By Elizabeth Lowry
Kate, do you think that people in hospitals using bed pans are any less beautiful than you or me? Is beauty here [placing hand over his face], or is it here [putting hand over his heart] and here [putting hand over Kate’s heart]?
What in the world had possessed him to actually order a steak when he hadn’t eaten red meat in months?Hutch sat uncomfortably on the toilet seat in the Men’s Room at Round-Ups. Just because Pamela wanted steak, didn’t mean you had to have it, too. And now diarrhea was riding his colon like a roller coaster.
Hutch flushed while still on the toilet, even though he wasn’t finished. What a predicament. His guts did another triple twist.
The door to the bathroom swung open, and a couple of voices entered the room.
Great, thought Hutch. Company.
“No, come on, she’s huge,” said Voice One.
“She’s not huge,” disagreed Voice Two.
“Okay, but she’s got to weigh at least 175,” said Voice One.
“Yeah, probably,” agreed Voice Two.
Hutch’s bowels took another ride on the coaster.
“What the hell is he doing out with her? He is seriously under-chicked.” Voice One. “I mean, the guy could be in the movies, and he’s out in public with a fat chick?”
“Maybe she’s his sister,” mused Voice Two.
Zippers unzipped in unison.
“You really think they came from the same parents?” Voice One spoke over the sound of piss against porcelain.
“I’ll be she has a great personality, though,” chuckled Voice Two.
Sounds of laughter.
Both men zipped up.
“Maybe it’s a frat prank. A dog party or something.” Running water replaced piss, with the sound of flushing rounding out the medley.
“Maybe he’s blind,” replied Voice Two.
“Yeah! She’s he’s seeing-eye dog!” roared Voice One.
“Seriously under-chicked, man.” Paper towels were pulled from metal containers.
“Maybe she’s his beard.” Voice One.
“You know, beard. When a guy’s a fag but he doesn’t want people to find out, he takes girls out in public and they’re called ‘beards’.”
“Why don’t they call them ‘muffs?’” queried Voice Two. “’Muff’ is the word for female pubes.”
“Beats me.” Paper towels were pushed into the trash.
“Or ‘beavers’,” Voice Two continued.
“But only if they have overbites!” roared Voice One.
Laughter trailed from the bathroom.
“Let’s go.” Hutch grabbed Pamela’s arm and pulled, trying to lift her from her chair.
“What’s the rush?” Pamela resisted.
“C’mon, I’ve paid the bill, I want to go.” Hutch released the woman and took a step back.
“Yeah, okay.” She gathered up her purse and fringed cape and stood. “Where to now?”
“Come on.” Hutch walked toward the front exit.
“I’m sorry. We’ll do Hollywood Boulevard another night.” He opened the front door and ushered Pamela in.
“Stop apologizing already! I said it was okay,” she smiled at Hutch.
Hutch ran a hand through his hair.
“Well, um, we could watch TV or something.”
The woman dropped her purse on the floor and hung her cape up by the door.
“What’s the ‘something’?” She sat down on the edge of the bed. “TV is the same all over—boring.”
Hutch looked around the room. “Chess?” he offered.
Pamela shook her head. “I haven’t played since you taught me when I was 13.”
“No?” Hutch looked puzzled. “But you were so good at it.”
Pamela picked at a piece of lint on her blouse. “Guys don’t like girls who are smart.”
“That’s not true.” Hutch smiled slightly. He was still standing in the middle of the small house.
“Yeah?” She looked up hopefully.
“Sure.” Hutch shrugged. “How about Monopoly?”
“Got Scrabble?” Pamela countered.
He thought. “Left it over at Starsky’s—Dave’s.”
“You’re over at Dave’s a lot,” She said.
“We want to be partnered.”
Pamela nodded. “So you’ve said.”
Hutch nodded along with Pamela. “Want a beer?” He finally said.
“Okay.” Pamela rose and followed him to the refrigerator.
Hutch pulled out two bottles and dug in a drawer for the bottle opener. He opened both bottles and handed one to Pamela.
“Cheers.” He tapped the glass lips together.
“Bottoms up.” Pamela added her own toast.
They both took long swallows.
“Hey, remember when we used to mouth that at each other whenever some kid at the pool would poke his bottom out of the water and bob it at us lifeguards?”
Hutch smiled. “I hated the leakers.”
Pamela laughed. “Oh my gosh! And do you remember how we finally solved that?”
Hutch’s smile broadened. “We posted that warning that the pool water had been chemically treated and that all pee would immediately turn black, leaving a trail of dye as well as dying your swimsuit!”
Pamela and Hutch roared.
“We were sick puppies!” Pamela shook her head, still grinning.
“Not as sick as Burt! Remember him?”
Pamela shook her head. “Who was he?”
“Burton was his real name. He made everyone call him ‘Beaver.’” Now where had that nickname suddenly erupted from?
“Oh my gosh! Beaver! And he called all the boys ‘Wally’ no matter what their names were!”
