Lights in the Darkness
As Hutch drove into work one Friday at the beginning of June, worried thoughts, that were never far away even when he tried to ignore them, came crowding back in. It seemed that nagging concern was his constant companion these days when it came to his partner. On the surface Starsky seemed fine but Hutch was pretty sure that just below the façade of normality was a dam of grief about to burst, breaching the containing walls that Starsky had built up around himself.
Hutch wondered what his partner was doing today. He wasn’t sure because Starsky had been almost non-responsive yesterday and today he had the day off. It was a vacation day, which Starsky had booked at the start of the year and then forgotten about. When the roster came out and he’d seen he was off-duty, Hutch had half-thought that Starsky might try to cancel his leave and take it later in the year but, instead, his friend had looked glumly at him and said, “Might as well have a day off even if…” Starsky’s voice had trailed away to nothing as it so often seemed to these days and he had just shrugged and then concentrated on filling in the report he was writing.
Originally, the weekend had been planned as a celebration of Terry’s birthday. Starsky and she had booked a cottage in a little cove along the coast from Laguna Beach and organised the weekend off so they could go away and spend some time together without distractions. June was also the start of The Sawdust, a festival held in Laguna Beach every summer, which they both wanted to visit.
Hutch sighed as he thought about the fact that Terry was no longer here to celebrate her birthday or anything else. Hutch missed her constantly and still sometimes found himself expecting to see her and then suddenly remembering…then the loss would hit him all over again. Following on, only four and a half months after he had himself suffered the loss of Gillian, he could very well imagine the see-saw of emotions Starsky was feeling. He could only go on his own experience and try to divine what was going on in Starsky’s head because his partner had stopped talking about it.
It was just over three months since Terry had passed; and just under three months since they had both opened their presents from Terry and Hutch had been charged by her to look after Ollie and Starsky – he understood that it wasn’t that Terry thought he wouldn’t look after Starsky anyway, it was more that she’d entrusted him to take special care of him while his best friend was grieving.
It was just over two months since Hutch had last seen Starsky cry; and just less than two months since his friend had last spoken Terry’s name out loud. It was just over a month since Starsky had looked at Hutch with despair shadowing his eyes when they’d passed a church where a wedding was taking place; and just under a month since Hutch had seen Starsky give a genuinely unclouded smile – as time went on Starsky seemed to be smiling less and less.
Now it was one week since Hutch had asked him if he was sleeping any better and had been given the response: “I’m sleeping fine.” Hutch knew it was a lie. Starsky knew he knew it was a lie.
Hutch wasn’t blind; he could see that the dark circles under his best friend’s eyes had gotten worse not better; he had also noted that Starsky’s skin, usually a warm golden olive tone, was uncharacteristically pale. Starsky himself seemed paper thin to Hutch, as if his friend was in danger of crumbling to dust – it was like all the joy had been sucked from him leaving him desiccated and at the mercy of the slightest puff of air. Hutch hated seeing Starsky like this but he didn’t know how to help his friend.
Since losing Gillian, Hutch knew all about grief – he knew it came in waves, ever changing with its depth and strength. Starsky had supported him through his own battle but Hutch had given him something to work with. He had talked about his loss, about her. He had recalled good memories. He had wept. He was nowhere near healed but he did at least feel there was hope that one day he would be. He wasn’t so sure about Starsky.
In Hutch’s opinion, Starsky hadn’t even begun to deal with his feelings. Instead his friend had buttoned down all his emotions, pushing them away out of sight. Starsky was always good at listening to other people and offering support, and a hug if needed. He wasn’t so good at opening up about how he himself was really feeling and Hutch was sure that this was the weekend that the whole chamber of suppressed grief was going to reach the point of eruption. He didn’t think Starsky should have to face that by himself…and, anyway, he’d promised Terry that he’d take care of him.
After his shift, Hutch went round to see his partner so he could arrange to spend Terry’s birthday with him. He wasn’t going to take no for an answer. It was a little after five-thirty when Hutch pulled up outside Starsky’s apartment and he was surprised to see the Torino was missing. Even so, he went and knocked on Starsky’s door just to check his friend definitely wasn’t home. Wondering where Starsky could be, Hutch drove to Huggy’s. There was no sign of Starsky’s car outside but Hutch went inside to make sure. Huggy spotted him and came over.
