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A Twice-told Tale

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A Twice-told Tale

"The right to marry is as fundamental as the right to send one's child to a particular school or the right to have offspring. Indeed, 'We are dealing here with legislation which involves one of the basic civil rights of man. Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race.' (Skinner v. Oklahoma, supra, at p. 541.) Legislation infringing such rights must be based upon more than prejudice and must be free from oppressive discrimination to comply with the constitutional requirements of due process and equal protection of the laws."

Perez v. Sharp (1948)

***

“I could still call her up and ask her not to come,” Starsky said, for possibly the tenth time over the past few days, as he and Hutch tidied the living room of the cottage they were staying in while Starsky recovered.

“Starsk,” Hutch replied, with the deep sigh of the long suffering, “We have been over this. This is your cousin Miriam we’re talking about, right? Rose and Al’s daughter? Your favorite cousin, right? Who used to baby-sit you when you were little, before they moved to California, and then helped you settle in when your mom sent you to live with them? That Miriam?”

Starsky nodded. “Yeah, but…”

“The same Miriam” Hutch over-rode him, “who is a registered nurse, and who has very generously offered to take three weeks off work and spend them here with us to take care of you because I have to go back to work tomorrow and you still need someone to help you out during the day?”

Starsky nodded again. “Yeah, but it still means three weeks of you sleeping on the couch so she can use the spare room. It's gonna’ be murder on your back.”

“Which you knew, and weren’t bothered about, when we arranged this before you got out of the hospital, so don’t pretend it’s concern for my back that’s upsetting you now,” Hutch said sternly.

Starsky had the grace to look embarrassed.

“We both know what the real concern about the sleeping arrangements is," Hutch went on, “but unless you want to tell her that I’ve been sharing your bed, there’s no other alternative to my sleeping on the couch. Except make her sleep on the couch and have me take the spare room, which would be rude to a guest, and still have us sleeping apart.”

"I know." Starsky sighed, and slumped, dispirited. “I’m gonna’ tell my family about us, honest. But I gotta’ tell Ma first, and I want ta' tell her in person, not on the phone."

"I understand, Babe, and I don't want to push you into anything” Hutch said gently. “But you know we need to have someone here for you for a while longer, until you can drive again at least. And you know you've missed Miriam. I saw how happy you were every time she called while you were in the hospital."

It was the same conversation they'd had over and over again. The added physical dimension of their relationship was so new. It had been less than a month since Starsky had sat Hutch down and made him face up to what they'd both been wanting for years. He could barely stand the thought of being apart now, before they'd even had a chance to try everything out yet.

But he knew Hutch was right, too. He did need someone to help out for at least awhile longer. And he was looking forward to seeing Miriam.

Nine years his elder, Miriam had been the "older woman" in his life when she was a teenager and had watched him and his brother Nicky when their parents went out. She had moved to California when Uncle Al had bought his used car lot in Bay City. After his father's murder, when his mother had decided she needed to send him away from New York, the only thing that had reconciled him to going was the thought of seeing Miriam again. For the last several years she had lived in Bakersfield and he had only seen her at occasional family gatherings, and he had missed her.

“It’s only three weeks, Starsk.” Hutch consoled, seeing the conflict on his face. “We have the rest of our lives to be together now. And I'm sure that we'll be able to find some time alone occasionally while she's here.”

Starsky sighed. "She's probably on her way by now anyway."

"Right. So just let me finish vacuuming, and then I’ll start dinner.” Miriam was scheduled to arrive at five, and Hutch had planned a fancy meal to welcome her.

***

She arrived right on time, pulling her Volvo station wagon into the driveway. “Hi Hutch, where’s the patient?” she asked cheerily, manhandling a large suitcase into the house as Hutch opened the door.

“In here” Starsky called from the living room. Hutch took her suitcase. Starsky got up to greet her as she entered, using his cane to help himself to his feet

"Hey Squirt!" she said, ruffling his hair and kissing him on the cheek. "You look pretty good."

Hutch had met Miriam Goldfarb, nee Starsky, several times at Starsky family gatherings, but he’d never taken note of her as anything other than one of the mass of Starsky’s relatives he’d been introduced to. Now as she enthusiastically greeted her younger cousin, he took the opportunity to study her.

She could have been Starsky’s older sister instead of cousin, there was that strong a resemblance. Tall for a woman, with dark curly hair, and the strong Starsky nose, only brown eyed instead of blue. She had obviously been one of those girls who were called “attractive” or “pretty” rather than “cute” or “beautiful”, and now she looked more maternal than anything else. Or so Hutch thought, whose taste in females had run to thin and blond, before he decided to throw it all over for brunette and male.

They settled her in the bedroom that had ostensibly been Hutch's, and came back to the living room.