Hutch chuckled as he took another sip of beer. “And he’d sit up in his chair and blow his whistle and yell, ‘Wally! Stop your feet from flapping on the deck!’ ‘Wally! Stop dunking that kid!’ ‘Wally! Pull your trunks up!’”
Hutch and Pamela enjoyed another round of laughter.
She leaned against the kitchen counter. “I wonder what ever happened to him?”
Hutch sobered. “Killed in ‘Nam.”
Pamela lowered her head. “So many boys ended up over there.”
Hutch stared into his bottle. “Yeah.”
Pamela looked at Hutch. “How come you never got called up?”
Hutch swirled the beer in his bottle. “Got married right after college.”
“Oh. Yeah,” Pamela took another swig. “My mom sent me the clipping of you from the paper. She was pretty.”
Hutch didn’t answer. He moved away from the kitchen and walked into the living area.
Pamela followed him.
Hutch sat down on the couch.
Pamela sat down next to him.
“You know,” she began, “I was kind of jealous when I got that announcement.”
Hutch didn’t respond.
“I kind of had a crush on you when I was a teenager.” Pamela’s voice was softer now.
Hutch looked at the wall opposite them. “Well, lots of people had crushes back then. I mean, not on me, but on other people.” He stumbled through his words.
“Who did you have a crush on?” Pamela asked. She set her beer down on the coffee table.
Hutch’s brow furrowed. “’Lisa.”
Pamela nodded. “’Lisa had breasts in the fifth grade. All the guys ogled her.”
Hutch grinned crookedly. “Yeah, well. . . “ He took a drink of beer.
“Who else?” Pamela prodded.
Hutch’s mouth pursed. “Debbie.”
“Blonde,” Pamela said.
Hutch smiled. “Donna.”
“Donna!” Pamela sputtered. “She was an idiot! She’d add two and two together and come up with a letter of the alphabet!”
Hutch flushed. She also couldn’t keep her skirts down over her butt, but he didn’t mention that. He finished his beer and put the bottle on the table.
“Well, who else did you have a crush on?” Hutch asked.
“Just you.” Pamela smiled. “My blond Adonis.”
Now Hutch blushed. “Well.”
Pamela leaned in closer. “You didn’t like me even a little bit? Even in my red bathing suit? You certainly seemed to be looking at me enough when I wore it!”
Hutch was becoming Monotony Man. “Well. . .”
“Maybe just a little?” Pamela slid her hand around Hutch’s upper arm.
“Well…” He shifted uncomfortably, a slight smile rising on his lips. “Maybe a little.”
Pamela slid her thigh next to Hutch’s. “I still have a crush on you, you know.” She laid her head on Hutch’s shoulder. “I guess that’s part of why I wanted to come out here and visit. Not just to take a look at UCLA, but to see you again.”
“And then I kind of wangled my way into staying with you this week.”
Pamela placed her right hand on Hutch’s left cheek and turned his face toward hers. She raised up slightly and kissed him.
Hutch pushed her away.
“Ken, we’re both adults now, not kids.” She reached for him.
“Pamela--I, I mean, you’re like my sister!” Hutch blocked her reach.
Pamela rubbed a hand over Hutch’s thigh. “But we’re not brother and sister, are we?”
Hutch put his hand over hers and stopped her rubbing. “Pamela, we really can’t--”
Pamela placed a finger over his mouth, shushing him. “It’s okay. I’m on the Pill.”
Hutch disentangled himself and stood up. “Pamela, we just can’t!”
Pamela’s eyes narrowed. “Why not?”
Hutch looked around the room. “Because--because I just don’t feel about you that way.”
“Don’t tell me that.” She straightened. “I know you used to look at me ‘that way’ when we were younger. I know it wasn’t just accidental every time you brushed up against me.”
Hutch ran a hand through his hair. It was getting damp. “Pamela…”
Pamela stood up. “Is it because I don’t weigh a hundred pounds anymore?” She pulled her shoulders back.
Hutch shut his eyes. “No, Pamela, I don’t think you’re fat--”
“Five-foot-three and one hundred thirty-seven pounds isn’t skinny,” She countered. “At least not out here.”
“I don’t think you look fat,” Hutch reiterated. “But I’m just not--”
“Sexually attracted to fat,” Pamela finished.
“Pamela…” Hutch pleaded.
“You were sexually attracted to me when I was skinny; now you’re not. Right?” She folded her arms across her bosom.
Hutch looked all around the room. “It’s not that,” he fumbled. “I just don’t think it would be good for us. It might ruin our friendship.”
“Ah, that.” Pamela nodded. “Great excuse.”
Hutch felt his adrenaline kick in. “It is not an excuse.”
“Sure it is,” Pamela said. “You don’t want to admit the truth.”
“Now look, Pamela…”
Pamela began pacing the room. “I thought you were different. I thought you were better. You used to stand up for the kids who were teased and tortured at school. I thought you looked past outer appearance.”