“Greetings my friend. If you’re looking for your amigo, I haven’t seen him since last night.”
“Last night?” Hutch queried with surprise.
“Yeah, last night. I was surprised to see him here on his own. He arrived late, had a few beers, didn’t talk much and then left.”
Hutch frowned. Starsky had said he was going straight home after he’d dropped Hutch off after work yesterday.
“You lost him since your shift ended?” Huggy said with a raised eyebrow.
“He had a day off today so I haven’t seen him all day. He’s not at home...If you see him, Hug, tell him I’m looking for him…I’ll go check the beach and then go home.”
“Everything all right? Only you look worried, my friend.”
Hutch swallowed. “It would have been Terry’s birthday this weekend.”
“Oh, I see.” Huggy nodded and his face turned sombre. “I’ll keep an eye out. If he comes in, I’ll pass the message on and I’ll also ring you,” he promised.
Hutch drove to the beach – first searching the end with the dunes where they loved to jog or walk – then the place where they went when they were in the mood for fishing and quiet contemplation. Starsky was nowhere to be seen.
“Where are you Starsk?” Hutch said out loud. He walked back to his car, pausing to look heavenward for inspiration. “He wouldn’t have gone by himself, would he? Surely not,” but the more he thought about it the more it seemed likely that Starsky had taken himself off to Laguna Beach.
Hutch deliberated. Should he just leave Starsky to it and hope he was okay or should he try to find out where he’d gone and check on him?
Starsky guided the Torino down the windy, bumpy lane and pulled to a stop outside a small house called ‘Sailor’s Retreat’. He walked up the carefully laid pebble pathway and knocked on the door. A middle-aged lady in striped, flared trousers and a yellow shift top answered the door.
“Hi. I’m David Starsky. I’ve rented ‘Ocean View’ for the weekend.”
Mrs Leyton smiled at him and held out her hand. “Very pleased to meet you. Hang on a minute and I’ll get the key for you.”
While he waited, Starsky turned and surveyed the panoramic scene from the garden. It was certainly a breath-taking view of the ocean from where this house was situated in this particular cove.
“Lovely view,” he commented when Mrs Leyton reappeared with the key.
“Yes, especially on a day like today. Have you any particular plans for the weekend?”
“No, we-I thought I might take a look at the Sawdust Festival while I’m here.”
“Oh definitely, The Sawdust is a must,” Mrs Leyton said. “It’s just getting started this weekend but they’ll be folks from all over coming to see the arts and crafts and join in the workshops. Have you booked in for any while you’re here?”
“No, just thought I’d take a walk around tomorrow, see what’s going on.”
“Well, the weather’s set fair so you should have a good day tomorrow. Now, here’s the key. Drive on about five hundred yards and you’ll see ‘Ocean View’. It’s the last property in the lane so it’s nice and quiet. I’ve left you some fresh bread, milk and eggs. If you need anything else, there’s a little shop at the top of the lane leading to the old coast-guard house and of course there’s lots of shops in Laguna itself. Hope you enjoy yourself and, if you need anything at all while you’re here, just give me a call.”
Starsky shoved the key into his jacket pocket and headed back to his car. He drove the few hundred yards up the gradually sloping lane and came to stop outside a little one storey cottage with a parking bay just in front of its gate. There was also a space to turn around for vehicles, which had made the mistake of taking the lane that led to this cottage but no further. Starsky unloaded his suitcase and a box of supplies from the trunk of the car and then pushed through the wooden gate into the small garden. A path led around the side of the cottage and from behind a high hedge, he could hear the splashing of waves on rocks below. He unlocked the front door and walked into the bright, sunny kitchen. There was a large wooden table with a loaf of bread on it and a basket of eggs. Starsky placed his box of food items on the table beside the fresh loaf and sniffed the air appreciatively. There was also a bunch of white roses in a jug standing in the centre of the table – it made him feel very welcome.
Starsky went to look around and found the large double bedroom, bathroom and a sitting room with a pair of large doors which led out into another garden. He was drawn to look through the glass and gave an involuntary gasp. Unhooking the latch, he pushed both doors open and stepped out onto the lawn, walking past a set of blue and white table and chairs and on towards the low stone wall which enhanced rather than blocked the wonderfully panoramic view of the cove and the waves crashing against the rocks under the warm June sun.
