadows of the darkened room to become a tiny motel, and turning Vanessa’s long dark hair into a riotous tumble of curls, holding her hips as he pounded into her. In his imagination, he was Starsky, replaying the memory of Starsky taking Hutch for the first and only time they ever would.

Hutch pulled Vanessa up to her knees, grasping one breast and pressing a fingertip to her tiny clitoris, until she clenched around him, crying out. “Ken! Ken! God, Ken!”

He came, her name in his mouth, pushing Starsky’s fiercely away.

 

~*~*~

 

The blood wasn’t in his dreams.

It’s where he wanted it to be; something to wake up from, to deny.

But the blood on her hands, on her gown, was red, too red, too real.

They whisked her away from him, doctors and nurses in unrelenting white, leaving him to stare at the blood on his hands within the pristine antiseptic walls of Memorial Hospital.

Someone took his arm and directed him to the bathroom to wash up. When the water ran clear again, he found his face in the mirror. With dripping hands he rubbed his face, the droplets like the tears he had yet to shed.

Sometime later a doctor came to him. He listened quietly as the explanation of “placental abruption, couldn’t stop the labor, no one’s fault, nothing we could do, you can see your wife now,” was fed into his ear.

Numb, he went to Vanessa, looking like a child herself, crying over a tiny bundle in her arms. “We just tried to take the baby away, Mr. Hutchinson, but she insisted on seeing it.”

It.

He leaned over, and with a fingertip pulled the blanket away from his daughter’s face. So perfect. So tiny. So real. And so never to live.

They dressed Angela Grace in the gown Hutch’s best friend had sent, meant for a celebration. They laid her in a precious, tiny box, and buried her in the smallest grave Hutch had ever seen.

Hutch and Vanessa met their public duties with quiet grace and calm, and once everyone had left, they stood in the half-decorated room that had been meant for their child, the echoes of laughter never laughed, lullabies never sung, pitter-patter-y footsteps Angela would never run filling their ears.

He blamed himself. Later, Vanessa would blame him, too.

 

~*~*~

 

Their hasty, responsible marriage began to unravel, their shouting matches interrupted only by long, bitter silences. While Vanessa healed physically, her heart remained broken by the loss of her baby, and Hutch was her favorite whipping post. 

“Forgot to take out the trash again, Ken.” She drummed her fingers on the tabletop as she read a fashion magazine, perfectly capable of carrying trash out herself.

Hutch grit his teeth and did the chore. Dinner was going to be canned soup unless he prepared it.

“How about my socks? Darned the hole in the one yet? I need those for work.”

“I hate handling your socks.” Soap operas and Coke all day long, and then bourbon began to be added.

Hutch drank it straight out of the bottle.

And so it went.

Summer arrived, and with it southern California summer heat. Draining in its relentlessness, they took their irritation out on each other. It came to a head when Hutch, wondering why Starsky hadn’t written lately, discovered several unopened airmail envelopes shoved behind the breadbox, hidden from him.

“What are these?” he spat, slamming them down on the table before her.

“Envelopes, Ken,” she replied, pushing them away with one finger as if they disgusted her.

“From Starsky! Why didn’t you give them to me?”

She didn’t answer. She rarely answered anymore. All the goodwill she’d shown toward his best friend dried up the day Angela was born dead and was buried in that long white gown.

 

~*~*~

 

Sex became punishment; an explosive, unsatisfying resolution to whatever nit-pick fight they’d had that day. Invariably, Vanessa would end up whimpering through her orgasm, beating Hutch with her fists as he came. He’d hold her tightly afterwards, not allowing her to leave him, the memory of their baby’s face behind his eyelids, until she fell asleep, crying like a child.

She never conceived again. Not, of course, that that was what they were trying to do, but Hutch often wondered about it. If she were on the pill and hiding it from him. He didn’t care, really. In some ways, Angela’s loss was a relief, and the guilt crept over him again when that thought crossed his weary mind.

And then, out of the blue and much to Hutch’s stark relief, that summer, Starsky came home.

 

~*~*~

 

The second glass arrived on a waitress’ tray, foamy and golden, and delivered in front of him. Hutch ran his fingers slowly up and down the height of it, leaving wet streaks on the surface. He raised his gaze to Starsky, catching those deep blue eyes following the movement of Hutch’s fingers. Starsky glanced up at Hutch, swallowed, then looked away.

“Going back to school in the fall?” he asked casually, apparently refusing to rise to Hutch’s bait. He sucked the foam off the top of his own beer.

“Yeah. It’s paid for, so I’m just working to pay the bills. Business degree will get me a better job. ”

“I’m gonna finish my four years, but I’m not going to re-up again.”

Hutch frowned and leaned closer. “Why not? I thought you were really enjoying it. Well, at least the army part of it, not necessarily the fighting part.”

Starsky shrugged. “I’ll have seen enough, and I’ll have done my duty. And—”  He cut himself off, rubbing his eyes with two fingers. “I don’t see what good I’m doing over there. I’d rather be here. I was thinking....”

“Careful.” Hutch earned a flick of beer in his face with his teasing, and felt a twinge of pleasure as Starsky grinned wryly.

“Smart ass. As I was sayin’, I was thinking I’d check out the police academy here in Bay City. Be a cop.”

Hutch blinked, then waited for Starsky to answer the unasked question. Starsky drummed his fingers twice on the table.

“Yeah. Like my pop.”

Hutch’s memory whirled him back nearly a decade, to a summer night at camp, holding a grieving young Starsky. His heart twisted at the memory of the tear-streaked face, of the young boy against him, finally sleeping beside him after feeling safe enough to let it all out. Were they ever that young?

“You’d be a damned good one, Starsk.”

“You think so?”

“Know so. You’d be a detective.”

“Yeah. That’s what I want. Colonel said I’d be good at it. I thought he was gonna send me to be an MP but he had me working strategy stuff with him instead. Said I was too good to send off to be guard.”

Hutch smiled briefly. “He’s right.” His fingers had resumed their drawing, condensation dripping from his fingertips.

“You know, we could work together. Be partners.”

Hutch’s eyebrows flew up and he sat back in his chair. “What?”

“Partners. Cops. Boys in blue. A team, working together?”

“Partners.” The word rolled around in his mouth, and to his surprise he found it tasted pretty good. Being a cop. He hadn’t thought of that before. Then he shook his head. “I’ve got college to finish, Starsk. Business degree to get.  I promised my parents; it was part of the deal to come to UCLA in the first place, remember?”

“Yeah, sure! You can come to the academy after. They like college grads.”

Hutch glanced up. “But you’re not one.”

Starsky grinned widely. “Nah. I’ll have military experience. They take that, too.”

“Starsky, that’s great!”

Starsky lifted his glass and clinked it against Hutch’s. “To new beginnings.”

“Partners?” Hutch lifted one corner of his mouth. “I don’t know, Starsk. Kinda feels like a kid thing, playing cops and robbers.  Sounds fun now but when it comes down to it, Iwell, I just don’t know.”

Starsky nodded. “Hey, remember back at camp? We figured out who was sneaking off and smoking, right?”

Hutch laughed. “Yeah, we did do that. But what does that mean? We paid attention, that was all.”

“That’s what it takes, Hutch. We’re good at that. We know how to work together, we click, we always have. We’ve hardly seen each other in the last ten years but it’s like we were never apart when we do. We get each other. We know each other. We’d be the best team Bay City PD ever saw.”

Hutch couldn’t help but smile at Starsky’s enthusiasm, the way it lit up his eyes, making the blue glow and sparkle. He ducked his head.

“Yeah, well, Vanessa won’t like it. I doubt she’d be happy to just let me do that.”

Starsky’s mouth opened, but then he seemed to think better of it and threw back the rest of his beer. Hutch heard the thought, though, loud and clear.

“Yeah. Well, you think about it, pal. I better get on home. See you tomorrow?”

“How long are you here for?”

“Most of summer, about…six more weeks. Then back to Vietnam.”

“Then, yes, tomorrow and every day after that if we can manage it. I missed you.”

Starsky’s grin grew and in it Hutch flashed back on summer campthe boyish earnestness, the proof of how young they both still were, kids acting like grownups.

“Missed you too. I’ll call you?”

Hutch waved him off. “Yeah.” He couldn’t help but smile. The summer had threatened to be dreary, but with Starsky around, it’d be anything but.

 

~*~*~

 

He arrived home to find Vanessa surrounded by suitcases and clothes. “Where’re you going?” he asked, dread in the pit of his stomach. She was leaving him, he knew it. Another failure, another notch on someone else’s belt.