Hutch shifted where he stood. “I don’t think I’m so--”
“Sure you are,” Pamela snapped. “You’re a typical male. You only respond to the visual. If it doesn’t make your cock jump at first sight then you don’t bother to go any farther.”
Hutch took a step forward. “Is that what they taught you in Psychology?”
“No. It’s what they taught me outside Psychology,” Pamela retorted. “On the quad and in the dorms and around the Commons where guys felt it was perfectly all right to make comments about my size.”
“Don’t lump me in with all males,” Hutch demanded. “I’m not everyone else.”
Pamela snorted. “Of course you are. You live by your testosterone.”
“Damn it, Pamela…”
Pamela continued pacing the small house. “I really, truly thought you were different. I thought you, of all people, understood that looks have nothing to do with what a person is underneath. I mean, how many times did they call you ‘sissy’ and ‘fag’ at school?”
Hutch felt the red in his cheeks deepen.
“You think a set of big breasts and a small waist and a pretty face are the only things worth kicking your cock into action? How about loving a person, and letting that love lead you to a sexual attraction? Huh? Ever though about that?”
Hutch opened his mouth to speak.
“Of course not, that’s too mature for you.” Pamela was now circling the room. “It would never occur to you that intelligence, or goodness, or a great sense of humor could stimulate your prostate. All you want is to think with your dick.”
Hutch found some composure. “That’s not true.”
“Sure it is,” Pamela stopped and stared at Hutch. “But you’ll go to your grave insisting it isn’t because to recognize the truth conflicts with your sense of yourself as a ‘good guy’.” Pamela’s eyes brightened with recognition. “You know, I’ll bet that’s why you were a lifeguard, and now you’re a cop. You like to think of yourself as a hero, some kind of white knight that’s constantly riding to the rescue of those in distress. That’s probably why you defended all those bullied kids--it made you feel big to act big.”
“You know, you’re blowing this way out of proportion--”
“And that’s another thing.” Pamela pointed her finger. “Why is it you males, when faced with an uncomfortable truth about yourselves, try to deflect it by diminishing its proportions?”
Hutch threw up his hands. “Pamela…”
Pamela closed in on him “Did it ever occur to you that maybe I am your soul mate? Your perfect friend, your best lover, your life companion? How do you know that if you took me to bed I wouldn’t be the best sex you’ve ever had in your life? How do you know that if we spent time together I couldn’t be just the one to fill up that lonely hole inside your being? How do you know that? Just because your cock didn’t come to attention when I walked off the plane?”
Hutch sighed. “I can’t change the way I am.”
“Don’t give me that crap.” Pamela stood directly in front of Hutch. “You are not a slave to your Neanderthal ancestors. You don’t have to complete every urge you feel. You have a brain. You can use it to make yourself into whatever you want to be. Tell me you can’t.”
Hutch looked down at Pamela. “Okay, I can’t.”
“Don’t give me that,” Pamela spat. “You can change; you don’t want to. And do you know why you don’t want to?”
Hutch shut his eyes. “Why?” This was a ridiculous debate.
“Because you couldn’t stand the peer pressure!”
“What?” Hutch said. “What does that mean?”
Pamela stood her ground. “It means that even if you were mature enough to recognize that attraction can be roused by more than the physical, you would reject it because you couldn’t stand to be seen by other men as not having a better-looking woman than they have.”
Hutch shut his eyes, shook his head, and sighed in exasperation. “Pamela, why don’t we just go to bed and we’ll all be calmer in the morning.”
“Isn’t that why you made us leave the restaurant? Because you didn’t like it that those guys at the table across from us were making fun of me?” Pamela was still planted in front of Hutch. “Only it wasn’t that they were making fun of me, it was that I made you look like you couldn’t do any better. And that hurt your male ego. All guys need glamour girls, so they can show the rest of the male world how much more powerful and virile they are than the rest of the male population.”
Hutch finally walked away from her. “This is ridiculous. You are making way too much of this. I simply don’t think of you in a sexual way. That’s all. I’m just being honest.”
“Yeah, right,” Pamela snorted. “Deny, diminish, and finally walk away.”
“You know…” Hutch turned and pointed his finger at Pamela. “I think you’ve gone too far into this psychological-feminism thing. In fact, I think you should rethink getting your PhD in Psychology.”
For a moment Hutch thought Pamela might attack him.
Instead, she grabbed the telephone. “Taxi,” she hissed.
Hutch gave her the number of the service he used.
Pamela made her request, dropped the phone on the couch, and walked back into the bedroom. She gathered up her purse, her suitcase, her carry-on, and her cape. “I’m sure you won’t mind if I go to a hotel.” She walked toward the front door, opened it, and dropped her belonging on the small porch. “I’ll just wait here.”
Hutch picked up the phone and put it back on the end table where it belonged. The air moving in from the opened doorway was hot, and made him perspire. Or so he reasoned.
Icy silence clashed with the heat as they waited for the cab to arrive. Both stood stiff-straight, arms crossed against their chests. Hutch stared at Pamela; Pamela stared at the canal.
