The sound of rain on the roof wakes me up, bringing me slowly out of sleep into a pearl-grey misty dawn. We had a soft, gentle drizzle all night, but now it's getting harder, fat drops pattering through the leaves, and the start of a gurgle in the rain gutter. I stretch a little, feeling my bad leg protest at the change in position. On damp mornings like this, every injury I've ever had makes itself known in a niggle of aches and pains. Old age ain't for sissies, as Starsky is fond of saying.
On the bright side, we're both around to have an old age, something that looked in doubt far too often way back when. Compared to all the godawful possibilities of loss, a bad back and a stiff leg are pretty small potatoes.
I can smell the aroma of fresh bread drifting up the stairs, and my stomach makes a definite noise of interest. Starsky's still asleep, a warm furry lump cuddled up behind me, making soft snuffly snores I can feel against my backbone but otherwise oblivious to the world. I shift myself carefully away from him and slide out of bed. Standing up almost makes me yelp as I put a little too much weight on the sore leg, but I manage to stifle it. I look back to make sure I haven't disturbed my sleeping partner, but outside of burrowing his head a little deeper into the pillow he doesn't stir. Gently, so I don't wake him, I tuck the quilt a little further up around his shoulders. It's not just damp this morning, it's chilly, and he'll have his own aches to deal with when he wakes up.
In the bathroom I splash some water on my face, and take the aspirin bottle out of the cabinet with a sigh. I still hate taking pills, but these days it's either take something for the pain or grump at Starsky all day. One side benefit of maturity, when it finally arrived, was figuring out that just because he'll take it doesn't mean I have to dish it out. I down a couple of tablets, brush my teeth and pad downstairs, my nose following the fragrance of bread.
Even in the damp gloom of a morning like this, the kitchen is cheerful. The blue and white cupboards are brightened with a few touches of Torino red, little stained glass sun catchers and beads decorate the old macramé hanging baskets of peppers, garlic and tomatoes, and Starsky's battered wicker chair is draped with a jewel-toned afghan—a gift last Christmas from Reba and Nicky's girls—that almost glows even in the dim rain-washed light. The smell of bread is much stronger in here, and I'm caught by a sudden memory of my grandmother's kitchen, always redolent of cinnamon and fresh ginger and yeast. She still cooked on a woodstove when I was a boy, and I remember being fascinated by her ability to control the temperature and the timing so her pies or cookies always came out evenly browned and perfectly done.
The timer on the bread machine says there's still ten minutes to go, so while I'm waiting I get down the serving tray and pull the milk out and fire up the cappuccino maker. Neither of these was my idea; it's Starsky who loves kitchen gadgets. We've got a whole cupboard full, including a citrus juicer, a waffle iron, a pasta machine, an ice cream maker, two food processors, a little hand blender (which is just perfect for making health drinks and now carries a label reading "Hutch's sludge only"), a popcorn maker, a nutmeg grater and an electric wok. Some of them are silly wastes of time and money—I think we used the pasta machine once—but a surprising number of them get put to regular use.
A lot of people have had trouble picturing Starsky as domesticated. He had a reputation for playing the field in the old days, sure, but down deep, he's always been an old-fashioned man who wanted a home and a family to look after. I'm probably not the family he originally figured he'd end up with, but once he got me, the principle was the same. Starsky set about nest building with all the energy and enthusiasm of a male bowerbird. The very first thing he brought home after we got together was a crock-pot. They were the latest fad at the time—I think through the eighties we bought nearly a dozen for other people's weddings. It really suited our lifestyle back then: just throw everything in before we left in the morning, and eat whatever came out whenever we got home. Saved us a ton of money on take-out over the years. We still use some of our favorite recipes: Starsky's Mexican chicken and rice, Aunt Rose's beef brisket, Huggy's home-style beans, my vegetable curry. Come to think of it, I should see what ingredients we've got on hand; today looks like a perfect day to cook up something homey and comforting that will stick to our ribs.
The bread machine beeps at me, and I press the button to shut it off. I put on the oven mitts and lift the pan out, shaking the loaf out onto the rack to cool down. This morning's offering is honey and oatmeal, and the earthy, sweetly nutty fragrance makes my stomach rumble again. As soon as they came out, Starsky took to the whole concept of the bread machine like a duck to water. With typical Starsky logic, the guy who won't touch health food with a garden fork has no problem eating whole grain bread provided he bakes it himself. With my not-so-subtle encouragement, for the past few years he's been turning out a constant supply of whole-wheat yogurt bread, pumpernickel, seven-grain peasant loaf, cornbread and challah. Of course, he also turns out a pretty steady stream of raisin bread, cinnamon rolls and sticky buns too, but I console myself with the thought that at least if he makes them himself there's no trans fats or preservatives, and the recipes are usually reasonable as to the amounts of butter and sugar.