"This is a pretty nice place." Miriam said, looking around, taking in the sunny living room, the hanging plants, the fireplace, and the sliding glass doors to the deck with the lawn and garden beyond.

"Yeah" Starsky said. "Hutch found it somehow. We're house sitting until the Jacobs come back from England. We just have to watch the house, water the plants, and take care of the pets." He indicated the two parakeets in their cage, and the small dog that had curled up on the hearthrug. "That's Euripides."

"I'm afraid walking him once in the afternoon is part of the job” Hutch added. "I hope that's not a problem?"

"No, I like dogs. Hi, Euripides." The dog looked up at the sound of his name, and wandered over to get his ears rubbed. "And I know the rest of the job is taking care of Davey. Let me see what I'm up against. Do you have the medical records I asked for?"

Hutch nodded. He handed her a thick folder.

She took it and leafed through. As she read, her face turned pale. When she came to the end she put the file down carefully and turned to Hutch.

"You didn't tell my parents or Aunt Sonya how bad it really was, did you?" she asked.

Hutch shook his head. "There didn't seem to be any need once we knew he was going to live."

Miriam nodded. "Thank you for that." She indicated the files. "I think hearing all this would have killed Aunt Sonya."

She walked to Starsky, and gave him a brief, hard hug, then stepped over to the door to the deck. "I gotta' have a cigarette. I'll take it outside, I know your lungs shouldn't have smoke yet."

Hutch followed her out. She was staring over the deck railing, leaning on her elbows, cigarette in hand.

"You OK?" he asked.

She took a deep drag on her cigarette. "I remember when Davey's parents were married, did you know that? I was a flower girl." She took another pull. "And when Uncle Mike was killed... that was the worst thing that had ever happened in our family. You ever have a murder in your family?"

Hutch shook his head. Although there had been the death of his ex-wife, he assumed that wasn't exactly what she meant. He walked over and stood next to her at the rail.

"It changes things. You're never quite the same... the way you see things, crime, police, justice, it's all different. The whole family gets hurt. I hoped I'd never have to see it happen again."

"You didn't."

"No... You just told Aunt Sonya he'd been shot, didn't you? You didn't tell her how bad it was."

"I did tell her that it was touch-and-go. I had to tell her that much."

"Hutch, the injuries I just read about, that's not touch-and-go. Those are fatal wounds. I don't know why he's alive."

"Hutch called me back" came a voice from behind them.

They both turned around. Starsky had quietly joined them on the deck.

"When my heart stopped, I heard him. And I came back."

Miriam ground out her cigarette. "Well, I'm glad you did, Squirt. We would have missed you around the family," she said roughly. There was a tense silence.

"So, what's with this 'Squirt' business?" Hutch asked, to change the subject.

Miriam laughed, breaking the tension. "Just an old nickname for Davey. Maybe I should tell you where it came from."

"Yeah, do, please!" Hutch begged

Starsky looked alarmed. "You wouldn't!"

Miriam gazed at him in a calculating manner. "Tell you what, Davey. You behave yourself while I'm here, no arguing over what I tell you to do, and your secret stays safe. You give me any grief, and the whole world knows."

"Geeze, Miriam! Is that what they teach you in nursing school?"

She reached out and tweaked one of Starsky's curls. "No, Squirt, it's what years of babysitting you taught me. Creative blackmail to enforce obedience."

Hutch held back a laugh that turned into a snort. "I’ll have to remember that. But now I think dinner's ready. Shall we?"

They made their way to the dining room, Hutch taking Starsky's arm to help him along. He noticed Miriam watching them with a small half smile.

***

After dinner, they sat in the living room with coffee.

"OK, so what exactly is going on now?" Miriam asked. "You're going back to work, Hutch, I know... are you going to be working regular shifts, or what?"

"I'm just doing desk duty until Starsky's recovered enough to come back. After that, we have to see. But for now I'll be regular 9-5 shifts. I'll be home each night to make dinner, you don't have to do that. Just take care of Starsky while I'm gone."

"You don't have to make it sound like I'm a total cripple" Starsky grumbled. "Mostly I'm OK. I just need someone to take me to all the doctors and stuff until I can drive again."

"And you need someone to help out with your exercises each day, and after your therapy sessions," Hutch reminded him sternly. "You know it, Starsk. Your muscles cramp up enough you can hardly move unless I rub you down."

"I can do that." Miriam nodded.

Starsky flushed. "Hey, that's kinda'... personal, Miriam."

"Davey, there is nothing you have that I haven't seen before. After all, I used to help your mom change your diapers. I was there at your bris, for crying out loud."

"Yeah well... some things have changed since then." Starsky said with dignity.

Hutch laughed. Then he noticed the time. “Hey, I hate to break this up but it’s getting late, and I have to go to work tomorrow. I think I’d better call it a night.”

"Which means that we have to call it a night too since you're on the couch" Miriam nodded, getting up. "OK, it was a long drive anyway."