Crunching gravel and leaves betrayed the arriving taxi before its headlights appeared.
Pamela stooped to gather her things. Hutch took a deep breath, shoved a hand in his pocket, and walked to the door.
“Here.” He pulled out a wad of bills.
Pamela stared at him. Fortunately, she didn’t spit, which is what she looked ready to do.
“For the taxi. For the hotel. Whatever.”
“Money takes care of everything for you and your family, doesn’t it? Well don’t bother. Save it for someone who cares about it.”
Hutch threw up his hands, exasperated. “Aw, Pamela, can’t we just forget this ever happened? I didn’t mean anything by the money, or what I said. Honest, I still want us to be friends.”
Pamela looked up at him. “Ken, you have some serious self-inspection to do. I suggest you get started right away.”
Pamela walked to the taxi. Hutch slammed his front door and leaned against it.
Oh please, he thought. Serious self-inspection indeed. I don’t have to sleep with anyone I don’t want to. And besides, you can’t fall in love with anyone you’re not sexually attracted to anyway. Sex always comes first. How else can you know if you want to be with that person?
Hutch walked over and picked up the two beer bottles and carried them into the kitchen. Not to mention sex and love aren’t even the same thing. Hutch’s brain wouldn’t settle down. Sex is fun, damn it! Why shouldn’t my fun be exactly the way I want it? He set the bottles in the sink. If I like beautiful, slender women, what’s wrong with that? Who’s getting hurt? No one, that’s who!
Hutch walked over to the bed. Pamela had been using it, and he’d have to change the sheets before he could sleep in it. And that was too much trouble at the moment. He resigned himself to another night on the couch.
And maybe some TV. Hutch turned the set on, plopped down on the couch, and put his feet up on the coffee table.
I’ll be damned if I ever fall in love with someone I’m not first sexually attracted to, he vowed. Sex first, best friends second. And forget about lifelong commitments! I’m never investing that much energy in anyone again!
He fell asleep in front of the TV.
“Starsky, put your shoes back on,” Hutch complained.
“Why?” Starsky looked honestly perplexed.
“Because your feet stink,” Hutch clarified.
Starsky lifted his foot to his nose. “Smells okay to me.”
Hutch shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Blue flu and a murder out in Bel Air requiring the presence of every media-hungry cop in town had left Starsky and him holding down a stake-out in a one-room office in an un-air conditioned building in east Los Angeles for the past 29 hours…and counting.
“You hungry?” Starsky asked, acceding to Hutch’s wishes by reaching for his shoes.
“You know, instead of food, why don’t you go down to that five-and-dime and get some soap, deodorant, shaving cream and razors, and some clean underwear?” Hutch didn’t look back at his partner; instead he kept his chair facing the window, binoculars on his lap.
“Hey, if I’da known this was going to turn into a weekend getaway, I woulda brought an overnight bag.” Starsky plopped a retied foot on the bare floor. Hard. “You’re not exactly daisy-fresh yourself.”
Hutch ignored him.
Starsky didn’t care to be ignored. “And why for chrissakes you suddenly decided NOW was the time to follow regulations that neither of us should be out of the room for more than 10 minutes at a time is beyond me. One of us coulda made a run to my place and picked up a few things.”
Hutch turned slowly toward Starsky.
Starsky was standing next to the only other piece of furniture in the room, another chair. He was disheveled, to say the least. Jacket wadded up in his hands, where he’d just picked it up from the floor, where he’d been using it as a pillow. Shirt untucked, the ends rumpled where he used them for a napkin. Sleeves pushed up, instead of rolled. Hair finger-combed so many times it looked ratty. The stubble on his face in that just-getting-started phase that made him look as if he had a skin disease instead of the beginnings of a beard.
And that stench. Part sweaty socks, part bacteria-laden underarm drippings, and part onions and peppers and feta from the Greek place down the street.
It was just getting to Hutch, who’d at least tried to manage the spit-bath niceties in the bathroom at the end of the hall.
“Starsky--” Hutch raised his hand in the air, then suddenly froze.
“What now?” Starsky said defiantly.
Hutch brought his hand down as naturally as possible, then slued back to his position facing the window.
“Nothing,” Hutch managed. He sat still, trying not to appear unnerved.
“Well, I am hungry.” Hutch could hear Starsky tucking in his shirt, pushing his arms into his jacket. “I’ll bring you back something.”
The door to the room opened and shut.
Hutch let out the breath he’d been holding. Goddamn. He glanced down at himself. Body calm, limbs still. It was only his heart that was tattooing a jungle rhythm inside his chest.
How could the entire universe go nova in one split-second? How could a brain instantaneously implode at the pukey smell of a partner?
How was it that one minute he’d been the man who had grown from the boy who had grown from the child he’d always been--
--and now he was replaced by a man who was in love with his best friend?
In love with.
Just that simply, just that easily, just that instantaneously, he knew he was in love with Starsky.