“Going to go visit my grandparents, didn’t I tell you?” Vanessa’s tone was cool and challenging.

“No. No, you didn’t.” There was no room on the bed for him to sit, so he leaned against the doorframe. “For how long? Where are your grandparents?”

“New York.”

“New York! For how long?”

“I’m not sure. The summer, probably. I want to visit the city.”

“But New York? That’s three thousand miles away!”

“So?” Vanessa turned, her green eyes flashing. “I need to get away from here, Ken. It’s been a shit spring, and you know it, and I’m bored out of my skull. You’re never here, and when you’re here, we’re fighting like this. So I’m going to go visit my family, alone, and that’s all there is to it.”

“Who’s buying your ticket? We don’t have the money for that sort of trip!”

“Mother and Father are paying for it.”

Of course. Rubbing his nose in not earning enough yet to truly support his wife. Getting her away from him. They’d probably pay for a divorce, if she asked.

“Nice. Must be real peachy to run to daddy whenever you need something.”

She stalked up to him and slapped him across the face. He didn’t try to stop her.

“Don’t talk about my parents like that! Ever!”

He felt his face blaze and the anger rose up inside him, twisting like a snake that was poised to strike. He knew better than to touch her, and instead drove his fist into their open bedroom door.

It splintered, bounced back against the wall and struck his foot, bouncing back again. Vanessa shrieked. He brought his bloody fist to his mouth, his chest heaving. His blood tasted sharp and bitter, just as he felt.

He glared at her for a few moments, and then turned on his heel, snatching his keys from the kitchen counter and slamming out the front door.

He drove without noticing time or direction, yet found himself in front of Starsky’s Uncle Al’s house. He sat outside in the car for several minutes, warring with himself over whether or not he should go knock, or just go home. Home wasn’t very appealing, even without Vanessa there.

In the end, the decision was made for him. Starsky strolled out the front door and meandered up to the car, opening the passenger seat and handing Hutch a bottle.

“Coming in?”

Hutch drained half the beer in one shot before turning to look at his friend.  “I’m not really good company right now.”

“Yeah, that’s why you’re just hanging around the perimeter of the house instead of inside it. I get it. But come on in anyway. We’ll just go upstairs and you can tell me all about it, okay?”

Starsky’s New York accent had grown broader as he talked, a little soft-hearted tough guy tone that Hutch recognized as Starsky’s “you’re my pal and I love ya” voice. Knowing someone cared this much made his heart ache. He closed his eyes and wished the world were different.

“Come on. You can’t stay out here, you’re making Aunt Rosie nervous.”

“Oh, can’t have that,” Hutch whispered, pulling the keys from the ignition and unfolding his legs out the door.

Starsky met him coming around the trunk and took the keys from him. He locked the car, and then put his arm around Hutch’s shoulders, guiding him to the front steps.

A brief wave and “hello” to the living room was all that was required, thankfully, and at the top of the stairs Hutch had a moment of déjà vu, of this room, this man, and a time that seemed a lot longer ago than it was.

“Hasn’t changed,” he said, tentatively entering the room and sitting on the end of the bed.

“Nope, not really here enough to justify it. I figured eventually Aunt Rosie would set it up as more of a guest room, but she leave it just the same.  Sometimes…” he trailed off, biting his lip.

“What, Starsk?”

Starsky shook his head and shut the door. “Sometimes I think she’s afraid I won’t come back and this will be all that’s left.”

“Enshrining you already?” Hutch ran his hand across the worn quilt, noting cowboys and Indians in the old squares of fabric.

“I guess.”

“I understand.” Affection flooded him, and Starsky, too, it seemed, if the special smile Starsky shot his way meant anything.

“So tell me what’s bugging ya,” Starsky said, toeing off his shoes and planting himself at the head of the bed beneath a shelf of baseball trophies, tossing one pillow to Hutch.

Hutch kicked off his own shoes, shoved the pillow behind him and leaned back against the wall, his eyes roaming old football pennants and posters.

“Vanessa’s leaving.”

“She’s leaving you?” Hutch thought he could detect the sound of hope in Starsky’s voice. He sighed. “Well, for the summer. Going back east.”

“What’s there?”

“Grandparents.” He sighed. “She’s still just a kid, wants her summer vacation, I guess. Being a grown up so far hasn’t really been all it’s cracked up to be.”

Starsky wedged one foot beneath Hutch’s thigh. Such a small thing and yet it nearly brought Hutch undone.

“Hey. There’s more to this than Vanessa taking off. What is it?”

Images of his daughter flooded Hutch’s mind. Tiniest baby, swathed in that long white gown, her eyes never opened. Had they been blue? Green? Would she have looked more like him or like her mother? She’d been too small to tell. He’d never teach her to walk or ride a bike, never sing silly songs, never carry her on his shoulders, or see her in a school program. Never be proud daddy at graduation, never walk her down the aisle.

Emptiness stretched before him.

He opened his eyes to Starsky’s sympathetic ones. Blur quickly followed and strong arms were around him.

“That’s right, let it out. Let it all out. Tell me about her. Tell me.”

And he did, gulping it out between wracking sobs, how he and Vanessa had been determined to be happy while being scared out of their minds, derailing into picking on each other, how he thought he’d killed his baby, how the doctor had said that sometimes it just happens, placental abruption, no one’s fault, no one’s fault, no one’s fault.

Starsky pulled him closer, rocking him. “It wasn’t, Hutch. You didn’t do anything wrong. No one did.”

“Oh, God, Starsky, I needed you so badly then.”

Starsky’s chest hitched and Hutch pulled back a little to see him. The stricken look on Starsky’s face caused the ache inside Hutch to bloom into true pain that split him open.

“Damn, Hutch. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wish I could’ve been here for ya.”

 Hutch felt as though he’d been ejected into space, blackness around him, no air, no life. He spiraled down and it all went dark.

When he awoke, it was to Starsky petting his hair. He knew exactly where he was, and with whom. The touch soothed him, and he lay still with his eyes closed. His turn, he guessed, having held Starsky like this not so long ago.

Warm, and cared for, and loved. The quilt was over him, over them both, and Starsky lay alongside him, holding him against his chest, stroking his hair and not saying a word.

Loved.

Hutch sharply reminded himself that they’d given each other up, for the best. For reasons that Hutch never liked and never would, but tough. There were reasons, and they were good reasons, reasons that kept them alive, reasons that kept them in jobs, reasons that kept them in their families.

He could settle for this, for being held when it all went to hell. Knowing that the person holding him wasn’t expecting anything in return, but doing it out of his generous heart.

He felt a kiss pressed against his head. He smiled.

“How long have I been out?” 

“About an hour. How you doin’ now?”

Hutch assessed himself. He felt heavy, exhausted, but calm. Relieved. Soothed.

“I don’t want to move yet.”

“Then don’t. I got ya.”

He drifted. Starsky rested his forehead against the back of Hutch’s head and relaxed against him, dozing. Hutch gently pulled Starsky’s hand across his chest and held it there, Starsky’s fingers curling in reflex around his.

“You would have been the best uncle in the world.”

Starsky shuddered, sighing deeply. “Ah, Hutch. Stuck out in the jungles, I’d make plans for better days. I was gonna take your kid, girl or boy, to baseball games and the beach. Help you teach her to swim. Tell her the things that kids don’t listen to their parents about because what do parents know? But Uncle Dave, he was gonna make sure they knew those good and bad things. Oh, God, Hutch. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. I bet she was beautiful.”

Out the window, the stars blinked. Angela, beaming. Hutch smiled back.

“She was. Completely perfect.” He sighed, holding her image in his mind a little longer, as Starsky held him the way Vanessa never had, and never would.

“I love you, Starsk.”

“Back atcha.”

 

~*~*~

 

Starsky drove Hutch home in the morning, narrowly avoiding Aunt Rosie’s rising and sure offer of coffee and eggs.

“I can’t believe what the woman does to coffee. How can anyone be that bad at making coffee? And eggs…just…no.”

Hutch laughed. “Take me home and I’ll make you all that.”

“You cooking these days?”

“Vanessa hardly does. I think I’m pretty good at it.”

“You’re on.”

The house was dark and locked when they arrived. Opening the front door, Hutch expected suitcases to be standing, ready to go, but the living room was empty, the bed unmade, and upon inspection, makeup and toiletries all gone, packed and left.

She was gone.

At first Hutch felt a painful stab of rejection, but upon hearing Starsky’s voice behind him, it turned to relief, and freedom.