He noticed a small set of stone steps that led down to the beach below. He stood there for a while, just breathing in the salty air and enjoying the sun on his face. It was ocean and sand just like near home and yet it smelled different. There was a tang in the air that he’d never smelled in Bay City. It reminded him of oranges.
“You’d have loved this Terry,” he couldn’t help thinking and instantly his face clouded and he sighed.
He returned to the cottage and set about unpacking his few belongings. Once everything was stowed away in the white chest of drawers, he went and unpacked the food items and found space for them in the fridge and cupboards. He put half the beer bottles he had brought with him in the fridge; half in the cupboard under the sink. He noted there was fresh pat of butter in a glass dish and decided to make a sandwich with the fresh bread and some pastrami he’d brought with him. He wrapped it in some grease proof paper he found in a drawer, grabbed a bottle of beer and set out towards the beach. Once down in the cove, he found a rocky outcropping where he had a good view of the waves, but wouldn’t get wet, and sat and ate his sandwich as the gulls wheeled in the sky overhead.
His thoughts turned to Terry and how she should be sat next to him. He tried to think what she might have said about the view, what she might have worn for their trip, what she would have wanted to do first on their weekend away. With a heavy heart, he found his mind was blank. Not being able to imagine a single detail scared him – it was as if he hadn’t just lost her physically but somehow she had been erased from the world and his memory. He stared hopelessly out towards the horizon. There was a growing darkness inside that couldn’t be dispersed even by the brilliant sunshine warming the air around him.
Hutch used the spare key to get into Starsky’s place and double-checked that he was correct and his friend had gone away for the weekend. The wardrobe was missing some shirts and jeans and Starsky’s brown leather jacket was nowhere in sight. Hutch checked the back of the wardrobe and saw Starsky’s small suitcase was gone.
He picked up the phone and rang the only person who might know exactly where Starsky was.
“Ma. It’s Ken. I’m looking for David. Has he been with touch you today?”
“Yes, dear. He rang me early this morning as he was going away for the weekend. Didn’t you know?”
“No. I mean I knew he had the weekend off, I just wasn’t sure what he was planning on doing with it…Has he gone to Laguna Beach, where he was going to go with Terry?”
Mrs Starsky sounded sad as she said, “Yes, that’s right. It would have been her birthday, wouldn’t it? She was such a sweet girl. I really miss her…He’s gone to the cottage they booked…I did ask him if he still thought it was a good idea but…he didn’t want to talk about it….said he needed some peace and quiet.”
Hutch chewed on his lip then asked, “He didn’t leave you a number or any way to contact him, did he? It’s just I thought I might spend Terry’s birthday with him. I’m not sure being alone all weekend will be good for him.”
“Yes, he gave me the number of the cottage owner.” Mrs Starsky waited while Hutch grabbed a pen and paper and then dictated it to him. She added, “I think you’re right, Ken. I don’t think he should be alone for the whole weekend, especially this weekend. He’s talked about Terry very little, which I don’t think is healthy, and I don’t think he’s sleeping all that well, despite what he says, he just seems so tired all the time.”
Even from nearly three thousand miles away, Starsky’s Mom could still tell when something was wrong.
“I think you’re right, Ma. He’s still not sleeping properly. I think I will go check on him.”
Mrs Starsky breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. I know you’ll take good care of my pig-headed son even if he doesn’t think he needs it. I’m glad you’re there for him, Ken.”
“Always will be,” Hutch said. “Try not to worry. I’ll find him and make sure he’s okay.”
Starsky came back from the beach and cooked himself some pasta. He tried to eat it but after struggling through half a plateful, he gave up and took a handful of beer bottles out into the garden. It was a warm evening and dusk was just beginning to fall. He pulled out two of the chairs and arranged them near the table so that he could sit on one and put his feet up on the other.