The exact same feeling he’d had when he’d fallen for Vanessa. The same feeling he’d had with Gillian. No different, no bigger, no smaller, no muddier. Just that crack in the universe that forced you to step from one edge of existence to another.
Only this was his partner!
His best friend! His colleague, his cohort, his companion, his--his man!
Hutch closed his eyes and kept them closed, trying to take regular, cleansing breaths.
It was the heat, the smell, the hours, the chorizo Starsky had badgered him into consuming.
Hutch quit breathing, and held his breath, eyes still closed.
The feeling didn’t die from the lack of oxygen.
He opened his eyes, breathed, and waited.
The feeling didn’t die from waiting.
Hutch was afraid to explore it, afraid it would grow bigger if he gave it any attention.
But it was definitely what it said it was.
It was in love.
Hutch’s gorge rose. This is not happening, he thought. Not to me. Not now.
Hutch created a pneumatic woman in his imagination, long hair and legs to match.
And there was that tingle. Sexual desire.
He shivered in relief.
Then he conjured an image of Starsky in his mind, workaday partner and friend.
And there was that tingle again!
So Hutch replaced the workaday Starsky with the Starsky that had just left: grungy, dirty, practically repulsive.
This was really bad! If you could still desire a repellent partner, well….
Hutch squeezed his eyes shut yet again. The feeling continued to waft around in his chest cavity. The feeling had him in a turmoil, but the feeling itself was calm. Certain, clear, and content. And full of itself. Full of trust, of love, of respect, of comfort. It dangled the tingle from its body, but it was built from familiarity as well as excitement.
Starsky was—is—his best friend. The one he turned to in times of need. The one he shared with in times of bounty. The person he trusted, with words and with silence. The individual he respected, defended, protected. The partner he couldn’t imagine living without. . . .
The room’s door shoved open and the subject of his deliberation thudded back in. “Here.” He dropped a plastic bag next to Hutch’s feet. Hutch didn’t move.
Starsky dropped another bag on the floor. It squished instead of thudded. “Pitas, gyros, hummus, and that cucumber salad you like.”
Hutch took a deep breath, then turned his head to look at Starsky. Starsky was setting down two styrofoam cups on the other chair in the room.
“Toilet supplies.” Starsky pointed at the bag at Hutch’s feet. “I got as much as I could in the 10 minutes allotted me.”
Hutch looked down at the bag, then back up at Starsky.
The feeling inside him warmed and brightened. Hutch could have run screaming from the room, or just as easily floated out the window. He was dizzily steady, frightfully calm, unsurprisedly shocked. It made perfect sense, it made no sense, it made new sense.
Hutch knew--he knew--the feeling wouldn’t go away. So he’d better decide what to do with it and about it.
Starsky handed him a cup and he took it, pleased at how steady his hand was, how it didn’t betray him. In fact, he was almost shocked that Starsky couldn’t pick up on the feeling himself, it was so powerful, so room-filling.
But then, Starsky’s smell was probably overpowering it. Hutch smiled to himself. At least he still had his sense of humor. There was almost nothing about himself he recognized at that moment, except that.
And it was enough to go on.
Hutch looked at the produce before him.
Bananas. Apples. Oranges. The usual winter stuff.
He sighed, and dropped a bunch of bananas in his basket. One thing about California--you always had plenty of choices, even in January. In Minnesota, though. . . .
Hutch let the weight of the basket pull his arm down to his side. Better find Starsky, he thought. Otherwise he’ll have a month’s worth of groceries in his cart and we’re only here till the end of the week.
Hutch rounded the aisle cap and peeked down the canned soup aisle. No Starsky. He took a step back and immediately hit a hip on a metal cart.
“Sorry,” he said, grabbing the end of the cart with his free hand as he swung his body sideways, sending his basket into a shelf of Campbell’s while his foot caught the hard rubber wheel of the cart.
“Ken?” he heard someone say, as he relocated his center of gravity, got control of his basket, and disengaged himself from the attacking soup.
“Uh…” he looked up, suddenly confronted with a woman about his age, wrapped in a ski jacket and heavy cords.
“Are you all right?” She stabilized her cart and came around to catch his elbow.
“Yes. Fine. Pamela?” Hutch looked at the woman in surprise.
She smiled at him and nodded. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“Yeah.” Hutch laughed weakly.
Pamela released him. “I am so sorry about your sister. She was so young. . . breast cancer, I couldn’t believe it.” She paused. “Did you get my card?” She rolled her eyes and looked away. “That was a dumb question. You’ve probably gotten dozens of cards you haven’t even looked at yet.”
Hutch nodded. Pamela. . . .
“I wanted to come to the funeral, but my little ones were sick and my husband was out of town. I heard it was nice.”
Hutch switched the basket from his right hand to his left. “Yes. Very nice. Mother was pleased.” God, I haven’t seen Pamela in years. . . not since she came to visit...not since our last “discussion”. . . .
They both nodded awkwardly.
“Well…” the woman took a deep breath. “Are you in town for long?”