"Don't forget, Starsky, you have an appointment with the cardiologist tomorrow.” Hutch said, “That’s at 10, Miriam, I’ll leave you directions on how to get there.”

“I can give her directions myself, Hutch, don’t be such a mother hen.”

Hutch sighed. “Right. Sorry.” Their eyes met. There was an uncomfortable silence. Miriam looked from one to the other. "Well, I'm going to turn in" she said at last.

"I'd better get to bed too" Starsky reluctantly agreed.

Hutch watched them go to their respective rooms and then settled himself on the couch.

***

The next morning Hutch woke up to the smell of cooking. He peered into the kitchen to find Miriam frying eggs.

"I'm used to getting up early" she explained. "Figured I'd send you off with a good meal."

"You didn't have to do that," Hutch said. "We didn't bring you here to be a cook."

"It's no problem, really. Now sit, eat. You can't work on an empty stomach."

"You're already doing so much. Giving up three weeks, leaving your kids..."

"Hutch," she said, eyeing him over the frying pan. "The kids are 14 and 17. You know what living with teenagers that age is like? Believe me, it's a vacation getting away from them for a few weeks. I should thank you for asking me here. And my ex is always saying he wants more time with them. He was going to have them for two weeks this summer anyway. The extra week works out good for everyone. Now stop feeling guilty and eat." She slapped his plate down in front of him with a bang.

Meekly Hutch dug into breakfast.

After he showered and dressed, he stopped in Starsky's room to say good-bye. Starsky was still asleep. Hutch sat carefully on the bed next to him.

"Hey sleeping beauty.”

Starsky opened his eyes blearily, then jerked awake. “Oh hey, Babe, I’m sorry, I meant to be up to see you off.”

Hutch stroked his hair. “That’s OK, you need your sleep.”

Starsky pulled himself upright. “What I need is to get up and get ready for the doctor.”

Hutch lowered his voice to a whisper. "What you need right now is a kiss" he said and fit his actions to the words.

Starsky moaned softly and pulled Hutch to him, hard, deepening the kiss. Hutch leaned into it for a few moments, then regretfully pulled away. "Keep that up, and I'll never get out of here," he said, laughing. "Can't be late my first day back. Dobey'd kill me."

"Yeah, well. You be careful," Starsky said sternly.

"Starsk, I'm going to be sitting at a desk and doing paperwork all day. My biggest danger is going to be getting overweight from eating too much in the cafeteria."

Starsky chuckled. "Just mean there's more of you to love, Schweetheart."

Hutch chuckled too, and got to his feet. "I'll see you tonight, Babe. Hurry and get up, Miriam made breakfast and you don't want it to get cold."

***

The cousins had an enjoyable breakfast, and Starsky's appointment with the cardiologist was satisfactory. He reported Starsky was making good progress, and was cleared to drive again if his physical therapist said he could.

When they got back from the doctor's, Miriam made lunch. After that, she suggested that since it was time to walk the dog, they should take a walk to the beach, which was only two blocks away. "The exercise is good for you," she added briskly.

"Hutch and I have been going down there a lot," Starsky agreed. They leashed up the dog and walked slowly down.

They sat on the sand in companionable silence for a while. Then Miriam pulled out her cigarettes. “You mind?” she asked. Starsky shook his head. “I’m trying to quit,” she explained as she lit up. “I figured coming here would help me cut down because I shouldn’t be smoking in the house around you.”

She took a deep drag. "So, look,” she said, “How have you been doing really? Not the fake cheerful stuff, but really tell me."

Starsky shrugged. “I’m good, most of the time. Honestly. It hurts pretty bad some times, but Hutch gets me through it. I wouldn’t be able to do it if it weren’t for Hutch.”

Miriam nodded, and pulled on her cigarette. “What are you planning on doing after you recover? You think they’re going to let you go back to work?”

“Probably not on the streets again,” Starsky admitted. “I’m going to try for reinstatement, but I don’t think I’ll make it. I won’t quit, though. I’ll do desk duty until something better comes along.”

“What about Hutch?”

“We’re going to wait until we know for sure I can’t go back on the street with him.” Starsky was actually pretty sure that he would never be able to requalify, but he felt he owed it to Hutch to at least try. “Then if I don’t, he’s going to take the Lieutenant’s exam. He’s had enough college to qualify, and that’d get him safely off the streets.”

“Be hard on you guys to be split up, won’t it?”

Starsky shrugged again. “Hutch doesn't really want me back on the streets. He thinks he does, but it would make him crazy worrying. We'll work things out. We’re going to be house-sitting here for over a year still until the Jacobs come back. After that... who knows. " He shifted uncomfortably. He didn't like lying to Miriam but he couldn’t tell her their real plans unless he came out of the closet. "We’ll probably end up rooming together,” he finally said. Close enough to the truth, he thought.

