Free to be You and Me
Starsky wasn’t sure when he’d stopped paying much attention to what she looked like. Molly/Pete Ramos was simply herself—his defacto daughter of nearly fifteen years. If he thought to describe her, he’d have started with her incredible street smarts, her ingenuity, and creativity. The traits that had kept her alive in the horrible days after her father was murdered.
If pressed for more details, he’d have mentioned her fantastic smile, lively brown eyes, and cheerful disposition.
The outline of a thick penis in the front of her pleated blue slacks was not any of those.
“Hutch,” Starsky whispered, nudging his arm.
Engrossed in the lengthy menu of Bay City’s newest eatery, Hutch didn’t immediately look up. “What?” he asked without taking his eyes off the pasta selection.
“Isn’t that Pete?” Starsky inclined his head to the good-looking couple getting up from a table across the restaurant from them. The woman was petite, possibly Japanese or Chinese, with long, silky black hair, and a killer smile. The guy had to be Molly/Pete, dressed a la Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice with a pale blue t-shirt under a white linen jacket and the aforementioned blue slacks. Her light brown hair was spikey short on the top and just past her shoulders in the back. She’d worn it that way for over a year.
Neither Pete nor her date had looked their way as they walked to the exit but Starsky couldn’t unsee what he thought he’d seen. He glanced at his lover. Hutch was peering intently at his menu, but there was an odd expression on his face that made it clear he wasn’t choosing between rigatoni and linguini.
“You saw it, didn’t you?” Starsky hissed.
“Not now, Starsk,” Hutch said with a tight jaw as the waiter walked up. “I’ll have the pasta primavera.”
He hadn’t even checked the menu’s full list. “Uh—steak and potato?” Starsky ordered quickly to get the waiter to leave.
“Yes.” Hutch rubbed his neck, just above his green silk Windsor knotted tie. “That was Molly.”
“Actin’ like a guy, with a…” Starsky didn’t want to be so crass to say it out loud in a crowded restaurant. They might never be able to eat here again, and he kind of liked the slightly elegant, but informal atmosphere where he wasn’t out of place in an open necked red shirt and jeans next to Hutch’s sartorial splendor. “We gotta talk to her. She could get arrested.”
He took a quick look around the large room. Diners were focused on their meals and dinner companions, and few seemed to be listening to what he was saying. It might be 1990, but he and Hutch still had to be so careful. No overt signs of affection in public, no acting ‘homosexual’ as conservative critics ranted about in the newspapers and on TV.
He’d never really considered that Pete might be gay, as well. It wasn’t something they’d talked about—ever. He and Pete usually talked about baseball. When they got into more heavy discussions, those subjects were wide-ranging, from her stint in the army which had ended the year before, or her burgeoning interest in medicine. Ever since he’d become a nurse, while she was in basic training to go to Iraq, she’d expressed an interest in nursing, too.
“She’s just acting out…” Hutch shrugged as if defeated by having to explain their foster daughter’s thoughts. “Maybe it was a joke, or a dare?”
“I dunno.” Starsky took a deep breath, waiting until the bar waitress delivered their beers. “She’s never been…real girly, has she?”
“No one expects girls to wear dresses any more,” Hutch muttered, taking a sip.
“You think she’s gay?” Starsky asked, trying to muddle it through in his head. Pete was just Pete. Or Molly, as her late adoptive mother had always insisted.
“Yes. Don’t you?” Hutch countered. “Starsk, she’s never had a boyfriend. She was with that lovely girl, with her arm around her waist. You were a detective, what other conclusion would you make?”
“I just never thought about it. Really,” Starsky said defensively. “Now I know how my ma musta thought.” He raised his pitch like an old Jewish woman, “But he always liked girls, my boychik.”
“And so does Molly/Pete,” Hutch said dryly, clearly hedging his bets.
“I did see you.” Pete slouched against the wall of Bay City Hospital as Starsky and Hutch left after their shifts. “At the Palm Grove.”
She wore a classic Beatles t-shirt Starsky recognized as one of his old hand me downs, and a pair of fashionable baggy jeans. No noticeable bulge at the groin.
“Hey, Pete!” he greeted over-enthusiastically, even to his own ears. “Whatcha doing here?”
“What you suggested, interviewing for a ward clerk job, which’ll look good on my nursing school application,” she said, giving Hutch a hug and then Starsky.
“Wise move.” Hutch grinned, lifting his eyebrow at Starsky. “You told her to do that?”
“Hey, it worked for me.” Starsky nodded. “You wanna get something to eat, Pete?”
“I want…” Her bravado seemed to utterly drain away. “I need to talk. Can we go to your place and maybe order a pizza?”
“Sure.” Starsky pointed to his latest joy, a bright red Mazda Miata. “My car only has two seats unless you want to sit on the trunk.”
That made her laugh. “I drove my truck. I’ll see you in a few?”
“Plan on it,” Hutch assured, glancing at Starsky.
Starsky had the uneasy feeling that he wasn’t going to enjoy the conversation. That called for comfort pizza—lots of pepperoni and sausage, with garlic bread on the side. And beer. Luckily, Round Table delivered.