Hutch shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Just till the end of the week. Then we have to be back in Los Angeles.” He’d certainly been a sensitive son of a bitch back then. . . .
“’We’?” Pamela smiled. “You’re married?” she asked, as she shouldered out of her down jacket.
Hutch watched her stuff the jacket into the child’s seat of the cart. She wasn’t that much smaller with the jacket off. Ample bosom, ample stomach, ample ass, ample thighs. He blushed, overcome with embarrassment and shameful memories. Yes, sex and love were separate. . . but not necessarily occurring in that order. . . sex didn’t always lead to love, and love could arouse surprising sex. . . .
Two children came skidding over to the full-figured woman.
“Now what have I told you about running inside?” Pamela clutched two small children, each clinging to a leg. One was about five, the other maybe three.
“The lady back there gave us ice cream!” The older child, a boy, held up a paper cup smeared with chocolate. “Can we get some?”
“I want ‘nilla!” added the younger child, a girl.
“We’ll see.” Pamela smiled and looked up at Hutch. “Kids, I’d like you to meet an old friend of mine. Julie, Mark, this is Ken.”
Both children glanced up at Hutch and said “Hi” simultaneously. Hutch smiled back at them, but felt his face flame redder.
“You’ve been outside too long,” said Julie. “Your face is all red.”
Pamela patted both kids. “Go pick out some cereal,” she mothered. “But no sugar stuff! If it says ‘sugar’ on the front, ignore it!” She laughed again, and the children skittered off.
“They’re beautiful,” Hutch found his voice. If you’re open to it, you can find beauty in anything.
“They are,” Pamela agreed. “Everyone says they change your life, but until you have them, you can’t imagine. Do you and your wife have children?”
Hutch cleared his throat. “I’m not married,” he said.
“Oh.” Pamela rolled her eyes again. “When you said ‘we,’ I’m afraid I just assumed you meant you and your wife.”
Hutch shook his head. He wrapped both hands around the uncomfortable metal handle of the basket. “My partner came with me.”
“Yeah. I heard you were still with the police department. What’s your ‘beat’?” she asked conspiratorially.
“We, uh--we work Homicide. But no more undercover.”
“Undercover? You mean like on TV?” Pamela asked.
“Not quite,” Hutch answered. He shivered. No more of that, never again. “Your husband,” he changed the subject. “What does he do?”
“Family law,” Pamela answered. “He has his own practice. I have my own, too.” Pamela smiled. “Family and marital counseling.”
Hutch nodded, the basket moving back to his right hand. “PhD.”
“Postdoctoral work in Vienna,” Pamela added. “Freud was a sexist pig.”
Hutch managed to laugh. He studied Pamela. Clear eyes, clear skin, gorgeous smile, wonderful mind. He was such an idiot. . . .
“There you are!” A nasal baritone came up behind him.
Hutch turned and found his partner wheeling a laden cart toward him.
“Did you get your wheat germ? I’ve got my stuff.” He came to a stop next to Hutch.
“Starsky.” Hutch shifted the basket yet again. “This is Pamela. An old friend of mine.” His face was flushing again. Friends first. . . .
“Hiya!” Starsky offered his hand to Pamela. “I’m Dave.”
Pamela gripped his hand. “I think I remember you! You’re the partner Ken was always hanging around with when I came out to visit that one time.”
“That would be me,” Starsky grinned at her.
“It was nice of you to come out with Ken,” Pamela noted.
Starsky looked over at Hutch. “We’re partners,” he said simply.
Hutch felt the flush spread over his body. Starsky’s eyes were sad but smiling, sympathetic for the pain of his recent loss yet full of promise and hope.
Smiling eyes, Hutch thought. I was looking into those smiling eyes when the dam burst and I drowned in the realization that I more than loved you--I was in love with you.
“Is this it?” Starsky grabbed Hutch’s basket and peered at the bananas. “That’s all you want?”
Hutch nodded, unable to take his eyes off Starsky. And when I fell in love with you, it was impossible not to want to express that love. . . .
“Okay.” Starsky balanced the basket on top of a carton of ice cream. “I’m going to go stand in line. Meet you at the checkout.” He beamed at Pamela, who returned his smile, then wheeled back toward the front of the store.
Pamela looked back at Hutch. “He seems nice.”
Hutch swallowed and nodded. “Pamela…”
Pamela dug under her jacket and into her purse and pulled out a business card. “If you need anything, or want to get together while you’re in town, here’s my number.” She passed the card to Hutch.
“Pamela… ” Hutch tried again. “I want to apologize.” Friend, adversary, mother, psychologist...conscience.
“For what?” Pamela was tucking her jacket back over her purse.
“For the way I treated you the last time we saw each other.” Hutch straightened his posture and made sure to look directly at her.
Pamela looked up at him. “Why?”
Because I needed to be right and for you to be wrong. I didn’t want to feel bad about what I was doing. I wanted to be like everyone else--I wanted to be envied by everyone else. . . by every other man. . . be the best man. . . .