“He’s been a good friend to you.” Miriam took a last long drag on her cigarette, and stubbed it out. “I’m glad you found someone like that.” She flicked the butt away. “Your mom likes him too, you know.”

“My mom wants me to get married to a nice Jewish girl and settle down.” Starsky sifted some sand through his fingers.

“She wants grandchildren. It’s the goal of every Jewish mother in the world. 'Be fruitful and multiply.' You think it was any different for me? From the moment Jerry and I got back from our honeymoon it was ‘So when are you going to have a baby? When are you going to make me a grandma?’ For that matter I’m not even sure it’s just a Jewish thing. I think it’s a mother thing.”

Starsky laughed, but uneasily. “No mama for any grandbabies in sight on my end of things.” And, he added to himself, there wasn’t ever going to be at this point. Ma wouldn’t be happy about that, one of the things making it so hard for him to tell her about the change in his life. “Still, though, sounds like Nicky’s getting pretty tight with this Rina he’s seeing. So maybe she’s got a chance there.”

“Yeah?” Miriam asked curiously. “I heard something about Rina from Mom. She’s a rabbi’s daughter, right? That’s gotta’ make your mom happy. Didn’t know it was that serious, though.”

Starsky launched into a full family gossip fest, starting with the startling news of Nick’s decision to join the New York City police, pleased to have diverted Miriam from the topic of his future. As they exchanged news from different ends of their family, time slipped away and they realized they needed to head back to the house if they were going to be there before Hutch got home.

***

Hutch dragged himself wearily in after work that night to find that, despite the fact that he’d told Miriam he was going to cook, she had gotten started on dinner. A deep feeling of relief that he didn’t have to do it himself washed over him, immediately followed by a sense of guilt.

“Making dinner wasn‘t necessary” he said shortly.

Miriam looked up from chopping vegetables.

“Ease off, Hutch” Starsky put in warningly from his seat at the kitchen table. “It’s OK” he added to Miriam. “Hutch snaps when he’s feeling guilty.”

Hutch dipped his head. “Sorry” he muttered.

“That’s OK,” Miriam replied. “Look, Hutch, if I were home, I’d be schlepping back from work each night and making dinner for myself and two growing teenagers. Here I’m doing very little all day except driving Davey around, helping him with his exercises, and walking the dog, I can make dinner for myself and two adults with no problem. So unless there’s something special you want to make one night, why don’t you let me handle it?”

Hutch hesitated.

"Don't worry, Hutch, she cooks better than her mom," Starsky spoke up. Miriam laughed. Her mother's lack of cooking skills were famous throughout the Starsky clan.

"Yeah" she put in. "Aunt Sonya taught me everything I know. I learned out of pure self defense."

Hutch laughed. "OK, Miriam, if you're sure." It was actually a relief. Going back to work was more draining than he'd expected after his prolonged Starsky-tending absence, especially after spending the night on the couch. He slid wearily into a seat at the table. "But only during the week. Weekends you take a break and let me take over."

Miriam waved a celery stalk with a flourish. "It's a deal. Now tell us how your day went.”

“First you guys. Starsk, what did the doctor say?”

Starsky filled him in. “And” he finished up, “he says that I’m cleared to drive again as soon as the physiotherapist says I can.”

“When’s your next appointment?” Miriam asked.

“Tomorrow. Twice a week at this point, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The man’s a sadist, I swear. By the time I get back I can hardly move. Hutch rubs me down, gives me a pill and I sleep for the rest of the afternoon.”

“Now, now” Miriam admonished. “Remember, if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t good for you.”

Hutch smiled at Starsky’s slightly annoyed expression. Miriam laughed. “OK, now tell us” she said “How was your day?”

Hutch shrugged. “Paperwork. Nothing exciting. Some of Gunther’s goons. Since he killed himself, the whole organization is falling apart.” Gunther had been found hanged in his cell a few weeks after Hutch had brought him in, and although Hutch would have rather seen him stand trial for attempted murder, he was not unhappy with the result.

“Oh, and Captain Dobey sends an invitation for the three of us to have dinner with them on Saturday” he added as an afterthought.

“Oh good!” Starsky said, his annoyance forgotten. “Maybe Edith’ll make that great lasagna of hers.”

“I think it was a backyard barbecue, actually”

“Sounds good to me” Miriam agreed. “I think I packed something I can wear.”

After dinner there was an old movie on TV Starsky wanted to watch, and by the time that was over, Hutch was nodding off.

“I think we’d better let Hutch get some sleep” Starsky said, pulling himself to his feet.

Miriam got up too. “Well, I don’t want to turn in just yet but that’s OK, I brought some books I can read in bed.”