“Gone already, huh?”

“Yeah, looks that way. Say, you wanna stay here while she’s gone?”

Starsky’s eyes lit up. “Hey! Yeah! You sure?”

“I feel it’s my duty to save you from Aunt Rosie’s cooking. Speaking of which…”

Coffee. Hutch set about making a pot, while Starsky scrambled eggs and put bread in the toaster. In ten minutes’ time they sat companionably together at the table, eating.

“We’ve only got the two bedrooms, but

“Baby stuff, huh?”

“Yeah. Need to move it out, really.”

“Don’t think you’ll be trying for another?”

Hutch glanced up briefly. “We’re not trying but we’re not NOT trying, you know?”

“No. I don’t. Is she on the pill?”

Hutch shook his head. “I don’t think so, and I’m not using any rubbers. I just don’t know why it’s not working when we got pregnant with Angela so easily.”

“Is it normal after…premature births, to take a while for it to happen again?”

Hutch shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Maybe it’s for the best. I mean, you weren’t really ready for this before, were you? Are you ready now?”

Hutch ducked his head and pushed some egg around his plate.

“I don’t know. Back then, before Angela died…I imagined so many great times with my kid. I thought I had it all planned out. Talked myself into it, maybe. I had to. I was gonna be a father. I needed to step up.” He sighed, and rose and carried his plate to the sink. He stared out the window in front of him. “Maybe not now. We’re barely talking. I can’t imagine trying to raise a kid with all this anger in the house.”

Starsky came up beside him, putting his own plate in the sink.

“You don’t have to move anything if you don’t want to. I could sleep on the couch.”

“No. She’s not here and couldn’t even be bothered to tell me she wouldn’t be. Let’s pack it all up, put it in the garage. You want to bring your bed from the house?”

“Yeah, we could do that. Take it back when I go back to Vietnam, or Van comes back, whichever comes first. I’ll pay you some rent, too.”

“No.” Hutch shook his head. “No, just…be with me. That’s what I really want, really need.”

“I’m working for Uncle Al while I’m home, he’s paying me, you know.”

“Yeah, but…hey, just help with the food, iron gut. Keep me in coffee.”

“And beer.”

“And tequila.”

“And rum.”

They looked at each other. Hutch thought he’d fall into those eyes.  Time slipped away.

“We’re gonna need a bar,” they said in unison.

 

~*~*~

 

They both had the day off, and by the end of it, the baby’s room had been packed up and stored. Starsky’s bed and dresser were tossed into the back of a borrowed truck from Al and installed in the new guest room, and a stop at the liquor store for booze and beer achieved.

Starsky called Huggy and Hutch called a few college friends who were still nearby during the summer and the little house rang with music and laughter until late in the evening.

Hutch and Starsky waved their guests away except Huggy, who lounged on the sofa, legs outstretched before him and hands clasped on his chest, his lips turned down in a thoughtful manner, and one eye shut.

“Setting up housekeepin’ together, huh?” Huggy said, after the last friend had left.

“Yeah. Just for the summer,” Hutch replied, emptying the last of a beer bottle down his throat. Starsky moved to the kitchen and the jarring sound of glass striking glass in a trash can began. “I mean, why not? She left me to be a bachelor all summer, I’ll be damned if I just sit around bored to death.”

Huggy leaned forward, blocking Starsky from Hutch’s view. “What are you thinking, Hutch? I know how you feel about him. And I know how he feels about you. Planning a little side-fun while the kitty-cat’s away?”

Hutch drew back sharply. “You—what? No! I—”

“Hey.” Starsky appeared, swinging a towel from one hand. “Gonna leave the rest for tomorrow, Hutch, if you don’t mind. I’m wiped.”

“No, go on ahead. Huggy and I’ll hang out here for a while, let us know if we keep you up.”

“Doubt it. ’Night.” Starsky ducked into the bathroom. A few moments later the shower started.

Hutch turned back to Huggy. “No. We’re just friends hanging out for the summer. It’s not like that.”

Huggy gave him a side-eyed glare. “I ain’t no dummy. I got eyes. I had eyes back a couple of summers ago, too. Starsky’s the best friend I got. I don’t want to see him hurt. You either. Watch yourself, and him.”

Hutch waved him off with a glare. “Yeah, yeah. I’m a big boy, Huggy, I can manage to keep it in my pants.”

Huggy stared Hutch down for another several seconds, then shook his head. He levered himself off the sofa, brushing at his slacks. “See that you do. Guess I’ll head on out. Catch you dudes later.”

Hutch locked the door behind Huggy and turned out the living room lights. For a time he stood at the front window. A crescent moon hung outside, large and yellow. He drew a deep breath and blew it out, his hands behind him, trying not to think.

He heard the bathroom door open and with it the scent of hot, steamy air and wet, male skin.

He didn’t turn but knew Starsky was walking up behind him. Huggy’s reminder rang through his head.

“Hutch? You okay?”

Hutch closed his eyes and smiled a moment. “Yeah. Just fine. Stargazing.”

A hand lay warm on his shoulder. “Okay. You sure?”

Hutch nodded.

“Okay. Good night.”

Hutch stood at the window for another ten minutes, watching cars roll quietly by, the moon rising higher and smaller, out of reach. Like Starsky.

When he finally pulled the gold drapes closed and turned, he could see the door to what was now Starsky’s room open, and knew Starsky had been watching. He entered the room and stood over his friend for a moment.

Time slipped again and summer camp loomed bright in his mind, the shadows sending Starsky back to thirteen years old, not so long ago, and yet a lifetime.

Starsky grinned whitely in the dusk, pushing himself up to sit against the headboard. “Sit down. Talk.”

Hutch toed off his shoes and eased himself down to the mattress near Starsky’s feet.

“What’d Huggy want?”

Hutch ducked his head. To tell me not to sit here like this, drunk and easy for dumb mistakes. To not watch you in this half-light, your hair still damp and your shirt off, smelling so good. Because my baby died and Vanessa left me alone and you’re here and I want to touch you so badly it hurts.

“Nothing.”

“Liar.” The tone was friendly but oh-so-knowing. The darkness didn’t block Starsky’s pointed gaze.

“You’re going to be a great cop, Starsk. The bad guys will spill all the beans to you every time you catch one.” He sighed, and turned around, pushing himself up to the headboard next to his friend. “He’s worried I won’t be able to handle this.”

“This?”

Hutch waved a hand between them. “You here. With me. He knows.”

“He does?” Starsky frowned. “Huh. Guess we didn’t fool him much, staying at his place that week. Hey, is that why you invited me to stay? Like, rebounding, sorta?”

Hutch turned to look at Starsky, his friend’s dark eyes full of concern. “Not that way. Just—I didn’t want to be alone, and Aunt Rosie’s going to kill you….”

A bark of laughter, and a hand reaching for his.

“Hutch. You know we can’t go back to what we had, much as I—we might want to. It just won’t work. Hey. Doesn’t mean I don’t love ya.”

The alcohol caught up with Hutch but he held it together, and the tears did not fall. He heard the “I” in that sentence. It wasn’t just him hurting here. Wishing. Wanting.

“I know.” It’s just that I wanted so much more than this marriage done out of duty, and I don’t even have my baby…and it’s you I want, I’ll always want you.

“Starsk?”

“Yeah?”

“How is it you’re getting the whole summer off?”

Starsky tilted his head to one side. “I got lucky.”

“Lucky?” Hutch chuckled. “And how did you get lucky?”

Starsky shook his head. “Just lucky, Hutch. ‘Sides, means I get to be here with you.”

Hutch grinned. “Not going to tell me? Secret Army stuff?”

Starsky pushed at his shoulder and changed the subject. “Get to bed. See you in the morning, Blondie.”

With a grimace, Hutch gathered up his shoes and closed the door behind him, opting out of his planned shower.

Their room felt very different without Vanessa. Her tiny white vanity sat empty, the oval mirror reflecting the street lights from outside. He opened the window and the breeze came in, waving the light fabric sensually. He stood and let the cool air caress his face, before stripping to his underwear and letting it flow over him, like Vanessa’s beautiful dark hair used to do, like her silk nightgowns, and her slender limbs.

He grew hard but didn’t touch himself, instead riding the pull and rise of his cock standing up to his belly. When he finally did take his cock in hand, he moaned, imagining Vanessa before him on the floor, beautifully nude and taking him in her mouth. She morphed into Starsky, and Hutch stumbled to his bed, the headboard banging against the wall, a loud intrusion into the silence of the night.