Pete had Kiko in tow when she arrived, making Starsky doubly glad he’d ordered two larges. He hung up the phone as they walked in.
Kiko pulled a beer out of the plastic six-pack ring, claiming a place on the couch without saying a word. On the other hand, Pete was fidgety in a way that reminded Starsky of himself. He wished Hutch would finish up his shower so they could provide a united front.
Pete tapped the pot of one of Hutch’s orchids as if she’d suddenly become an avid horticulturist before moving on a trio of Starsky’s framed black and white photos. The first was of he and Hutch horsing around on a playground roundabout. The second was Pete and Kiko both doing cartwheels at the same time and the third was a bunch of the babies in Hutch’s intensive care nursery decked out with bunny ears for a past Easter celebration.
“I got us pepperoni,” Starsky said to break the weird silence in the room. “Unless, you’re going vegetarian or something? Should I change the order?”
“No, no!” Pete declared at the same time as Kiko. She glared, then sat next to him with an exasperated sigh.
“You gotta spit it out, Pete,” Kiko said, half sympathetically but also big brother rough.
“I’m only going through this once.“ She hunched her shoulders, elbows planted on her knees. “When Hutch gets here.”
“I’m here,” Hutch said, coming from the bathroom smelling all soapy clean in a blue turtleneck and cords. He freed a beer from its plastic ring collar and took a long swallow. “Starsk? You want to shower before the food comes?”
“No!” Starsky and Pete said at the same time.
“Jinx.” Kiko laughed like the schoolyard kid he had been before marriage and two children.
“This is serious!” Pete barked and was abruptly close to tears.
“Hey.” Hutch sat beside her, putting an arm around her shoulders. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Me,” she said miserably. “I’m wrong.”
His heart wrenched in empathetic pain, Starsky plunked down on the coffee table to put a hand on her knee. Kiko was holding her hand, the four of them linked.
“I’m not---“ Pete furiously wiped her eyes. “Not a girl.”
Hutch caught his breath as if he was going to speak, but didn’t.
“But you are,” Kiko said reasonably, his eyebrows drawn together in confusion. “I usta see you sometimes when we were at the pool.”
“I don’t feel like a girl,” she said, staring at the ground. “I never have.” She pressed a hand against her chest, “Inside, I feel like a boy.”
Starsky flashed on a book he’d read years before, about a tennis player, Rene Richards. Richards stunned the sports world by changing from male to female in the mid seventies.
“Are you sure?” was all he could think to say.
Pete nodded, finally raising her head. “I don’t want to be a girl. I’ve tried and I’ve tried.” She looked over at her brother, searching his face for a moment before looking at Starsky and Hutch. “I want to be a man.”
“Oh, Mol—“ Hutch stopped himself, concern written all over. “Pete, won’t that be difficult?”
“Not as difficult as pretending to be a pretty little girl all these years.” She swallowed, lifting her chin bravely. “I’ve thought about this for a long, long time.”
“I kinda knew you were unhappy,” Kiko confessed. “Especially since you came back from the service. Maybe it’s like stress?”
“No, it’s me. Who I’m supposed to be.” She tapped her chest, which had always been flat for a girl.
Now that Starsky looked, he saw she had hardly any breast development at all. Some kind of detective he was—all those investigative skills Hutch had alluded to the night before had utterly abandoned him when seeing his own family member. He felt a deep sadness for her, but also overwhelming relief. At least she wasn’t dying of cancer. “Are you already on hormones?” This was something, ironically, he understood. He’d cared for patients born with ambiguous genitalia who often needed to take male or female hormones.
“Yes.” One side of her mouth twitched up. “Been two months. It’s amazing, the changes…”
“But no surgery,” Hutch cautioned.
“No.” She leaned against him, clearly relieved that they were accepting her decisions. “That’s not in the cards, for now. I just improvise when I have to.” She placed a hand over her crotch.
“I know I’m repeating what he said, but it’s only because I want to protect you,” Hutch said quietly, looking over at Starsky instead of Pete. “God knows, Starsky and I have had it rough, living together, but that didn’t change who we were. Are you sure you want to walk this path?”
Pete paused, clearly not sure how to express her innermost needs. “I’m not changing who I am, because Molly wasn’t really me. I am becoming the person I should have been all along.”
“Did you wait until Mama died?” Kiko asked cautiously, sadness coloring his words.
She nodded, tears glistening in her eyes. “I had to, for her sake. But I’ve known for sure since Iraq. I thought if I could endure that—I deserved to be me.”
“Amen.” Hutch hugged her, bending his face against her shoulder.
Starsky would bet even money that Hutch was crying. His own eyes pricked with tears. Luckily, the doorbell rang, startling them all. “Pizza’s here!” Starsky called out, grabbing the cash he’d left on the coffee table. “Time to eat.”
They all liked pepperoni. They all drank beer. This was family. In the end, love had to win, or they all lost.
He’d had a foster daughter and son, now he had two foster sons. Pete hadn’t changed that much; he still had incredible street smarts, ingenuity, and creativity, not to mention a fantastic smile, lively brown eyes, and cheerful disposition.
He fit the same place in Starsky’s heart as always. No alterations there whatsoever.