“Wanna’ come ‘n tuck me in?” Starsky asked, waggling his eyebrows in a mock suggestiveness that Hutch knew was hiding a real desire. Hutch, laughed, and got up.

“Sure” he said, keeping the tone light. “Good night, Miriam.”

He ushered Starsky into his bedroom. As soon as the door was closed, Starsky was all over him.

“Hey, hey” Hutch cautioned. “Watch it there, Buddy. We can’t make too much noise in here unless you want Miriam knowing exactly what’s going on.”

Starsky pulled back abruptly. “Damn it, Hutch. I hate lying to her about us. But I can’t tell my family yet, I just can’t.”

Hutch sighed, pulled him into a chaste hug. “It’s OK, Babe. It’ll work out,” he said, as cheerfully as he could muster. He kissed Starsky on the forehead and pushed him down onto the bed. “Now it’s time for both of us to get some sleep.”

***

The next day Miriam made breakfast again, then drove Starsky to his appointment. He came out exhausted but jubilant. The therapist had told him that if he kept working, and continued improving at the same rate that he had been, he should be cleared to drive by the time Miriam left.

By the time they arrived back home, though, his jubilation had grown quiet, and it became obvious just why Hutch had been so insistent that someone needed to be there for him. His muscles had cramped up so badly she had to help him from the car and into bed.

True to her word, she gave him a thorough massage, her face only hardening slightly when she saw his scars.

“Pretty bad, aren’t they?” Starsky said bitterly.

“I’ve seen worse.” Miriam brusquely rubbed her hands with the softening cream that Starsky’s therapist recommended. “You’re alive, Squirt. That’s what matters.”

“That’s what Hutch says,” Starsky agreed with a sigh.

“That’s what anyone who loves you would say.” She set to the massage fiercely.

“You’re almost as good at that as Hutch” Starsky mumbled, reveling in the feeling of the rubdown but at the same time wondering uneasily what she would think if she knew about the little “extras” that Hutch included every time he did this for him.

Miriam just laughed, swatted his butt, got him one of his pain pills, and tucked him in for a much needed nap.

***

Hutch came home that evening to a reprise of the night before, the two cousins in the kitchen making dinner.

“Well, what did the therapist say?” he asked.

Starsky grinned brilliantly. “If I keep working, I should be cleared to drive by the time Miriam needs to go home. You know what that means? I gotta’ make sure the Torino’s fixed by then.”

Miriam looked up bright-eyed. “The Torino? You still have it? Hey, that’s great, I thought it had been wreaked when you were shot. That's what my mom said, anyway.”

Hutch stared at her. “You like that tomato of his?”

“Are you kidding? That’s a great car! Davey, how can you hang out with a guy who doesn’t appreciate a great car like that?” At first Hutch suspected sarcasm, but the sincerity in her voice was too real to be faked.

Hutch shook his head sadly. Miriam seemed so down to earth. "I can't believe there's two of you. Must run in the family."

Starsky looked hurt. “Miriam has always appreciated a good car. Which is more than you do.”

“Hey, who was it who took the tomato down there anyway, instead of letting the wreakers just take it away?”

“That is true and I’ve thanked you for it, Babe. But” Starsky punctuated vigorously with a pointed finger, “You know you only did it because you know the car means a lot to me, not because you give a damn about the car itself.”

"I don't understand how you can not love that car." Miriam shook her head ruefully.

“I don’t believe such an intelligent and sophisticated lady actually likes that soup can," Hutch retorted.

"Hey, who do you think it was who taught Davey about cars in the first place?" Miriam grinned. "I taught him how to read using car magazines."

"Oh yeah, I remember. That was great." Starsky reminisced. "When she was watching me and Nicky, Hutch. After Nicky was in bed, if I'd been good, she'd read to me out of some of her dad's magazines."

"Another way I learned to get you to behave yourself. You'd do anything for the latest Car and Driver."

Hutch rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Miriam, you’re driving a Volvo station wagon. I thought you appreciated safety and durability over flash.”

Miriam laughed. “Hutch, I’m a single mother of two teenagers. And Ben plays football, and Sheila plays lacrosse. I need something reliable, and roomy. Besides, Ben has his license now. Having the Volvo keeps him from begging me to borrow the car all the time. But…” she smiled dreamily, “the day they’re both off to college, the Volvo goes, and I get a real car.”

"What's it gonna' be?" Starsky asked eagerly.

"I don't know... maybe a T-bird. A nice classic year."

"If you're going for a classic... remember that car you had when I came out here, when you were in college?"

"You mean the Hornet?" Miriam smiled reminiscently. "How could I ever forget? A '51 Hudson Hornet convertible. My first car. Dad gave it to me” she explained to Hutch. “Someone brought it into the lot. It was almost brand new!”

Starsky nodded with enthusiasm. “That car made me the most popular kid in the neighborhood, you know. Everyone wanted to be my friend just for the chance to touch it when you were home on the weekends.”