He slid between the sheets and stroked, quickly, no longer wanting to draw out this exquisite torture. The image of Starsky in his bed swam into his inner view, and he came hard, jerking and banging the headboard once more.

Too tired to clean up, he used Vanessa’s side of the sheet to wipe his hand and belly, then turned over, his musk filling his own nose, and hoping Starsky hadn’t heard.

He dropped off almost immediately, blessedly dreaming of nothing.

 

~*~*~

 

The room brightened and dimmed alternately, clouds playing hide-and-seek with the morning sun rising through the still-open window. Hutch rubbed at his face, blinking blearily at the clock, realizing that he had to get to work soon. As he sat up the sheets fell aside, and Starsky walked in with a rat-a-tat knock and a cup of coffee.

Hutch yanked the sheets back over himself, but could tell Starsky had seen.

“Brought you coffee. Work soon.”

“Thanks.” Hutch took the mug and inhaled the steam.

Starsky saluted him smartly, then executed a military turn, snagging Hutch’s boxers off the floor as he left. “I’ll do some laundry before I go to Al’s.”

Hutch hung his head for a moment, then started to laugh, slowly shaking his head. So it was going to be like this, was it? Ignoring their truth and carrying on. It was easier in the daylight. They’d already set it in motion; couldn’t go back now.

At least, not Starsky.

Hutch sighed, sipped the coffee and smiled. Exactly as he liked it. Vanessa had never brought him coffee in bed.

And then Starsky started the vacuum and sang loudly – and badly – over it.

And so their summer began.

Work took up much of Hutch’s time, but in the evenings they sat in their tiny backyard in folding chairs, Starsky tending to a barbecue and Hutch keeping the cooler full of beer. For July 4th, they sat on the beach where they admired, but ultimately ignored, the bikini-clad young women who sashayed slowly by in a bid to draw their attention until the fireworks lit the ocean. Starsky drew closer to Hutch until they were shoulder to shoulder, touching in this way until the show ended, then drew apart before someone could see, before someone could care. Hutch surmised the display felt too war-like, the bombs and guns and hot explosions. To be here for Starsky was the least he could do, even as he wondered exactly what it was Starsky did over there.

They entertained nearly no one except themselves, Hutch with his guitar and trying to teach Starsky harmonies. Huggy sometimes came by to shoot the bull, but Starsky did not even go out on a date. Hutch sometimes felt Starsky hung around just to be sure Hutch was all right. He selfishly said nothing, instead accepting the care Starsky gave him, knowing what it meant, and knowing that soon Starsky would leave and Vanessa would return.

 

~*~*~

 

Late August arrived, bringing a cooler and classier Vanessa home and sending Starsky back to Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie’s. Hutch staggered as he brought in Van’s extra luggage, fancy designer bags full of the latest fashions from New York. 

Hutch eyed it all, trying to make a good guess at how much it had cost them, until she rolled her eyes and informed him that most were samples and she’d earned the rest working as an intern for the summer. The luggage was a gift from her grandparents.

“But this, I bought for you.” She modeled the tiny negligee for him, striking a pose that accentuated the outline of her breasts and body through the sheer black gauze.

“Oh.”

Later that night he stared up at the ceiling, sex-sweat drying on his skin. Goose-flesh stippled his skin. “Van? Are we going to try for another baby?”

She lazily rolled over and draped her nudity across his. “I’d rather not, not right away. I want to finish school at least, first, Ken. Can’t we wait?”

“Of course we can. I just…wondered.”

She sighed. “I’m on the pill, Ken. It’s just too soon.”

“Oh. Okay, then.” He held her closer as they drifted to sleep, but in his heart, Hutch just knew. It would never happen. Angela’s ghost tripped through his mind as he sang a silent lullabye.

A few days later, Starsky left, dressed in uniform and pounding on Hutch’s back instead of offering a hug. Hutch dropped him off at the bus station where Starsky gave him a wave and the ever-present promise to write before boarding.

The last thing Hutch saw was the brilliant flash of Starsky’s smile out the back window, driving away from him.

Again.

Hutch had no one left but his wife.

Between school and work pressures, sex became an explosive, nearly abusive act. For a few days, things would be finenormal and every-day. Vanessa learned to cook a few meals. Hutch cut the grass. Most nights they’d sit at the dining table, studying quietly. Just as Hutch would start to relax and begin to believe that things between them would work out, Vanessa would go off the deep end again, ranting about the tiny house and their little income, and he would follow, raging at her for her complaints. Sometimes he’d leave the house to get away from her. Sometimes she would. More often, she’d come after him and tear at his clothes in the front yard, providing a curtain-twitching show for the neighbors. He stopped wearing buttoned shirts and instead wore pullovers and t-shirts that she couldn’t ruin quite so easily as flying buttons did.

A few times she’d strip him down in the middle of the living room while hurling invectives and then fall to her knees before him, taking him in as if she were starving, before he’d swing her into his arms and dump her on their bed, taking her hard and fast and mostly clothed. Pounding sex fed by desperation and a desire to drive back the darkness escaping them both. 

Sometimes the roles reversed and he’d back her against a wall, intimidating her with his height, and slowly undo her clothes while they both called each other every filthy name in the book. She’d ride him then, his big hands caressing her breasts as she slid up and down his cock.

It felt exciting and invigorating.  Hot, dirty sex nearly every night, and knowing that Van was on the pill made it that much more salacious, that their coupling had nothing to do with procreation and everything to do with finding pleasure in their torture of each other.

That November, after suffering through a family Thanksgiving at the Carlson home, Hutch took his wife dancing. As the management introduced them to the dance floor in celebration of their first anniversary to polite applause, Hutch was aware that all eyes were on them, beautiful couple that they were. They were doing such a good job at hiding their anger and anguish, pain and recurring hatred behind a façade of true love and celebration.

Vanessa loved it. She took to the spotlight as if born to it. A few men asked her to dance and she would turn the charm on her husband, as if asking his permission. He smiled and waved her on, knowing she would go anyway, as he was a terrible dancer. Married a year and they’d both learned to play this game of smile and nod and go with it.

Finally home, they made love gently, as if recalling that once upon a time they’d loved one another with a young passion.

“I do love you, Ken,” Vanessa whispered afterward, as he held her close and pressed kisses into her hair. “I swear I do.”

But Hutch couldn’t reaffirm his vows to her honestly. His heart lay in Vietnam, and he knew she knew it. She rolled away from him, turned her back and wept while he stared at the ceiling. So much searching for answers and solutions in that ceiling; he knew the pattern of the plaster by heart.

Valentine’s Day moved past nearly like any other day. They visited their daughter’s grave, and then went home to stare at the TV. Hutch had bought his wife a box of chocolates, but it sat untouched on the coffee table. Sergeant Joe Friday kindly demanded the facts in his droning monotone, and Hutch silently got up and left.

He drove aimlessly for a while, ending up parked beneath a tree across the street from Uncle Al’s house.  Too late to knock, he watched as the lights went out one by one. He stared up at the window he knew to be Starsky’s childhood room before falling asleep.

A rapping noise woke him. Al stood outside the car, knocking on the window. “Ken? You okay in there?”

Hutch rolled down the window. “Yeah, sorry.”

“Why didn’t you come in?”

“It was too late. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

Al eyed him, licking his lower lip. “Well, Rosie’s in there making pancakes and insists you come in and have some. We’ve got mail for you, too. Can you manage?”

Hutch followed Al inside, hugged Rosie, and accepted a plate of reasonably good looking pancakes while opening his mail.

“Starsky’s coming home again this summer,” he said, sipping coffee. “And then just one more year.”

“And you’ve got one more year of school, right?” Al asked. “What then?”

“Find a job to use that piece of paper, I guess.” Hutch shrugged. The way his life had been going, he was just trying to finish school, one more thing to accomplish.

“David says he’s going to join the police academy,” Rosie said, pouring Hutch another cup.

“Yeah, he told me that last summer. I think he’d do great there.”

“What about you? Have you thought of it?”

Hutch shook his head and stood up from the table. “No, I can’t imagine myself ever being a cop.”

 

~*~*~

 

The following two summers were repeats of the first. Once school was out, Vanessa again took off for New York and her grandparents, leaving Hutch behind to work and take care of the house with Starsky as his summertime roommate. Hutch still wondered how Starsky managed to get so much time off, but Starsky wouldn’t say, and Hutch found he didn’t really care, as long as his friend was there.

Vanessa and Hutch’s fiery sex sessions had dissipated once they’d passed the first anniversary of Angela’s birth, and Hutch grew to know his hand nearly as much as he had as a teenager, his mind supplying conflicting images of curly dark hair and vivid green eyes to support his fantasies.