As the deep blue sky grew darker and the first stars of evening began to appear, he tried again to think about Terry. He was starting to realise that he might have made a mistake coming here. He had thought it might help him rest and get some of his zest for life back but he was just so tired - tired of pretending he was okay; tired of pretending he was sleeping and eating; tired of pretending he was a living, breathing human being when what he really felt like was a machine going through the motions of daily living but not able to feel anything….except loneliness. He had never felt more alone in his life.
Some dark night when you’re all alone, just close your eyes and I’ll be there waiting. Terry’s words came softly to mind. He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, they were full of tears.
“Where are you, Terry? I need you. You said you’d be here but I can’t feel you, I can’t feel nothing no more.”
Starsky took another swig of beer and looked out over the darkened ocean view. There was no moon but there were now thousands of twinkling lights scattered across the black sky. As he gazed upwards, he saw a shooting star and blinked – not sure if he had really seen anything or whether it was his teary eyes playing tricks on him. Then another flash of light zipped across the skyline – it was faint but it was there.
In his head, he heard Terry’s voice, “See. Told you we’d see Etta Axes and you didn’t believe me!”
He recalled the argument they’d had in January, when they’d been deciding where to go for their weekend away. Starsky had wanted to go to somewhere like San Diego or Santa Barbara, with fun city things to do; Terry had said they should go to Laguna Beach so they could experience The Sawdust, a well-known arts and crafts festival, and also somewhere quiet with dark skies where they could see the Eta Aquariids.
He remembered getting the name muddled up and they’d ended up calling them the Etta Axes; pretending that it was the name of a soul-singer, who wore a star spangled costume and talked with a strong Southern drawl. Terry had been fun like that with a dopey sense of humour just like his. He almost smiled as he remembered the conversation.
He’d looked up the calendar for meteor showers in a book, which his Mom had given him one birthday when he was a kid, and found that the Eta Aquariids were seen between April and May. They were meteor showers created by debris from the Comet Halley and usually peaked early on in May.
“We won’t see them sweetheart. They’ll be done by June,” Starsky had pointed out.
“We will see them. I know I went to Laguna Beach with my parents when I was little, around my birthday, and we saw shooting stars. I’m certain of it,” Terry had insisted. “Please Dave…That’s where I’d like to spend my birthday.”
When she’d gotten that cute, pleading tone in her voice, he hadn’t been able to resist her anything. So they’d booked a cottage near Laguna Beach and now, here he was seeing shooting stars, her shooting stars.
He swallowed and whispered to Terry, “I couldn’t have been more wrong, honey. You were right. Miss Etta Axes is putting on a show just for us.”
He kept his eyes fixed on the sky, hoping to see more white flashes.
From somewhere in the distance, he heard a car slowly making its way down the lane that led to the cottage. He expected to hear it stop outside the Leytons but instead it kept on coming, finally pulling up at the side of the property. Curious, Starsky clambered to his feet and walked around the side of the cottage in time to see Hutch getting out of his car. He stopped in surprise and stood there gawking. Hutch grabbed a bag from the back seat of his car and then closed the door and locked it. He walked through the gate and along the short path towards the front door, only spotting Starsky at the last minute. He halted abruptly and they stared at each other.
“Hutch? What are you doing here?”
Hutch looked awkward for a moment and then said simply, “Just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
Starsky didn’t know whether to frown or smile so he just shook his head. Then he nodded in the direction of the back garden. “Come on then. You may as well enjoy the show while it lasts.”
Intrigued, Hutch followed Starsky round to the back of the property and saw the table and the chair where Starsky had been sitting. Starsky dragged another one out of the pile and set it up for Hutch.
“There you go, partner. Sit yourself down.”
Hutch dumped his bag just inside the opened doors that led to the living room and then sat down, helping himself to a beer and popping the lid with the bottle opener.
“What are we-“
“Ssh. No talking. Just look up and you might get to see one of Terry’s shooting stars.”
Hutch raised his head and blinked at the beautiful sight. He and Starsky sat in companionable silence for another twenty minutes. Hutch was just about to ask whether Starsky had seen any meteors or was just hoping to when he saw a tiny flash go across the sky.
“You see it?” Starsky asked, with an excitement that had been missing for so long edging his voice.
“Yeah, I saw it. Beautiful.”
“Terry said we’d see ‘em. I didn’t believe her ‘cause all the books said they finish in May but she was sure…and she was right.”