The other contraption he pounced on immediately was the cappuccino maker. He said that after half a lifetime of drinking the crud that passed for coffee in the squad room, it would be a treat to be able to enjoy a good cup without having to mortgage an arm at the local Starbucks. (Not that having a cappuccino machine at home stops Starsky from going to Starbucks; he never needs an excuse to sneak a brownie and flirt with a barista.) In the time we took to get the thing figured out well enough to produce consistently good coffee we probably wasted enough money that we could have bought our own Starbucks, but Starsky enjoyed fiddling with it and always cheerfully cleaned up the burned milk and spilled grounds, so I didn't complain too much.
While I'm waiting for the bread to cool enough to slice, I raid the icebox for last night's leftover fruit salad and spoon out two bowls of it. A little dish of yogurt and some honey go on the tray too, along with the two cups of cappuccino. A hearty sprinkle of cinnamon for Starsky's, plain for me, and we're ready to go. By now the bread's cool enough to slice without tearing, so I cut a few generous pieces. As I'm buttering them, I'm hit with another memory of Grandma, pulling a tray of warm rolls out of the oven and handing one over to me with a conspiratorial little smile. Warmth, food, love, home—every generation passes those values on somehow. As well as he knows me, I'm not sure Starsky's ever understood how deeply grateful I am that I have the chance to share my life with someone who showers me with all those things as easily as breathing.
I've heard water running upstairs, so I know Starsky's awake and I don't bother being quiet as I make my way back to the bedroom. He's piled the pillows up against the headboard, and is waiting for me, all tousled grey curls and morning stubble and laugh lines. For a moment, the sight of him is so dear to me that I feel a lump in my throat. I suddenly wish I were bringing him roses and champagne instead of coffee and bread, that it wouldn't embarrass him if I started quoting love poems.
Even though I feel my offering is inadequate, the man himself has no complaints. "A slice of bread, a cappuccino and thou," he says happily, and grabs the tray. "And fruit salad? You're spoilin' me, blondie."
I drop a little kiss on his shoulder. "Can you think of a better way to start a morning like this?" I slide back into bed and stretch my leg out with a relieved sigh.
"Bad?" He reaches over and gives the leg a gentle pat.
"I took some aspirin. It's already easing off."
"Good. In that case, I can think of a better way to start the morning, soon's I've had my coffee." He gives me an exaggerated eyebrow wiggle over the rim of the cup. "Better save some of that honey."
It stopped raining after lunch, but it's still wet and foggy out, chilly enough that I dug the old sweater out of the back of the closet to wrap up in. Hutch's leg's still botherin' him—this kind of weather always makes it act up. He's been pretty quiet, taken aspirin twice, so I know he's gotta be feeling it a lot. Funny: I'm the one who got hurt more, if you add it all up, but I've had fewer long-term problems. Hutch says I'm like a rubber ball: the harder you throw me, the better I bounce. The older I get, some days I feel more like a beanbag.
After breakfast (and dessert) Hutch holed up in the den with the computer and his keyboard. He belongs to this yahoo group for amateur musicians, and a couple times a week, he'll get on line with them for a while. They work on music ideas, go over each other's melodies and lyrics, stuff like that. He and this other guy from the list even sold two songs they wrote together to some folky type singer up in Canada. So far, royalties have come out to about five bucks apiece, but Hutch couldn't be prouder if he won a Grammy.
With all the music he's into—the piano, the guitar, the electric keyboard he uses when he's working with the computer, the alto sax he's tryin' to teach himself (and don't the neighbor's dogs appreciate that)—you'd think Hutch would have bought a big fancy sound system when we moved into the house. Hah. Hutch belongs to the "CDs don't capture the real depth and complexity of the music" party, and he always insisted on carting along his old vinyl 78s and 45s, no matter where we lived. We've got the whole house wired with speakers, but for years they were still hooked up to that crappy old record player of his. I mean, he picked it up at a garage sale back in 1972, for god's sake! It wasn't until he couldn't find needles for it anywhere that he finally broke down and got a CD player.
When they started bringing out the "modern" turntables, Hutch just jumped on the idea. Did the whole Hutchinson "I told you so" routine. Course it took me a while to convince him to actually buy one; sometimes Hutch still acts like there might be a section somewhere in the California penal code about spendin' money on himself.
When I sneak another look in on him, I see he's put the keyboard down and is rubbing his leg. Damn. This is a bad one. Maybe it's time for some of the old-fashioned Starsky TLC. I head into the kitchen, stick the kettle on the stove and dig around in the cupboard for one of Hutch's leaf-and-bark teas. He's not around, so I can laugh a little. It's one of those that are supposed to be good for ladies when they have their time of the month, and I always get a kick out of watchin' Hutch march up to the counter at the health store with it trying to pretend he's not blushing.
When the kettle boils, I fill the teapot and take it upstairs. I find the electric blanket and spread it over the bed, and put the big fleece blanket on top of that. There. Nice and soft and warm. Perfect for sore muscles. Then I pull down a couple of towels and get the massage oil out of the bathroom.