Once, he thought of the three of them together. Starsky and Vanessa would fight over a tied-down Hutch, each claiming the right to his body. He finished off the fantasy with Vanessa sucking his cock while Starsky fucked her from behind.

But for the most part, he and his wife behaved more like roommates who happened to share a bed. Occasionally he’d wake up in the morning to find her curled against him, so like their earlier days, but most of the time the line was steadfastly drawn down the center of their bed, no crossing, no touching, very little talking—no nothing.

He knew the end of their marriage was coming. He knew he couldn’t live like this much longer, and Vanessa’s alternating boredom and sniping anger pushed him further away.

Graduation day finally came and even with all their dysfunctionality, they both managed to graduate with honors. Hutch’s parents flew out for the ceremony, and Vanessa’s threw a party for them both. There they pretended and smiled and danced and kissed to keep up appearances, and the next day Vanessa went back to New York.

Graduation coincided with Starsky coming home for the summer, and he was able to attend both the ceremony and the party. Starsky never went home after the party. After sacking out on their sofa, he helped Hutch load Vanessa’s luggage into the cab, and he and Hutch waved her goodbye. She stared back at them out the rear window of the cab, a frown creasing her brow.

Hutch felt a shiver go through him. Something about that look made his stomach twist in apprehension. He stood in the street until the cab turned a corner and disappeared, and Starsky took him by the arm to drag him back inside.

Hutch proceeded to perk up and take care of Starsky just as he had done every summer, and better than he ever wanted to with Van: cooking favorite meals, making sure Starsky’s favorite brand of beer was in the fridge on payday. Starsky was no slouch; he treated the vacuum cleaner like his personal tool, and never left for Uncle Al’s car lot without saying goodbye and confirming any dinner plans or if anything needed to be gotten at the store.

They even fell into calling out, “Honey, I’m home!” when they came home from work. Hutch had done it with Vanessa, but it was easy to set her aside when Starsky was there. Teasing, laughing, sharing.

Best friends.

Summers were, in a word, blissful.

 

~*~*~

 

Hutch wrote his resume and secured his diploma, applying for every business job opening he came across. He spent most days looking for work, or working at the store, coming home every night complaining about not being able to get any experience if no one would hire him, and everyone wanted previous experience! Starsky would press a beer into his hand, squeeze his neck and reassure him that tomorrow was another day.

By mid-July the summer’s heat reached a nearly unbearable number on the thermometer, and the house held no refuge; a hot, stifling box, and outside at least the breeze helped. One Saturday night they gave up trying to sleep, meeting in mutual silence at the backdoor with blankets to lie on and beer in hand.

They spread the blankets out on the grass and flopped on them, stripped down to their underwear.

“Thought about the police academy any more, Hutch? You’re not having much luck on the job search.”

“I know. Maybe. I really never thought about being a cop.”

“I think you’d be a good one. You’re loyal and trustworthy and honest.”

“You make me sound like a boy scout. I was never a boy scout. Maybe a sea scout.”

“You got sea in Minnesota?”

Hutch chuckled. “Got the Great Lakes. They’re practically seas.”

“Uh-huh. Well, I was a Boy Scout and I know a good man when I see one.”

“Well. I’ll think about it. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Because I know you’re going to be a really great cop. It could be fun to work with you.”

“’Course it would! We’d make a great team. We always have. We always do.”

“You know what loyalty is. Pride. Doing the right thing, even when it’s hard.”

“Hey,” Starsky said, leaning up on one elbow. “So do you.”

“Do I?”

Starsky waved his hand around the yard. “This isn’t proof enough?”

Hutch snorted. “I knocked her up. You—you volunteered to go to war! Me, I stayed back here.”

“You had a wife and a kid coming. You’re the last person they want. Me, unattached, is what they use.”

“Hey—how is it you get the summers off, anyway?” he asked again.

Starsky looked directly at him. “Pal, you are persistent.” He drew a deep breath, then blew it out. “I think I can tell you this much now. I do special ops stuff, Hutch. Dangerous stuff. It earns me the summer, and an honorable discharge. Could even mean a medal, not that that’s why I do it. And I can’t tell you anything more specific about it except that it’s detective work, kinda. I don’t get breaks while I’m there, and I bring in a lot of information. We worked out this deal, me and my colonel.” Starsky lay back down. “They said I didn’t have to commit to more than my four, but they want me for another tour, Hutch. I’m burning out. These summers—they’re when I recharge, but the reserves are running low.”

“Then you shouldn’t,”  Hutch murmured, squeezing Starsky’s arm.

“Probably won’t.”

“So, the police department?”

“Yeah. Like my pop.”

“He was a good man, Starsk. Just like you. I’m proud to call you my friend, for all these years.”

“Soapy….”

Hutch sat up and clinked his beer bottle against Starsky’s, saluting the father Starsky lost so many years ago. After drinking, they lay silently for a while.

“Can’t see as many stars here as we do back in Minnesota,” Hutch finally said, the beauty of the night sky bringing him some measure of peace.

“More’n you can see in New York.” Starsky chuckled. “Too many lights. And buildings.”

Hutch pointed up. “I see Orion, Cassiopeia

“And the Big Dipper. I never can find the Little Dipper, though.”

“It’s right over it, like upside down. Right there.” Hutch hitched closer so he could more closely align his sight with Starsky’s. He picked up Starsky’s hand and aimed it at the sky. “There,” he said, tracing it out.

Starsky’s hand turned in Hutch’s and lowered it back to the blanket, casually twining their fingers. Hutch, surprised, said nothing, instead memorizing the feel of their fingers pressed together, bittersweet, until he began to doze off.

Starsky murmured, “Thanks, Hutch.”

“For what?” Sleepily.

“Keepin’ me.”

“More like keeping us, you and me. How did we get so lucky.”

Starsky gently tugged on his arm until Hutch shifted sideways, his head resting on Starsky’s chest. Starsky draped his arm across Hutch, re-entwining their fingers and in the process capturing him, protecting him, loving him. With a sigh, Hutch’s free hand grasped Starsky’s wrist and in this way they fell asleep, the distant sound of the ocean lulling them down.

Pain woke him.

“What the HELL are you two doing out here like that?” Vanessa spoke quietly but harshly, blocking the early morning sun with her body, and kicking Hutch in the ribs a second time. “Fucking each other behind my back?”

Hutch felt himself pale beneath his suntan even as he curled in on himself to protect his body from another blow. She knew. Except they hadn’t been. Confused, he blinked up at her, shaking his head.

Starsky was much further ahead of him, rising to his feet and advancing on Vanessa. “Knock it off! It’s hot in the house, Van, in case you didn’t notice when you marched through. You got a problem with that?”

“Yes. Why are you even here? Every summer? Playing wifey for him?”

“And what if I was? You sure as hell ain’t being much of one.”

He ducked, but not quickly enough. Her nails scratched across his cheek, and Hutch found his limbs again, stumbling to his feet to stand between them, holding them apart.

“Starsk, go in the house.” When Starsky didn’t move, he turned to look right in his eyes. “Go. Now. I need to speak with my wife.” Starsky obeyed, slowly, his gaze pinned to Vanessa until he’d entered the house, slamming the door.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Hutch turned on his wife, speaking as quietly as possible to reduce the flipping of neighboring curtains all around them. “I didn’t even know you were coming home at all, you never come home until August, and you’ve not bothered to call or write this entire time.”

“I have a job interview out here. Besides, looks like you’ve been keeping yourself occupied, playing house with your—friend!” she retorted, waving a hand at the blankets on the ground. “All snuggled up, pretty damned cozy, while I’m away.”

“Look, Van,” Hutch said, stepping closer, pressing an arm against his ribs and using his height to intimidate his wife, “I don’t like what you’re insinuating, and I’m telling you now—knock it off. When you’re gone we have a chance to spend some time together. You know how little time we’d ever had together compared to how long as we’ve known each other! So I don’t see the problem here.”

She smirked up at him, pushing him back with one elegant hand. “Of course you don’t. So willfully blind. Can’t even tell when your friend’s a queer. Maybe you are too, cuddled up with him, happy as a clam. Now I’m unpacking. David better be gone today. Forever. You’re married to me, not to him.”

Distantly, Hutch heard the front door slam, and followed Vanessa into the house. Starsky’s bed had been stripped, and his clothes and personal items gone.

“Happy now?” he spat at his wife, gesturing at the empty bedroom before stalking to the bathroom for a cold shower.