“H-145 high-compression, 308 cubic inch, in-line L-head flathead six engine.” Miriam sighed. “I loved that car... and I think it got me married. I swear Jerry fell in love with the car first, then me.”

“What’s not to love? Hutch, you should have seen that car. Even you would have loved that car. 145 horse-power. 3800 rpm. It was a two-door coupe,” Starsky added reminiscently. “And that color... where did you get that purple? That wasn't any standard color, I'd make book on it.”

Miriam laughed a little sadly. “Oh, the paint job. It was a special present from... a friend.” She shook her head. “So anyway, then, you want me to take me to your mechanic tomorrow to see about the Torino, right?”

Starsky visibly pulled himself back to the present. “Oh, yeah. Doesn’t have to be early. I don’t have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow so we have all day.”

“All right, it’s a date, then.” Miriam finished what she was doing, and started rummaging in the kitchen cabinet. “Hey, do you guys know where the colander is?”

***

After dinner they settled back in the living room with coffee, and spent the rest of the evening in conversation about nothing very important. Finally, though, Miriam stood up.

“I really need a cigarette, guys. I’ll take it outside.”

“I’ll go with you. It’s a nice night out.” Starsky got to his feet, and took his cane.

Hutch pulled himself to his feet, and suppressed a groan as his back twinged. Miriam gave him a concerned look but didn’t say anything.

They stood for awhile on the deck in the darkness listening to the California night sounds. At last Hutch said, "I’m afraid I have to get to bed now.”

They moved back into the living room, and Hutch eased himself carefully down on the couch, wincing. This time Miriam did say something. “Hey, Hutch, I can rub your back out for you if you want, maybe help with that.”

“No thanks, that’s OK. It’s not that bad really.” But the look on his face gave the truth away.

Miriam took a deep breath. She looked from Hutch, to Starsky, and back again. She wiped her hands on her jeans, and swallowed nervously.

“Look, I wasn’t going to say anything. I figured it was your business, not mine. But I can’t stand seeing you hurt like this, Hutch. So...” She took another deep breath . “Why don’t you go back to your own bed tonight?”

“Miriam, I can’t make you sleep on the couch...” Hutch began, but the look on her face stopped him.

“I don’t mean you should take my bed, Hutch. That’s not where you’ve been sleeping, is it?” she asked quietly.

Hutch felt a slow blush burn over his face. He didn’t say anything. This was Starsky’s decision to make.

Her eyes moved over to Starsky. “I am right, aren’t I, Davey?”

Starsky was beet red. Slowly he nodded. “Yeah. You’re right.” He gulped. “How... how did you know?”

Miriam sighed. “Davey, what is the usual topic of conversation at any gathering in our family?” She answered herself before he could. “The members of the family who aren’t there, that’s what. The question ‘Are they or aren’t they’ has been one of the major ones any time you aren’t there, ever since you started bringing Hutch around, what, five years ago? Seven? Truthfully, I was on the ‘no they aren’t’ side until I came down here this week. But... something's been different...”

Starsky swallowed. “You're right, we weren’t, until just before you came here. But..." his voice rose, "You mean the whole family’s been talking about us? Nicky? My mother?”

Miriam shrugged. “Well, I think people have tried to tone it down around your mom. And she’s always denied it anyway. But, more like it was the thing to say, rather than like she believed it. I think if you tell her, Davey, it’s not going to be such a big surprise.”

Starsky buried his head in his hands. “Oh God. I mean, I knew some people probably suspected something, but I didn’t think it’d be that big a conversational topic.”

“Davey, don’t worry. Just about everyone’s alright with it. Well, except your Uncle Myron on your mom’s side, but what can you say about him anyway?”

"Miriam, I..." Starsky trailed off.

She took his face between her hands. "Davey, it's OK. It doesn't change anything for me. And I promise I won't tell anyone until you want them to know. Promise. Like I never told your dad about the Schmidt's window, remember? I just brought it up now because I can't stand seeing Hutch wreck his back."

Starsky snorted a laugh that almost broke into a sob. Miriam pulled him to her for a hug, and kissed his forehead, then gently released him. "Look, I'm going to bed now. You guys... have a good night." She walked to her bedroom door, then turned around with a wicked smile. "Just one favor, OK? It's been six months since I had a hot date. Be merciful and keep the volume down, huh?"

"Miriam!" Hutch choked out. She just giggled, winked, and shut the door behind her.

***

The next morning Hutch gently detangled himself from a sleeping Starsky. Starsky rolled over and mumbled incoherently, and Hutch gave him a kiss.

"Go back to sleep, Babe" he whispered. Starsky murmured something and burrowed back into the covers.

Hutch made his way to the kitchen. Miriam was again up before him, making breakfast. She handed him a mug of coffee and a plate of eggs.

