The sun flooding through the light curtains fell on Hutch’s face, and he woke, stretching and smiling, reveling in the fresh salt-tang air. He didn’t think he’d ever tire of this- waking in crisp cotton sheets to the sound of the sea, and of Starsky clattering in the kitchen, the smell of salt and coffee. In their house. The words delighted him. Their house. He stretched again, eyes closed, and when he opened them, there was Starsky, dark and beautiful- his eyes soft with love.
“Happy birthday, my gorgeous man!”
Hutch held out his arms.
“So long as it’s just a kiss”
It was a good kiss, but Hutch pouted.
“I want more. Come back to bed”
“I got things to do-places to be. Here’s your coffee and your pills and some strawberries”
“Where are you going?”
Starsky dropped another kiss on his forehead.
“For me to know and you to find out”
“Starsky, you know I hate surprises! And i heard you talking to Huggy last night about hotdogs...”
Starsky looked shocked, then shamefaced.
“I’ve been made! We were discussing your birthday lunch”
“I don’t want hot dogs for my birthday lunch!”
“Trust me- you’re going to love these”
“I do trust you, just not with food. Starsky, how did you say they made hot dogs? Remind me what goes in them?”
“All manner of good stuff. They’re good. Good for you. I won’t be long. The hammock’s waiting”
Before he could protest, Starsky was gone. Hutch sat up, shoving a pillow behind his back, and sipped his coffee. His birthday. A year since what he still thought of in capital letters as THE DAY. The day he had broken down at his own birthday party, suddenly finding himself sitting on the floor of his kitchen, back to the ice box, head on raised knees, tears flooding down his face. At first, his friends thought he was laughing, then that he was drunk, then that he was something that they didn’t understand and which scared them.
Starsky, out of his depth in an unknown ocean, head kept above water only by his innate “get Hutch’s back” instinct, had cleared the apartment as if it was a crime scene, then come to sit on the floor beside him. And he sat, while Hutch told him between sobs that he couldn’t do it any more. That the black clouds that had swirled around the edges of his brain for as long as he could remember were covering the sun, so there was no warmth or light or hope. That there was no prospect of the sun returning and he didn’t think he would ever stop crying. That he could only see one way forward and he was so very, very sorry....
Things became hazy after that. He learned later that while he was drifting on a rose tinted cushion of drugs in Dr Weisman’s private clinic, Starsky was taking on the world. Their world, anyway. Initially, the Commissioner’s office thought that a cop who’d had a nervous breakdown was not someone they wanted hanging around like a specter at the feast, and Cabrillo State was the best place for him while they quietly and quickly sorted his discharge papers. That’s what they thought - until Starsky had stopped trying to reason with them and simply turned up with the infamous investigative journalist CJ Phelps in tow, tape recorder at the ready. She had a story already sketched out-with pictures-for the following Sunday about the way the City was treating one of the public’s heroes. And suddenly Hutch’s insurance and long term sick leave were guaranteed and medical retirement on the table for the future.
It had not all been plain sailing, And the darkness still lurked. It probably always would-as it always had. But Hutch smiled as he got up and his feet hit the floorboards. He had laid, sanded and polished those boards himself during the early part of his recovery, when the satisfying, repetitive work tired his body and soothed his jangled mind. And the house -a beachfront fixer-upper Starsky had bought from one of his many uncles-needed six new windows and another bathroom and the garden was a jungle, so plenty still to keep body and mind busy. He had found a therapist he could work with, medication that mostly suited him. And always, there was Starsky. The rock that was Starsky, loving him with a fierce unflinching clear eyed love, seeing the worst of him, and loving him more for it. Maybe, he thought, as he moved to the hammock, hot dogs for his birthday lunch was a small price to pay. Maybe he would even confess, after all these years, that he quite liked hot dogs......
He was dozing over his book when Starsky came back, carrying a box.
“Budge up- that hammock’s meant for two”
“Doesn’t that need to go in the icebox?”
“Not yet. Babe, look at me”
Starsky’s eyes were solemn and love filled, but after ten years practice, Hutch couldn’t miss the hint of mischief lurking in their violet depths.
“Starsk, what are you....”
“Shh- I’m talking. This has been one hell of a year for you-for us. One of the worst, but one of the best too. I”m so proud of you I could burst and I wanted to get you something special for your birthday”
“You don’t need to..,.”
“Shut up, I do. When will you learn that normal people give each other presents on special days? Anyway, our first Christmas I promised you something when we got our picket fence. Well, you finished building the fence last week. So......”
Before he could say anything else, the box wobbled and whimpered. Hutch looked at him wide eyed.
The lid popped open, and a tiny white head with black spots peeked out. Starsky lifted the puppy and put him on Hutch’s chest, where he scrambled up to lick his face ecstatically.
“Here’s your hot dog. Happy birthday, Angel”