“Yes!” she shouted after him, slamming their bedroom door shut.

Icy water sluiced down his body, the bruises forming on his side throbbing. No ribs broken, hadn’t been hard enough kicks to do that, but he still simmered, resenting that he hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to Starsky, and worried that Starsky may have felt kicked out by Hutch.

He stepped out and dried himself quickly, jumping back barely in time to avoid the door hitting him when Vanessa pushed her way in. She smiled wickedly at his nakedness, drawing her nails across his body and hovering over his side, pressing in with a single nail.

He grabbed her wrist and pushed her back against the wall. “Don’t. Touch. Me.”

She laughed at him. “You with no real job, think you’re some big man to me.”

He loomed over her. “Police academy. I’m going to go to the academy and be a cop. That big and brave enough for you?”

“A cop?” She sneered in disgust at him. “I won’t be a cop’s wife. You’re supposed to be in business, be a successful accountant or business executive. Not a crappy cop!”

“Starsky and I—we’ll be partners. Best team.”

Her laugh was shrill. “Ha! That’ll be the day. No, wait, I take that back. You’re already so good with him in bed, aren’t you? Of course you’ll be a great team. You’ve already had lots of practice. I’m sure the police department is just eager to get you boys on their team. The locker room will never stop buzzing.”

Disgusted himself with her behavior and words, he let her go. No way would he sink to her level and hurt her as she’d hurt him. Enough.

He left the room, dressed, and left the house, driving to Uncle Al’s.

 

~*~*~

 

He apologized later over a lunchtime beer. Starsky held up a hand to stop him. “No one’s fault, Hutch. She is what she is.”

Hutch ducked his head and drew random patterns on the tabletop in the droplets from his glass. “Yeah, she is.”

“What are you gonna do?”

Hutch inclined his head to the side, heaving a sigh. “Such as?”

“Divorce.”

“No. No, I made a vow, I meant it.”

“Hutch.” Starsky leaned closer, nudging at his hand. “Look, I understand that. You did the right thing by her, being pregnant and all. But the baby is gone, Hutch. I’m sorry for it, but it’s true, and it’s been true a long time. And now, is Van doing the right thing by you?”

Hutch drew up, sitting back in his chair. Pain bloomed in his chest. “That baby was my daughter, Starsky. I won’t ever just dismiss her as a problem I had to solve.”

“Ah, shit.” Starsky bit his lip. “You know I didn’t mean it like that, Hutch. I’m sorry.”

“I had dreams for her. I had all these plans, these hopes for my kid. I was gonna be the best daddy you ever saw, Starsky. And now I won’t. Not unless we have another…” His voice ran out of power, and he dropped his head again, trying valiantly to get himself under control.

“I know. I know. C’mon, let’s get out of here,” Starsky said quietly, putting some money on the table and leading Hutch by the arm through the room. Hutch gave in to the tug and pull guiding him around tables and out the door.

Starsky’s car was nearest, and Hutch found himself pushed into the passenger seat. Starsky got in and started the engine.

“My car….”

“Will be fine until we get back.”

They drove high up into the hills until an overlook for the ocean came into view, where Starsky turned in and killed the engine. The midday sun rode high, and the waves far below reflected the sunlight in twinkles and sparks.

“Hutch, I’m sorry for what I said. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I know.”

“It’s just—” Starsky stopped and blew out a breath.

“Spit it out, Starsk.”

“Ah, hell. I just feel like she doesn’t give a shit about you, hasn’t for a while, and I don’t want to see you miserable for the rest of your life.”

Hutch considered that. The summers had been blissfully quiet with Vanessa gone. No stony, icy silences, no screaming or insults.

He thought back to three years ago, when he’d been happy to be with her. She’d given him her virginity that year, and it cost them later. So much had changed. But he’d loved her. “Hell, I still love her,” he said out loud.

“Why?” Starsky asked. “I mean it, why? ’Cause I don’t understand it.”

Hutch shrugged. “I think we just both need to time to…get past it. Get over Angela. Move forward. Try again.”

“Another baby?”

“If she wants one. She’s been on the pill, wanted to finish school first. I’m looking for that new job. She said she had an interview. Maybe it’s time to try for a family again.”

Starsky nodded, very slowly. “Okay, pal. It’s your life. I just hate seeing you like this.”

Hutch turned to smile at him. “I know. I really do appreciate it. But we’re moving forward, you know?”

“What if you can’t find a job? Have you thought more about the Academy, Hutch?”

Hutch looked at his friend, noting the hope in his eyes, and considered the past weeks of fruitless job hunting. “Actually, yes. I’m ready to listen to more. Tell me.”

As Starsky related what he knew, from a cop friend and his own research, Hutch watched the excitement and joy bloom on his friend’s face. His imagination built further the pictures Starsky’s voice drew—working as a team, partners, taking down the bad guys and being heroes for the city. 

Well, maybe. Maybe, he’d check into it himself and make what he’d said to his wife true. He and Starsky would make a great team.

 

~*~*~

 

Though Vanessa clearly didn’t like it, at all, Starsky would come and spend the day if it was Hutch’s day off and he wasn’t hunting for a new job, or the evening after he got home. Vanessa, if she were home, stalked about, ignored him, or insulted him on a rotating basis. Sometimes she’d go off with her friends, and sometimes her friends came over. Impromptu parties would start up, cold and sullen to begin, but with music and beer and liquor loosening everyone up by the time ten p.m. rolled around. Sometimes one of the girls would gain Starsky’s attention and they’d find a corner of the yard to canoodle. Hutch would sit in a folding chair, moodily staring at nothing while Vanessa poked fun at how his “boyfriend” had run off and left him, poor thing. She’d tease him, dragging one long fingernail down his cheek and then down his shoulder, his arm, and over to his leg, drawing back up to brush ever-so-lightly across his cock. Teasing him. Sex had become something they used to have.

One night he grabbed her wrist and muttered, “Stop it.”

She pulled back, but he held her fast. She bent close, whispering in his ear. “Does David do that better? Does he suck you like I did? Let you fuck him like a woman?”

He stood, pushing her against the wall, his voice dripping ice. “You have no idea.”

She laughed in disbelief. “I wondered if you’d ever admit it.” She laughed again, and then pushed him away, stalking past him to the bar. “I need a stiff one after that. Get it? Stiff one?” She sneered at her own joke.

Starsky appeared suddenly, a gust of air against Hutch where he stood like a statue, staring at the woman who was wife. “You okay?”

“Just. Fine.”

Starsky craned his neck to look at Hutch’s face. “Sure you are. Come on, the door’s over here.” Hutch, by this time used to following Starsky’s direction in moments like this, allowed himself to be guided out of the house and towards Starsky’s car.

“That’s right! He’s your wife now! Take goooood care of him!” Vanessa called out from the doorway, her friends flanking her, laughing. “See you two lovebirds later!”

Rage filled Hutch. He wrenched out of Starsky’s grip, striding quickly back to the door. Vanessa fell back a few paces before Starsky could run and jump in front of Hutch, stopping him with a hand to his chest.

“She’s not worth it, Hutch.”

“Oh, yes I am. I’m the best lay he’s ever had. Better than you!”

Starsky turned, still holding Hutch back. “I’m warning you, shut up, Van.”

“Ohhh, big brave man. Get out of here. Take him with you. I’m sick of you both.” She slammed the door, and the click of the deadbolt was audible. Laughter bubbled up from behind the door, her friends, laughing at them.

Hutch tried to take another step forward, but Starsky pushed back with both hands. “She ain’t worth it, Hutch! C’mon. We’ll go find a bar, have a few. Okay? Okay? We’ll talk it out.”

He tugged at Hutch’s arm and Hutch reluctantly followed, watching the front door of his home over his shoulder, until Starsky shoved him into the passenger seat.

Street lights alternately lit and shadowed Starsky. Hutch focused on him, the only source of happiness he could point to at this moment.

“Thanks,” he finally said, just before Starsky pulled into a parking lot.

Starsky shoved down on the emergency brake. “What’re friends for?”

Hutch pondered that question the rest of the night, flushing out his pain with whiskey shots. The dim lights of the bar grew dimmer and the fixtures began to dance when he looked up. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the barshattered and drained and pissing drunk.

“I tried, Shtarshk. I really tried to make her happy.”

“Hey, no one knows that more’n me, buddy. Let’s get you to bed.”

“Can’t go home now.”

“We’re going to Aunt Rosie’s.”

