Hutch See’s his Man
(yes, the apostrophe there is intentional)
Hutch would not have normally stepped inside Bay City Mall of his own volition. He loathed the aggressive sales pitches and ultra glossy interior with its bright colors, piped muzak and attractive plantings all created to seduce the shopper into buying more unnecessary stuff. Starsky, on the other hand, loved wandering through the shops like some kid in a toy store, and then relaxing beside the koi pond with an Orange Julius and a Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie.
There in lay the dilemma. The memory of those bygone days gave Hutch a much needed smile, causing him to linger in the food court, gazing at the orange and black fish in the raised pool. Two children, each clutching an ice cream cone, happily splashed their fingers in the water. He’d last been there in March, for Starsky’s birthday, because Starsky insisted on buying his annual pair of beloved blue adidas sneakers with the white stripes.
Here it was mid-July. Hutch would have been far more at ease hiking in Griffith Park but he had an agenda, and not a lot of time to get it done. Exactly two months after Starsky’s nearly fatal gunshot wounds in the parking lot of the Metro police department, Starsky was ready to be discharged. That called for a celebration of mythic proportions. However, first there was a specific need for new clothes.
Starsky had lost weight: enough that his old jeans had slid off when Hutch brought them into the hospital room to be tried on. Starsky’s look of disappointment had clamped around Hutch’s heart. He wasn’t about to let his best friend leave the hospital in a less than grand style. If that meant broaching the decadent halls of the local mall, so be it.
Marching past the Orange Julius stand, one of the few offerings in the food court Hutch actually enjoyed, he headed resolutely toward Buffums department store. If he accomplished his goal, he could indulge in the delicious creamy orange juicy concoction.
The men’s department was on the second floor of the store, which meant traipsing past the stinky perfume department. Three overly made-up matrons attempted to sniper fire cologne at him. The heavy musk scent hung in a cloud of manliness, but Hutch dodged the onslaught, escaping with only the clinging odor in his nose.
Wishing it wasn’t against local ordinances to whip out his magnum on a group of biddies clustered around the men’s skin care counter, he leveled his forefinger at them from the relative safety of fashionable chapeaus.
“What part of no do you not understand?” he snarled. Hackles raised, he powered past without glancing left or right, intent on the elevator.
Low volume music played as he rode up to the second floor, the tune invading his brain. He wasn’t aware he was singing along until a little girl just ahead of him on the moving stair turned to give him a dazzling grin, complete with missing front teeth.
“Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean, to a day—“
“My name’s Jean,” she said. “I love that song.”
Caught off guard, Hutch matched her smile. “I like it, too.”
“Jean!” A woman in a green pantsuit with the smooth sweep of hair of a mint Barbie doll grabbed the sweet child’s hand, practically lifting her off the elevator. “What have I said about talking to strange men!”
They disappeared into the children’s department before Hutch could protest that he wasn’t strange. Fully aware that would not have convinced the mother in the least, he tucked Jean’s happiness into his internal vault for safekeeping. She was the sort who spread smiles like contagious joy.
Exactly as Starsky did. During an investigation, Starsky could be intense, focused and occasionally scary as hell when he was hunting a killer. His flip side was a vibrant enthusiasm for life. He held onto bliss, leaping into whatever took his fancy with an optimism Hutch had never been able to muster. Sure, he found pleasure, particularly when he was with Starsky, but he was a dyed in the wool pessimist, certain his own happiness would be ripped away at any moment.
Which had almost happened two months ago. One minute he and Starsky were laughing, using banter as lover’s words, hiding their romance in plain sight with barbs and jokes. The next moment, he was terrified out of his mind, blasting the magnum with single-minded purpose as the assassins’ stolen police car rocketed out of the Metro parking lot.
That first sight of Starsky lying on the blacktop, curled in agony from three bullets, would haunt him forever. No one should ever witness the man they’d lain with the night before bleeding out on the ground.
No one should ever have to scream for help before flipping their lover over to try to stem the gush of blood from wounds too horrible to comprehend.
In all honesty, there was much of that day Hutch didn’t remember well. Hours spent waiting until he would have attacked the next person who asked how he was doing, except he didn’t have the energy to speak, much less erupt from his chair to take his friends and colleagues on. It had hurt so damned much, and all he could think about on that endless day in May was that if he was in pain, without a wound on him, how much worse must it be for Starsky?
He’d waited out the fear of Starsky dying, and the spiral of dread that he wouldn’t. What if he were left in a vegetative state, alive but unable to respond? Too horrible think about.
The investigation into who and how this grim deed had been perpetuated was probably the only thing that had kept Hutch sane—until Starsky awoke from his prolonged sleep.
His recovery had reversed their usual temperaments. Starsky’s descent into darkness derived from pain, repeated infections, and setbacks. Hutch’s delight was his lover’s survival, no matter how irritable or obstinate Starsky became. As usual, they’d balanced one another, their seesaw of emotions rocking to and fro, until Starsky regained his health and his joi de vive.
Now, there was one more day until they could put the hospital behind them, forging into a new phase of recuperation. Starsky was determined to recertify for the police force, and his resolve had given Hutch new purpose.
Which began with buying new clothes. It wasn’t as if Hutch didn’t purchase his own jeans and shirts. He liked looking stylish and well turned out, as his mother would have said. In fact, he secretly enjoyed dressing Starsky, as well. But the act of shopping could be such a soul-draining endeavor, full of pitfalls and hidden traps. Size ranges, which didn’t seem to conform to a single standard. Prices which rose or fell with a randomness that unnerved him. And vapid sales staff bent on forcing the wrong item on a wary customer simply to get commission.