“I insulted you.”
Pamela waited a moment. “Some people know what’s important, some people don’t. I get irritated when people who know what’s important purposely betray it in order to excuse their behavior. I see that all the time in my practice.”
That was more than Hutch wanted, but less than he deserved. Especially now, especially when he’d chosen a particularly difficult behavior to enact.
He swallowed hard. “I was wrong. You were right.”
“I’m raising my children to know what’s important.”
“That’s good.” Hutch cleared his throat. “I should get back to my partner.”
Pamela managed a half-smile. “Please pass on my condolences to your Mother.”
“I will.” Hutch took a step back. “It was good to see--it was nice…” He took another step back.
“Bye.” Pamela maneuvered her cart into a half-circle and pushed it away.
Hutch turned, still embarrassed, and headed for checkout.
“Let’s take the cart home.” Starsky began unloading the grocery bags into the car.
“Why?” Hutch stood outside the driver’s side, waiting for Starsky to fill the trunk.
“Because we can,” Starsky said, slamming the trunk lid down. He motioned toward the store itself. “No rails to keep the carts up on the sidewalk like in L.A.! No curb bumpers to keep the carts inside the parking lot! Cart freedom!” He grinned at Hutch.
“People are just more honest here,” Hutch reflected. “And they have less need for carting their belongings around on the streets.”
Starsky moved up to the passenger side of the car. “Let’s go. I have ice cream in the trunk.”
Hutch looked over the parking lot. Pamela was rolling her cart to her station wagon. Hutch’s stomach took a dive.
“I’ll be back,” he said over his shoulder to Starsky. He began walking toward his old friend.
“Well. Hi again,” Pamela lifted a sack and tucked it into the back of the wagon. The kids were already strapped into their seats.
“Let me give you a hand.” Hutch picked up another sack the set it down next to the first. They finished stowing the groceries.
Hutch shuffled his feet. “Pamela, I…”
“What?” She crossed her arms over her chest, tucking her hands in her armpits.
Hutch looked up, looked across the lot, looked everywhere but at Pamela. “I want you to know something.” He stopped again.
Pamela nodded slowly. “Okay.”
There was silence.
“I’m not a mind reader, Ken.”
Hutch finally looked down at Pamela. “I want you to know--my partner and I--Starsky--you were right about understanding what’s important when you--when you love a person.” He could feel his face flush again.
Pamela turned to look at Starsky, who waggled his fingers at her. She turned back to Hutch.
“Ohhh…” Her eyes widened and a slight smile lifted her lips. “I see.”
Hutch couldn’t stand to keep looking at her. He looked at his feet. “When I realized what it meant to love someone--when I let myself feel what I felt--to want someone because of who they are and what they mean to you--where it all comes from and what it leads to--”
Pamela put a hand on Hutch’s arm. “It’s alright, Ken. I understand.”
Hutch managed to look at her again. It was thirty-some-odd degrees and he was sweating. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to confess to you--I just wanted you to know--what you said to me did mean something--eventually.”
Pamela smiled at Hutch. “Some figure it out. Some don’t.” She squeezed his arm and leaned into Hutch. “You didn’t have to tell me so much, you know. But it’s nice you trust me.”
Hutch relaxed a little. A cold blast of air stung his eyes, making them tear. “He’s my best friend.”
“I remember.” Pamela released his arm.
“It snuck up on me.”
“I’m sure it did.”
Hutch licked his chapping lips. “What you love is beautiful to you.”
“Amen to that.” Pamela glanced at the children belted in the back seat. “I need to get the kids home. We have ice cream in the back.”
Hutch smiled. “So do we.”
Pamela moved to the driver’s door. “Call me if you want to talk some more.”
“Thanks.” Hutch shoved his hands in his coat pockets. “For everything.”
Pamela waved and hopped into the van. Hutch walked back to his lover.
“Fake. Fake. Fake. Fake.”
Starsky was assessing the breasts bouncing by them on the beach.
“Fake. Fake. Real. Fake.”
Hutch lowered his sunglasses a moment to get a clearer look at the real breasts. Comfortable with Starsky’s ability to judge, he pushed them back up on his nose and grabbed for the flavored water he’d stabbed into the sand.
Starsky took a swig from his bottled ice tea. “Betcha I can find the ones who’ve had liposuction, too.”
“Just watch for the bathing suits that hide scars,” Hutch advised.
“What bathing suits?” Starsky asked. He reached back and subtly adjusted the umbrella shading them. “Dental floss is all they wear nowadays.”
“Takes all the mystery out,” Hutch said.
“What mystery?” Starsky answered. “We undressed them all with our eyes no matter what they had on.”
Hutch chuckled and took another drink of water.
One of the bountified beauties looked over at the men as she walked in front of them.
“She smiled at me,” Starsky boasted.
“She was squinting into the sun,” Hutch replied.
“You’re just jealous,” Starsky said. “And you’re doubly jealous because the pretty women always smiled at me more than you.”