Hutch didn’t realize how close they’d been to the familiar house until Starsky drove them only a few blocks and parked in the driveway. Hutch got his legs beneath him, but just barely, and giggled insanely at Starsky trying to coax him up the few steps to the porch. Beyond that was the staircase, rising nauseatingly into the upper level of the house.

“Maybe I better stay right here,” Hutch said, collapsing to his knees on the porch at the open door.

“Shh. Everyone’s asleep. You gotta get up the stairs, Hutch. Come on, you can do it.”

Starsky had to get behind Hutch and push him up the stairs. Hutch covered his own mouth with his hand, trying not to make any noise though giggles alternating with groans escaped from behind his fingers every few steps. With a final groan, he fell onto Starsky’s bed, his head lolling on the pillow.

“You’re the best friend ever, Shtarshky,” he muttered, trying to help Starsky pull Hutch’s shoes off.

“Yeah, I know. Hey, you lie down on this side, all right? You gotta puke? Bathroom’s out in the hall—never mind. Can you lie there alone for a sec?”

Starsky dashed out the door and was back in a flash, making Hutch’s head spin even more. “Trash can. If you can’t make it to the bathroom. Okay?” Hutch tried to nod, really he did, but the room wouldn’t hold still long enough to let him. Dimly, he watched Starsky set the receptacle on the floor near Hutch’s head.

“Let’s get some clothes off. Come on, help me out here.” Hutch giggled again, fingers fumbling with his shirt buttons as Starsky unbuckled his belt and tugged his jeans off.

“Careful. Vanessa said…” Hutch started, then remembered. He rolled away from Starsky, turning his face into the pillow.

“Don’t worry about it, Hutch. Let me get up there with you. You sleep. I’ll make sure you don’t fall.”

“Got my back. Partners. Right? Right, Starsk?”

“You got it. Sleep now, okay?”

“Okay. Love ya, Starsk.”

“Love you too, you big lug.”

 

~*~*~

Hutch awoke when the persistent knocking at the bedroom door penetrated his alcoholic haze. Starsky groaned behind him, dipping the mattress as he crawled to the bottom of the bed and levered himself off it to answer the door.

Hutch blinked against the sunlight streaming through the window. He pulled the pillow over his head, only partially hearing the voices speaking without words. A touch to his shoulder brought him back out from beneath his refuge.

“Hutch, there’s a guy downstairs at the front door who needs to speak to you. Think you can go down?”

A guy? “Who is it?”

“I don’t know but Aunt Rosie says he’s being very insistent that you come down. Come on, I’ll help.”

Hutch sat up slowly. His head hurt and his mouth felt sticky and dry, distracting him from a thought that wouldn’t form. “Water. Then walking.”

Starsky pressed a glass into his hand. “Aunt Rosie already brought you some. It’s three-thirty in the afternoon, we slept all day.”

The water slid coolly down his throat. When nausea threatened, he lowered the glass.

“Okay now, Hutch?”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” He allowed Starsky to help him stand and get his jeans and shirt on, wincing with every move. Carefully he made his way down the staircase, Starsky’s hand on his shoulder above and behind him.

Below, a man in a long coat and a hat waited impatiently. He stepped forward and met them at the bottom of the steps. “Kenneth Hutchinson?”

“Yes. I’m him.”

“You’ve been served.”  The man slapped an envelope into Hutch’s hand and then turned to Starsky. “David Starsky?”

“Uh, yeah?”

Another envelope. “You have also been served.” His job done, the man turned quickly and left.

They stared at each other, then down at the papers in their hands.

“Okay, I think we need the sofa. C’mon.” Starsky led Hutch into the living room and lowered him to the seat as Aunt Rosie vanished to get them both some coffee. As a unit, they turned the envelopes over in their hands, looked at each other, then cautiously opened them.

“Van wants a divorce,” Hutch said, his voice hushed as he scanned the papers.

“And she’s suing me for ‘alienation of affection’!” Starsky exclaimed, throwing the envelope to the floor.

Aunt Rosie came in carrying a tray she set on the coffee table. “What, David? What is that?”

Hutch accepted a cup of coffee with a shaking hand. “It means he—I mean she’s accusing David of—um—well….”

“She’s accusing me of having an affair with him, Aunt Rosie,” Starsky explained quietly, just getting his coffee cup out of her hand before she dropped it.

“An—affair? What? David, what?” The woman looked visibly shaken, pressing her hands to her cheeks. “What am I going to tell your mother?”

“It’s not true, Aunt Rosie, calm down.” Starsky stood and helped her to sit next to Hutch, plopping himself onto the coffee table. He looked at Hutch, who gave him a little nod. “Hutch was having a bad moment and I was making sure he was all right. She saw it, and now she’s using it against us to make this nasty and discredit us both.”

“I guess I better start looking for a divorce attorney,” Hutch said, reading the papers again. “I’m not even sure what she wants here. It’s not like we have much. We’re renting the house. Oh!” he exclaimed shaking the paper in the air, “she thinks she’s going to get part of my trust fund!” He’d almost forgotten about it; it had become his when he’d turned twenty-one, last year. The bank’s letter had arrived in the middle of the transition between Vanessa coming home and Starsky leaving again, and Hutch had shoved it to the back of their bill-box.  He’d planned to read it more closely later but it had completely slipped his mind, what with Vanessa hounding him and school and work applying their equal pressures. “She must have found that letter.”

“And now she figures she can get rid of you and and keep your money by making this accusation of us.”

Hutch blew out a huge breath. “Maybe it’d be worth it to just let her have half. I’m so tired of it all.”

“She had to have been planning this a while. And then her finding us in the back yard like that…”

“Like what?” Rosie asked, her hand rising to her throat.

“It was nothing, Aunt Rosie. She’s making something of nothing.” He waved the papers. “Let’s dig out the Yellow Pages and find a lawyer.”

“I think I still have the card of the one we used when someone sued your uncle over a car,” Rosie said. “He might know who to suggest.”

“Thanks, Aunt Rosie, that sounds great.” Starsky rose and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’m gonna talk to Hutch here in the meantime.”

Once Rosie had left the room, Starsky sat back down on the coffee table, putting Hutch’s knees between his, effectively trapping him. He took the papers from Hutch’s trembling hands and set them aside, then took a grip on both of Hutch’s wrists.

“Hutch. Look at me.” Reluctantly, Hutch did, the dark blue eyes of his best friend and former lover full of worry and concern. “How you feelin? Be honest.”

“Like the world just dropped out from under me,” Hutch replied. It was true; his stomach felt as if a giant fist had punched it in from the bottom and his body being sucked through it like a black hole.  “I knew this was coming. I knew. I had started to think about doing it myself, asking for a divorce, but it’s still

“A shock. Yeah, me too.” Starsky grimaced, and Hutch turned his wrists over in Starsky’s grip and grasped his wrists, too.

“Hey. We’re gonna be fine.”

“Found it, boys,” Rosie announced, bringing the card to Hutch as they let go of one another. Rosie didn’t seem to notice. “He was a really nice man. I hope he can help.”

“Thanks. Starsk, I think I better head for home, get my stuff….”

“Shower first, Hutch. You don’t want to go back over there looking like you’ve been on a bender.”

Hutch looked down at himself and then at the window for his reflection. His clothes were a mess, his hair sticking up in wayward directions. He huffed a laugh. “Yeah, okay.”

“I’ll loan ya a shirt. Then we’ll go get your stuff.”

“Ken, we have a spare bedroom upstairs, next to David’s. You’re welcome to it while you’re sorting this out.”

He patted Rosie’s hand where it lay on his shoulder. “I’m very lucky to know you, Rosie. Thank you.”

“C’mon,” Starsky said, tugging Hutch up. “You stink and your mother dresses ya funny. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

“My mother. Oh, God,” Hutch groaned. “This is going to go over well.”

“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, huh? There’s the stairs. Up you go.”

 

~*~*~

 

Standing under the hot spray helped Hutch focus his thoughts. His marriage was over. The initial shock had worn off and he’d moved on to practicalities: where to live now, what Vanessa really wanted from him, what he’d have to do.

He still had no full time job, and the grocery store was not going to hold much of a future for him. He’d probably have to pay alimony. Maybe he and Starsky could be roommates for real and not just for the summer. The trust fund would help with all that, if he got to keep it.

As he rinsed the shampoo from his hair, he thought of the summons Starsky had received; an alienation of affection suit. Leave it to Vanessa to try to shame them both like this, when they’d done nothing but be close, close friends, sharing a private moment.