“Back feeling better?” she asked.

Hutch took a bite of egg, and swallowed. “Miriam, I... Thanks. For everything.”

She took a mug of coffee herself and sat down opposite him. “Hutch, I love Davey. He’s the little brother I always wanted. You’ve made him happier than I can remember him being since he was a kid. Between his father dying, and Aunt Sonya sending him out to us, and then whatever happened to him over in Vietnam, he hasn’t had an easy time of it. But since he met you...” She sipped at her coffee. “I don’t care how you made him happy, Hutch. I just care that he is.”

Hutch nodded. “I’ll do my best to keep him that way. I promise.”

She grinned, the same lopsided brilliant grin that Starsky had. “I’ll hold you to that.”

Hutch hesitated, then said "It means a lot to him, what you said last night. It's been weighing on him that your family didn't know, but he hasn't been able to bring himself to tell anyone. He keeps saying he's going to, but I don't think he ever really will. Your family is so close, he’s afraid of losing it. Knowing that someone at least knows and doesn't mind is a big thing."

Miriam smiled sadly. "I understand how he feels. But things will work out for you guys, I'm sure. This is 1979, not the dark ages."

Hutch sighed. "I hope so."

***

It was much later that Starsky got up and got ready for his trip to the mechanic. They seemed to have mutually agreed not to talk about the previous night’s revelation, and they spent the trip in inconsequentials. The drive wasn’t a long one, and when they were about there, he suddenly realized something.

“Hey, I shoulda’ said, Miriam. You probably know this guy, he used to work for your dad. Merle the Earl. I think he was one of the guys who started with him when he opened the place.”

Miriam drew a breath. Her hands tightened on the wheel, but her voice sounded normal when she said “Merle? Of course I remember Merle.”

Starsky glanced over at her. She didn’t seem upset.

“I didn’t know he was still around here” she added.

“Yeah, he’s pretty well known. One of the top guys in the area.”

She smiled. “He was always the best. It’ll be nice to see him again.” They reached the shop just then. “Is this the place?” she asked. Starsky nodded, and she pulled in.

Merle looked up from the work he was doing as Starsky pulled himself out of the car. A broad grin broke over his face.

“Starsky, my man, it’s good to see you vertical and mobile.” Then, suddenly, his face softened, and his voice changed. “I see you aren’t the only one of the Starsky clan gracing my establishment today.”

Miriam had gotten out, and stood next to the Volvo.

“Miriam, you are looking as beautiful as ever." He walked over and took both her hands.

Miriam laughed nervously "Hi Merle. Thanks, but I’m a little shopworn by now. But you look wonderful."

"How are the kids? And your husband?” He hadn't let go of her hands.

Miriam swallowed. “The kids are fine. Ben’s 17 and Sheila’s 14. Jerry... He's good. We divorced about five years ago. How about you?”

Merle took a deep breath. “No one told me you were divorced.” His eyes shone. “I still embrace the single lifestyle. Footloose and fancy free, that is me.” There was an awkward silence.

Miriam looked around the yard. “You’ve done well, it looks like. I didn‘t know you had your own place.”

Starsky looked between the two of them, puzzled. Their words could be simply old friends meeting again, but there was something in the intensity of Merle's look, and in the uncertainty of Miriam's posture that indicated something more. That, and the fact they were still holding hands. They seemed to have almost forgotten his presence.

“Allow me to show you around my artistic establishment.” Merle crooked his arm, and Miriam took it. Starsky tagged along behind, confused. Certainly what seemed to be happening, couldn’t be... could it? Miriam and Merle? That was... weird.

Well, for that matter, Merle and anyone seemed pretty strange, but Merle and Miriam? He did some quick mental math and realized that they were only a few years apart in age. So it was possible, but... Merle and Miriam? Why had he never heard anything about it?

Merle gave her a complete tour of the shop. Miriam was fascinated. She “oohed” and “ahhed” at everything, making comments, peering under hoods, gazing at the undercarriages of the cars up on the racks, and taking in the fine details of the paint jobs Merle was obviously proudest of. Starsky decided he knew where the special purple of Miriam’s Hornet had come from.

They ended up at the Torino, and Merle finally acknowledged Starsky’s presence again. Together they looked ruefully over the damage. “The work’s been going slow, ‘cause you didn’t show,” Merle explained. “I’ve been waiting to get your go-ahead before I started really working on her” he added.

“Well, now is the time, Merle. Can you have her within three weeks? That’s when Miriam’s going home, and the therapist says I should be able to drive by then, so I’ll need the car.”

"For you, this I can do." Merle agreed. Then he turned to Miriam. "So you're in your old home town for three weeks?"

Miriam nodded. "Things have changed a lot. I hardly know where anything is any more."