Hutch stopped in front of a mannequin dressed in jeans and a leather jacket eerily similar to Starsky’s bullet pierced version. He shuddered, the grip of terror still locked in his gut. All he needed was a shirt and a smaller pair of Starsky’s favorite pants. Was that so difficult?
Levis or some other less well-known brand? What exactly was Starsky’s size if the once tighter than his own skin jeans no longer stayed up? Digging into the pocket of his Letterman jacket, Hutch retrieved the sizes Starsky had written down. Best idea would be get two pair of jeans and two shirts, and return whichever didn’t fit?
Feeling more in control of the situation, Hutch selected a red long sleeved Henley without a single qualm. He knew this was a Starsky shirt. Could picture his lover wearing it—and peeling it off Starsky’s body before they burrowed into bed together.
A blue striped, vaguely French nautical style shirt appealed, as well. He flung it over his arm with the Henley.
Emboldened, Hutch grabbed two pair of rival brand jeans, suspecting one, if not both, might fit.
Once he’d paid, he escaped the department store with alacrity. That had not been as bad as he’d feared. He’d allowed all his latent worries about Starsky to cloud his judgment. He was stronger than that!
Which deserved an Orange Julius. And one for Starsky as well.
About to turn right back toward the food court, Hutch spied another shop, the iconic white sign with See’s written in old-fashioned black letters drawing him like a moth to a flame.
Starsky adored See’s. Like any loyal Californian, native or long time resident, he declared that See’s chocolates were the best in the continental U.S., arguing their supremacy over Midwestern favorites Fanny May or Whitman’s sampler. Hutch had been raised on the occasional treat from a local chocolate shop called Greta’s Chocolate Delights. However, once in California, he had to agree, there was nothing like See’s.
Plus, they always gave free samples to everyone who ventured inside a shop. Once there, it was almost impossible to leave without a little white bag full of candies.
He sniffed the chocolate scented interior with a smile. Starsky teased him all the time that he didn’t appreciate the finer things in life—such as chocolate. Which wasn’t in the least true. Hutch liked chocolate just fine, it simply wasn’t a compulsion for him. All things in moderation, as his mother used to say when she’d drink a glass of wine with dinner.
“Daydream Believer!” Jean from the elevator, her mouth smeared with chocolate, greeted him cheerfully as her mother towed her out of the shop.
“Have a wonderful day, Jean,” he replied, suddenly happier than when he’d arrived in the mall. Since the day that Starsky had waked from his coma and smiled at Hutch with instant love.
Now you know how happy I can be, and our good times started then, without a dollar one to spend.
She’d called him a daydream believer… and for the first time in his life, that was exactly what he was. He had daydreams. That Starsky would recover, they would be together and, in the future, whether they were on the police force or doing something else with their lives, they would always be a couple.
“Would you like a sample?” An older lady with silver hair, wearing the traditional white uniform trimmed in black piping, offered him a neat, round chocolate.
“Thank you.” He took it, biting into the sensual creaminess of a Chocolate Butter, one of See’s signature candies. “I’d like a bag—“ He paused to swallow, marveling at the joy such a simple chocolate could provide. “No, a custom box.”
“Very good. Which are your favorites?”
Gazing at the long display counter filled with chocolate delights, Hutch considered his choices. Didn’t matter which were his favorites. What would Starsky like? “Could I have four of Dark Bordeaux and…”
“Hey!” Starsky grinned from his perch on the window seat in his hospital room which overlooked the parking lot. “Thought I spied your squash belching smoke when you drove in.”
“It does not belch smoke,” Hutch retorted, mostly because he was supposed to. It was their game, poke and prod when they couldn’t wrap their arms around each other in public.
“Where you been?” Starsky stood with only a trace of careful movement due to the still painful scars on his chest. His eyes sparkled when Hutch held up the white bag with black letters. “You ventured into—and I quote a certain cop named Hutchinson—that den of inequities?”
“Something to reward the nurses since you’re leaving tomorrow.” Hutch extracted three identical boxes of See’s mixed assortments, placing them on the bedside table. “One for each shift.”
“You already made up for coming in at 2am and setting off the sprinklers. They all rave about the orchids sittin’ on the nurse’s station,” Starsky said, reaching for the candy bag. “Where’s mine?”
“You think I bought you candy?” Hutch scoffed, producing the bag of new clothes instead. “Shirts and jeans, as requested.”
Mollified for half a second, Starsky took out the red Henley. “Okay, so you scored. I’d wear that.”
“You’ve had at least four very similar in all the years I have known you.” Hutch admired the animated face; Starsky’s bright blue eyes, the mole below the right one, just where he would kiss if they weren’t in a hospital room where the nurse could interrupt at any moment.
“Gotta be comfortable.” Starsky made another grab for the See’s bag. “Give it here.”
“Patience.” Hutch had planned this in the car. Just a taste—if he could utilize such an obvious pun—of what would come when they were alone in their own bed. “Sit down, close your eyes, and wait.”
“What d’you got up your sleeve?” Starsky asked suspiciously. He sat primly, bracing his left side with a slight grimace.
“Just my arm.” Hutch shot his sleeve to prove that there was nothing to hide. Waiting until Starsky closed his eyes, he selected a Chocolate Butter from the custom box and touched it to Starsky’s bottom lip.
“Ohhh,” Starsky murmured, baring his teeth to take a bite. “You do love me.”
“I do.” Hutch smiled. The truth just made him happy.