“Starsky, you’re 20 years too old to be the kind of man she’s looking for.”
“Speak for yourself.” Starsky straightened in his legless beach chair, puffing out his chest. “I’ve still got it.” He ran a hand over his chest. “Look at this. Not a gray hair in the bunch. Yep, I’ve still got it.”
“Not unless what you’ve got is money,” Hutch said. “And you don’t. So stop preening for the pretty girls.”
“I like pretty girls,” Starsky pouted.
Hutch glanced over at his partner. “You miss them?”
“Pretty girls?” Starsky mused.
“Girls,” Hutch targeted. He purposely moved his gaze back to the Pacific.
Starsky dug inside the cooler between them and pulled out a still-fairly-frozen Milky Way. “If you’re asking do pretty girls still make me hot, the answer is yes.” He stuck the bar in his mouth and gnawed on the brittle chocolate with his back teeth. “If you’re asking do I miss having sex with them, the answer is no.”
“Liar,” Hutch muttered.
Starsky waved his Milky Way dramatically. “What I fantasize about, and what I do with you, are two different things. Or don’t you listen to that lady on the radio?” He started gnawing on the caramel.
“And don’t tell me you don’t have fantasies, too.” Starsky finally got a piece of candy bar to break off.
Hutch took a long drink from his bottle.
“Can’t do things the way we used to do then,” Starsky now had his ice tea in one hand and his chocolate in the other. “You go off with every pretty little thing that makes your prick perk up and you could be dead.”
“Wasn’t much to worry about except the occasional STD,” Hutch agreed. He ran his thumb up and down the bottle neck. “Do you miss it?”
Starsky snorted. “No. I’m not even sure I liked it back then.”
Hutch’s thumb stopped rubbing. “What do you mean?”
Starsky shrugged. “I don’t know.” He took a drink of iced tea. “I mean, it felt good, the sex, well most of it.” He chewed a little longer than usual on the bite of candy in his mouth. “But I don’t know if all those orgasms were really worth anything. I mean, they did feel good, but. . . “
“Empty?” Hutch asked.
Starsky thought a moment. “I guess I’m saying, if I had to go back, maybe I would have been a little more selective. Maybe it would have been nice to have a girl like me for more than just the sex. Or instead of the sex. I don’t know.” Starsky popped the rest of the bar into his mouth. “Sometimes I think we spent too much time on the sex and not enough time on the person we were having it with,” he said around the chocolate.
“Maybe get to the know more about the person than her tits make your mouth water?” Hutch reached into the cooler for his own snack--grapes.
Starsky nodded. “Curse of the young, I guess. Or the stupid.” He reached over and broke off a cluster of Hutch’s grapes.
“Or maybe we feel too much pressure to have more toys than the other boys,” Hutch added.
“Curse of the male.” Starsky popped six grapes in his mouth at once, just to see if he could.
Hutch grimaced at Starsky’s endeavor. “Starsk, you’ve got grape juice running down your chin!”
Starsky leaned over and wiped his chin on the beach towel covering the back of Hutch’s chair.
“Dammit, Starsk!” Hutch jerked his towel away. “Get your own towel dirty.”
Starsky grinned. “Okay, then; you can clean me off later.”
A liposuctioned lady walking by caught Starsky’s grin and smiled back at him.
“See?” Starsky sat back and waved merrily at the lass. “They like me better.”
“You can have her, then.” Hutch pulled the hat protecting his fair head down a little further on his forehead. He resumed eating his grapes, one by one.
Starsky looked sideways at Hutch. “No thanks.” He followed Hutch’s example, daintily slipping a single grape at a time into his mouth. “I, for one, am much happier having found an imaginative, creative, full-time partner. You’ve spoiled me for anyone else.”
Hutch didn’t respond.
“I take it you don’t want her then, either?” Starsky began amusing himself by tearing off each grape’s skin with his teeth.
Hutch put his cluster down and clasped his hands in his lap. He looked out at the ocean. “I had a friend once tell me, a long time ago, that sex came second, and friendship came first.”
“Was he right?” Starsky asked softly.
“She.” Hutch was still focusing straight ahead, on the swimmers and the surf. “Yes, as it turned out. She was right. If you let the person lead you to sex, instead of letting the sex lead you to a person, you get more.”
“So much more.” Hutch barely spoke the words aloud.
Starsky finished his grapes, wiped his hands, then reached over with his right and pulled Hutch’s left hand onto the cooler top.
“I take it that means I don’t have to remain my gorgeous hunk of self to keep you?” Starsky squeezed Hutch’s hand gently.
“I certainly didn’t pick you for your looks.” Hutch looked over at Starsky. “You’re still not my type.” He squeezed Starsky’s hand back.
“My body doesn’t drive you wild with passion?” Starsky grinned.
Hutch thought a moment, then turned to Starsky. “My passion drives me wild for your body,” he said. “It drives me wild for every bit of you, body included.”
Starsky’s grin widened into delight. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you, too” Hutch answered.