Hutch raised his bottle towards Starsky. “To Terry.” Then he raised his bottle to the sky as he said, “To you lovely lady.”
Starsky blinked back tears. He raised his beer towards Hutch but didn’t speak. Then he looked back up at the sky.
“You okay Starsk?...I was worried when I realised you’d come here…wasn’t sure it was a good idea, coming here on your own. That’s why I found out where you were from your Mom and followed you…I hope that was okay.”
Starsky sighed and then looked at Hutch. “I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea myself…When I got here I thought I’d made a mistake…It started to get dark and I started to feel…” His eyes tried to say what he couldn’t.
“You started to feel dark too,” Hutch suggested. “Feeling like you’re stuck in the dark and you can’t see where you’re going.”
“Yeah…that’s it,” Starsky agreed. He took another sip of beer. Through tears, he said, “When Terry was…Just before she…She said that if there was ever a dark night and I was all alone, I had to close my eyes and I’d see her…Well, I closed my eyes but I couldn’t see her Hutch. For a minute, I couldn’t remember what her face looked like. I couldn’t feel her close, I couldn’t feel nothing. I told her. I said it out loud and then I saw them.”
He pointed up to the sky. After a minute, he turned back to Hutch.
“Think she arranged it – for me to see those stars.”
Hutch smiled. “If anybody could, Terry could.”
“Yeah, bet she’s got it all arranged up there,” Starsky said, smiling through the tears that were starting to gather in his eyes. “She’s got the little angels playing basketball and the big angels cheering them on. What d’ya reckon?”
With his own eyes filling with tears, Hutch said, “Sounds just about right.”
Wiping a hand across his eyes, Starsky said, “I miss her Hutch.”
“Me too buddy.”
“It hurts remembering her but…it was worse not being able to remember what she looked like…Why’d that happen Hutch? Why have I been having trouble remembering? Did that happen to you…with Gillian?”
Hutch shook his head. “Not exactly…I found I could only remember bad things to start with, only remember seeing her…you know…but you helped me through that. You made it better. You made the good memories come back.”
“Yeah buddy. You did. You let me talk about her. You let me rant. You let me cry…I’ve been waiting for you to do any of those things and you haven’t…Why’ve you kept it all bottled up Starsk? I can’t help if you don’t tell me how you’re feeling.”
Starsky sighed. “I could say I didn’t want to burden ya – what with Gillian and you loving Terry too – thought it might be too much for ya…but that’s only part of it…It hurt too much to talk about her the first few weeks and then…it was like everything froze and I couldn’t talk about her or…I don’t know what…but tonight…thinking about her, remembering…It’s better remembering.”
Hutch placed his hand on Starsky’s shoulder. “That’s good Starsk. So it’s okay for me to talk about her now? I felt like I couldn’t say her name without you wincing but I don’t want to forget her either and anytime you want to talk, to remember, you just let me know. I’m here for you. Me and you can get through all this stuff if we do it together.”
Starsky almost smiled as he shook his head and Hutch looked surprised at the gesture. “Me and you? Me and thee, babe. Get it right.”
Hutch laughed and cuffed Starsky’s ear. “Yeah, all right, me and thee. I know.”
When it got too cold to stay outside, they went in and made hot chocolate to warm themselves up. Hutch went out to his car and brought in the sleeping bag he’d packed just in case it was needed. Starsky found some spare pillows in the top of the closet and Hutch was glad to see there was a decent sized couch that he could spend the night on.
Around midnight, Starsky started yawning and after a few minutes said he was going to go to bed. Hutch went and looked in on his friend a few minutes later and found he was out for the count. Hutch settled down and was soon fast asleep. When he woke up the sun was shining and the birds were singing. Otherwise, all was quiet. He walked as softly as he could to the bedroom and peered in. Starsky appeared to be in exactly the same position he had been in when he’d fallen asleep and didn’t look likely to wake any time soon. Hutch was glad.
After a light breakfast, he changed into sneakers and went off for a run along the beach, leaving Starsky a note in case he woke up and wondered where he’d gone. When he came back, he found a bleary-eyed Starsky just making some coffee in the kitchen.
“Hey, you slept well,” Hutch asked. “How are you feeling?”