But maybe it was a blessing in disguise. If Starsky would be his roommate, they could continue on together like their summers had been, but all year round.

The thought brightened him. They could find a little place, maybe closer in L.A., like near Venice Beach. Nice place, artists down on the beach itself, low rent.

He realized he’d just been standing under the water when Starsky pounded on the door. “You drownin’? I need in there too, pal.”

“Sorry! Coming now.” Hutch got out, hurriedly drying off. He pulled his jeans on and walked bare-chested to Starsky’s room. Starsky handed him a shirt. “Thanks.”

“Sure. Aunt Rosie wants to feed us an early supper—you want that?”

Hutch shook his head. “My stomach’s too in knots. I’ll go let her know. You think twenty minutes?” He was anxious to leave, to start picking up the detritus of his old life and start a new one.

“Yup. See you downstairs.”

 

~*~*~

The knots didn’t ease but twisted his gut even tighter the closer to his home Hutch drew. Starsky slowed when he turned onto Hutch’s street, reaching out to squeeze Hutch’s arm as they both realized what they were seeing.

The front yard was littered with the belongings of Hutch’s life. Clothing, papers, small furniture, books. Tossed and scattered across the grass.

“Looks like the world’s worst yard sale,” Starsky softly joked, but Hutch couldn’t laugh. He’d spotted a canvas, a small piece he’d tried to paint for his wife, ripped and dumped on the sidewalk.

Starsky parked across the street as the driveway wasn’t accessible. Together they picked their way through the mess. Hutch started to gather things up, clothes, books, but when he reached the front door he set what he had in his arms down by the door and pushed it open.

Vanessa lounged on the sofa, dressed only in a negligee and dressing gown, a glass of champagne in her hand. Two of her friends were in the kitchen, chattering and preparing food. As Starsky and Hutch entered, they fell silent and still.

Vanessa looked up. “Oh, hello, Ken. David.” One side of her mouth rose in knowing smile. “Have a good night together? I’m sure you both were quite cozy.” She looked Starsky up and down, running a fingernail across her bottom lip as she did. “Come for your things? I gathered them all for you.” She waved desultorily back at the front door. “Whenever’s best for you to take it all away.”

Hutch didn’t move. Starsky moved to the kitchen and shooed Vanessa’s friends out, who pouted and left out the front door reluctantly. Hutch caught his eye and nodded once. Starsky dipped his chin in acknowledgement and followed the girls out, closing the door behind him.

“Why, Van?” 

“Oh, Ken. Don’t be insulting.” She swung her feet to the floor and rose, swinging her hips as she walked toward him. “It was pretty clear that night just which ‘partner’ you preferred. You’ve been obsessed with David Starsky since before we met. I thought it was maybe a phase, or just stars in your eyes that someone paid attention to you, but seeing you two cuddled up like newlyweds made me see the light. Of course,” she stopped a few feet from him and slowly untied the belt from her dressing gown, “you might be able to prove to me that you aren’t a faggot. That you do want me. Here’s your chance.” She dropped the dressing gown to the floor, exposing a very revealing negligee beneath it. The thin fabric clung to her breasts. Hutch could see her dark nipples through the gauziness.

“Go on. Touch me. Prove it to me.”

“The last thing I want to do is touch you, Van.” Hutch’s voice sounded like steel, even to himself. Somewhere in the back of his brain he wondered where he’d learned to sound like that. Another part of his brain shrieked at him, Don’t touch her! She’s no longer worth it! The voice sounded a lot like Starsky’s.

The logical part of his brain talked him down. He had no interest in touching her, because he was quite sure that if he did, he might not let go until she was gasping for air on the floor.

“Answer me,” he said. “Why are you doing this?”

“I already told you. And the papers David should have received will prove it. You have cheated on me, with another man. You didn’t even have the decency to just have a mistress. That I could have forgiven. But him?” She took two steps closer, thrusting her face up towards his. “That can never be forgiven or forgotten. That you won’t touch me now, while I’m dressed like this,” she stepped back and spread her arms wide, “just goes to show I’m right. You disgusting excuse for a man.”

“You’re wrong. Starsky and I haven’t done anything. Anything! How can you do this to me? To us?”

“It’s over, Ken. It’s been over for a long time, and I don’t think we ever really had anything. You married me because you knocked me up. Well, there’s no baby now. She died. And now we both are going to move on.”

“Is this about the trust fund?”

She laughed. “Oh, Ken. This is about so much more than that, though I’m going to be happy to take that money off your hands.”

Hutch turned and sat on the edge of one of the chairs. His heart hammered hard against his chest and he lowered his head, drawing in slow, deep breaths. When he looked up again, Vanessa stood nude before him, her negligee in a puddle around her feet. Her dark hair fell long down her back and over her shoulder, one breast nearly hidden by it. She looked like Venus, enticing, beckoning.

“Last chance, Ken. I’ll reconsider if you take me to bed now.”

“No. Never.”

A sigh. “I thought not. I sincerely hope David can make you happy. Goodbye, Ken.” She turned and walked away.

Hutch rushed from the house, bent over one bush, and retched.

Vanessa’s friends hurried past him, making gagging noises as they ran back into the house. Starsky appeared at his side, laying a comforting hand on his back.

Hutch stood and staggered a little. Starsky steadied him.

“You okay?”

“No. Can we get out of here?”

“Sure. Here. Get in the car. I’m almost done getting your stuff.”

Starsky guided Hutch to sit sideways in the passenger seat, his feet resting on the sidewalk. From this vantage point, Hutch realized that the yard was mostly cleaned up. Except for the bits of furniture, the vast majority of his things had been cleared from the grass and the driveway, and he craned to look behind him. The back seat was filled with the accumulation of his young lifetime. He felt the trunk slam closed, and realized even more had been put in there.

“You want this at all?” Starsky appeared at his side, offering the broken and torn canvas. Hutch took it in his hands for a moment before shoving it back at his friend.

“No. Not at all. Never again.”

“Okay.” Starsky walked up the driveway to the trash can, where he unceremoniously dropped the pieces of Hutch’s shattered marriage.

How apropos that he should be the one doing that with the papers he got served today.  If Vanessa’s watching, I’m sure she’s thinking the same thing.

Starsky rounded the front of the car, opened the driver’s door and hopped in. Hutch turned and pulled his own door shut.

For a moment they sat and looked at each other.

“Well? Coming home with me?” Starsky asked, turning the key.

“Yep. And hey, tomorrow—can we go by the Academy? I told Vanessa several days ago, before all this—I was going to do it. Be a cop.”

“What? And you didn’t tell me?”

Hutch shrugged. “I wasn’t sure I meant it; at the time I said it to hurt her, like she was hurting me. But then I realized, after thinking about it, that just maybe it made sense.”

“Be my partner?”

Hutch smiled. “I think I’ve been your partner a long, long time already.”

Starsky smiled back. “You’re right. You’re always right, Hutch.”

“No, I’m not.”

Starsky pulled away from the curb. “Yeah? When were you wrong?”

“When I let you go.”

Starsky glanced at him sideways. “Now you’re wrong. We had to do that, Hutch. I was leaving for the Army, and you had a family to take care of. It was the right thing to do.”

“I know. Doesn’t make me want you any less.”

“Geeze, Hutch, I got a heart, and it breaks. Don’t you think I feel the same way? Sometimes, it’s all I can do to keep my hands off you. But things can’t change back to the way they were. Especially when we’re in the police department—any whiff of you and me having some sort of love affair could get us killed. I love ya too much to put you in that kind of danger. You think about that before you sign up, you hear me? I want you there, but as my partner on the force. Not as my partner in bed, much as I would give anything to make it possible to do both.”

Hutch stared out his window. Of course Starsky was right, and Hutch knew it, had known it all along. It didn’t change how he felt, or diminish the love he had for the man. But if he joined the force, at least he could be with him. Work with him, be his friend, his partner, his double-date matchmaker. Would it be enough?

It had to be enough.

“I know, Starsk. I know. It’ll be fine.” He offered a weak smile, and Starsky grinned widely back, relief evident on his face.

“This is gonna be great, Hutch. You’ll see.”

As Starsky turned the corner at the end of the street, Hutch looked back at the little house where the last three years of his life had been spent. The memories weren’t good. He looked forward out the windshield, then sideways at his best friend, the only real friend, and lover, he’d ever had.

Yes.

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, it’s gonna be great. I love ya, Starsk.”

Starsky’s smile shines brighter than sunshine.  And he’s shining it on me.

A new life. This time, with Starsky by his side. Partners.

Almost nothing could ever be sweeter.