A good massage is pretty well as wild and crazy as we ever get. If you believe the books, we've got a real vanilla sex life for two guys, 'specially two who've lived together this long. Oh, we tried out a lot of different positions—we're lucky we're both pretty strong, and Hutch has those great long legs; that really helps with some of the tricky ones—but neither of us has ever been much for the toys-and-games stuff. When you've been cops as long as we were, there's no big forbidden thrill to putting somebody in handcuffs. The one time we tried it, Hutch got the giggles, and I kept wantin' to remind him he hadn't read me my rights yet. The blindfold didn't work any better: Hutch lasted about a minute and then said in a real funny voice "Damn it, Starsk, I'm going to fall down the fucking stairs!" and that was the end of that.
About the only other thing we've gone for in a big way is the whipped cream and chocolate sauce—Hutch makes one big beautiful blond banana split—and that is fun, as long as I get all the chocolate stuff washed out of my hair before we go to sleep.
When I get back down to the den, Hutch is in the armchair, his leg stretched out in front him, and his eyes closed. His forehead's all creased up, and that beautiful mouth is tightened down so hard his lips are practically gone. He looks tired and old, my poor hurt darlin'. I lean over the back of the chair and slide my arms around him, just holding him and letting him know I'm there. His hands come up to cover mine, and he cuddles his cheek against my shoulder like he's gettin' ready to settle in for a while. But I've got plans, so I don't let him get too comfortable. I lean back and give him a little peck on the forehead.
"Hey, babe, I've got an idea. Let's go upstairs."
His mouth gives a little twitch. "You know, I'm old enough to remember the days when it was customary to buy somebody a drink before the proposition."
"The drink's already waitin' on you. Come on. I've got just what you need to make you feel better."
He shakes his head. "Sorry, Starsk. I'm not going to be good for anything right now." The little embarrassed look he gives me nearly makes me laugh and breaks my heart all at the same time. We almost never say no to each other, even when one of us isn't really in the mood. Sex may not be a cure for everything, but over the years we've figured out our mouths can get us in a lot of trouble, but our bodies just about never steer us wrong.
"That's not what I'm after, dummy. All you need to be good for is lying back and relaxing and lettin' me take of you, okay?" I move round in front of him so I can grab his hand and help haul him upright. It's not that hard. I've thickened up a little as I've got older, but Hutch has thinned down; he doesn't weigh any more now than when he was in the academy. I slip my arm around his waist for a little hug, and we both pretend he isn't leaning on me as we head up the stairs.
When we hit the bedroom, I'm all ready for action. "Get your pants off and lie down."
"And they say romance is dead." One of Hutch's eyebrows is up around where his hairline used to be, but he's smiling for real now, so I just give him a pat on the fanny to move him along. He sits down on the side of the bed, and then jumps up. "It's warm! What did you do?" He pulls back the covers and feels around, like he's worried I might've set a fire or somethin'.
"Just puttin' the electric blanket to use for a change."
"Starsky, we live in southern California. How often does it get cold enough to use an electric blanket?" he grumbles, but yanks down his pants and settles back onto the bed with a sigh. "Oh, yeah, that does feel good."
I slip a towel and a pillow under his knee, to take up some of the weight, and hand him his mug.
He sniffs suspiciously, and takes a little sip. "I'm not sure PMS is my problem right now."
"Nah. You already went through the change. But you're the one that buys that stuff to relax muscles and ease cramps. So drink it all down." I settle down beside him on the bed, and run my fingers carefully over his leg. Then I can't resist: I lean down and kiss him, right where the scars are, once and then again, and then just let my cheek rest there. Under my lips, I can feel the muscles all knotted up tight; the leg even feels a little warm, the way it does when the ligaments get swelled up. No wonder he's hurting.
After a minute, one of Hutch's hands slips over and starts playing with my hair. "Feels better already," he says quietly.
"Now who's the low-rent Romeo?" I tease, but I know I'm not foolin' him. I've always loved Hutch's hands on me, and that hasn't changed in thirty years. I start to work on the worst of the knots, taking it slow and easy, making sure I don't put too much pressure in the wrong places. We've had lots of practice over the years taking care of each other's aches, and if I say so myself, I'm pretty good at this. By the time he's finished his tea, I've got a good steady rhythm going, and I can feel the tension melting out of him.
"I think I may live," he says. When he holds out an arm, I kick off my slippers and slide up next to him, my head on his shoulder, my arm around his waist, and my legs tucked back so I don't undo all the good work I just finished. A cuddled Hutch is a happy Hutch, and for some reason I can always force myself to make the sacrifice. "My back says it'll be a nice day tomorrow."
"Weather channel agrees with it," I tell him. "Sunny all day."
"Wanna go for a drive up the coast? We can go for a walk at the state park—"
"I said 'walk', not 'hike'. The trail along the shoreline's an easy one. And we can stop at that Thai restaurant you like on the way home."
"Tryin' to bribe me with chili peppers and lemongrass, Officer Hutchinson? Tsk, tsk."
"It'll work, right?" He gives me a sleepy grin. "Come on. My body-work may be a little dented these days, but the engine's in good shape. I'll be fine."
"Let me hang some fuzzy dice off your mirror, and you've got a date."