“Still tired but better…better than I have for a while anyway,” Starsky said.
“Good. What’s the plan for today?”
Starsky sipped his coffee. “I still think I’d like to look around The Sawdust, if that’s okay with you? I think there’s lots of cafes – we could get some lunch, mooch around the stalls. Terry said she remembered there was some beautiful glasswork when she came as a kid.”
“Sounds good. I’ll have a quick shower and then we can go.”
Half an hour later, the two of them drove the short distance to Laguna Beach and parked the car. The beach front area was already busy with lots of locals and tourists visiting the festival. They walked along between stalls, pausing every so often to look at the beautiful seascapes on offer – both paintings and photographs – and admiring the pottery and carved woodwork on display. They found a little café down a side street and stopped for a relaxed lunch before walking further along the promenade.
Starsky spotted the glass blowing demonstration was about to start and they watched in fascination as the artisan blew beautifully coloured and subtly curved shaped vases out of the molten sand. After the demonstration was finished, they went to look around the workshop and see the items she had for sale. Hutch stopped to look at a hanging glass sunflower ornament and find out the price of it while Starsky wandered a little further along the shelves of glassware.
A deep blue glass bowl caught his eye. As he got nearer he could see there were flecks of white in it. When he got close enough to pick it up, he realised that the little bursts of white were shaped like elongated stars. He loved the feel of the heavy glass in his hands and turned it over carefully to see what it looked like underneath. There was a small label with the price and some writing on it: ‘”Lights” – It’s only in the dark that stars can guide you home.’
Hutch appeared at Starsky’s shoulder.
“What have you found, Starsk?”
Starsky handed him the bowl and Hutch looked it over and read the label.
“I like that. Seems to fit with the weekend and with last night especially.”
“I think you should buy it. I’ll pay half if you like. It’ll be like we’re buying a present for Terry to celebrate her birthday. What do you think?”
“I like that. It sounds like a nice idea,” Starsky said, with a grateful smile.
He and Hutch went and paid for the dish and waited while it was carefully wrapped by the stall holder. Then they took it back to the car and Hutch gently held onto it as they drove back to the cottage.
That evening, they placed the bowl in the middle of the table and Hutch produced a small candle in a jar, which he placed in the centre of the dark blue glass bowl and lit before they sat down to eat their meal. He and Starsky raised their glasses and wished Terry a happy birthday. Hutch was pleased to see Starsky’s smile was back even though he had tears in his eyes at the same time.
“I’m glad you’re here, Hutch. You’ve helped make this weekend bearable.”
Hutch smiled. “I’m glad I could help…You had me worried for a while, buddy, but you seem more ‘you’ tonight.”
Starsky grinned ruefully. “I feel more like me. This is going to sound silly but…I feel like I can feel Terry here, smiling…Does that sound crazy?”
Hutch shook his head. “No, she’s here. She’s in our hearts and she’s smiling at me out of your eyes when you talk about her, Starsk, so don’t ever stop, okay?”
Starsky swallowed and nodded. “Yeah, I’ll keep talking and remembering and letting her and her lights guide me through the dark.”
Hutch squeezed his friend’s shoulder and Starsky nodded again and blinked back tears.
“Everything’s not magically better,” Starsky thought, “But I feel like there’s a chance I might get through this and come out the other side smiling. You said you wanted me to go on living, Terry. Well, I’m gonna try. Thanks for loving me and thanks for still being with me. Happy Birthday honey. Love ya.”
Starsky felt a warmth spread down his back as if he was being hugged from behind and held his breath for a moment.
Hutch looked at him. “Starsk? You okay?”
Starsky patted Hutch’s arm. “I’m good, pal. Really good…and almost happy.”
Hutch smiled in response to the smile on Starsky’s face. His friend wasn’t back to a hundred percent Starsky but the tone in his voice was happier than it had been for some time and the smile he gave Hutch was genuine. Hutch had high hopes that it was a sign of happier days to come. He felt that his friend had turned a corner. There would be ups and downs but hopefully both of them would be able to look after each other and keep heading in the right direction. They were lucky to have known Terry and they were very lucky that they still had each other to hold onto in times of sorrow. It was more than a lot of people had and Hutch knew they should both be very, very grateful.