Merle smiled, "Could an old friend show you around, show you what's changed, and... what's still the same?" He spoke deliberately, words carefully chosen, totally different from his usual rapid-fire delivery.

Miriam's eyes were like stars. "I think that would be wonderful. Tonight?"

Merle shook his head sadly. "My word is true, but no can do. Not tonight. Tomorrow?"

"Perfect. What time?"

"You staying with these turkeys?" Merle gestured at Starsky. Miriam nodded. "Is 6:30 good? Then we can paint the town red. Do you still like dancing?"

"Merle, with you I could dance all night."

Merle kissed her hand “Tomorrow at 6:30. Until then... farewell.” He turned to Starsky. "Starsky, my man, I will resume work on your machine immediately, and notify you when I am through. Until then, adieu.”

Miriam and Starsky made their way back to the car.

Did I just see that? Starsky asked himself. Did I really just see Merle and Miriam make a date?

When they were safely away, Starsky turned towards Miriam. “OK, give. What was all that about? You and Merle? No one ever told me you had a thing going with Merle.”

Miriam laughed a little sadly. “Davey, no one ever knew. No one.”

“Why not?”

“Think. It was the early ‘50s. An interracial romance? Between teenagers? Davey, there was no civil rights movement yet. No one had heard of Martin Luther King, or Rosa Parks. Interracial relationships were illegal in most of the country. They had only been legal here in California since 1948. There was no way I could tell anyone. No way.” She shrugged helplessly.

“So... what happened?”

She sighed deeply. “It was hopeless from the beginning. We met when Dad hired him for the lot. He was just a kid, didn’t have the greatest record... Dad really took a chance on him because he could do such great work. I used to hang out there after school... I was 17. He was 19. And...” her voice took on a faraway tone "Do you know what it's like when you see someone, and know right then, 'that's the one'? At first sight?"

Starsky thought about the moment that his eye had caught Hutch's across a smoky barroom, after a long day in class, the way something had happened, and he'd known this person was going to be part of his life forever. "Yeah, sort of." He hadn't known he and Hutch would be lovers, it had been years before he could admit even to himself that the desire was there, but he had known immediately that there was something special.

“Well, that’s how it was. For both of us. But... there was nothing we could do. We talked a lot. Snuck away to be alone some times, he had this old clunker of a car, we’d drive out into the country, even made out a little, but there was always the guilt...”

“Didn’t Merle say you went dancing?”

She shook her head. “No, we wanted to but we never dared go anywhere. I guess there were places an interracial couple could go safely, but we were just kids and we didn’t know where. I loved dancing so much...” Her voice changed. “You know how much I loved dancing, Davey. Remember I taught you for that Junior High School dance, the one you wanted to ask what’s-her-name to, the one who ended up being a model?”

Starsky laughed. “Yeah, and just when I was working up the courage, I found she had a boyfriend she was going with...”

“But remember how much fun we had practicing? I wanted to take Merle dancing so badly... Sometimes, when we’d snuck away in his car, we’d park somewhere, and leave it running with the radio on, and just dance by ourselves...”

Starsky smiled sadly. “I guess I know how you feel. Can’t take Hutch dancing unless we go to a gay bar.”

“At least there are places, Davey. For us, there was nowhere. And eventually, it was just too much to bear. He didn’t want to run around behind everyone’s back. He said he owed Dad too much to do that to him. And I couldn’t stand the guilt any more. So we ended it. Then I went to college, and met Jerry and the rest is history now.” She smiled sadly.

Starsky winced. He understood all too well Miriam's inability to tell her family about her forbidden romance. “God, Miriam, I don’t know what to say... I never even guessed anything.”

“No reason you should have. By the time you came to California it was old news, Squirt.” Her tone lightened. “But now it is the enlightened year of 1979, and tomorrow night we will dance...” she trailed off. “Oh no! Davey!” It came out as a dismayed wail.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“I didn’t bring anything I can wear! I didn’t expect to be going on a date! I’ll have to buy something and I don’t even know where to look around here any more!”

Starsky thought for a moment. “Got it. That I can help you with. Pull over here.”

“Huh? Where?”

“The payphone. Gotta’ call someone. Got a dime?”

She pulled one out of her purse. “Here.”

“OK, park and come with me. You’re gonna’ wanta’ talk to her.”

"Her? Her who?" She parked the car and helped him to the payphone.

"A friend. Don't worry about it." Starsky dialed a number he'd long since committed to memory.

"Bay City Police department."

"Can I have Minnie Kaplan, please?” The sharp-tongued, and sharper-witted policewoman had always reminded Starsky a bit of Miriam.

"Speaking."

"Minnie? Hey, I thought it was you, beautiful. It's Starsky."

"Starsky? I thought I recognized your trashy tones" Minnie teased. “If you're looking for your better half, honey, he isn't here. He went out for a late lunch."

"No, Schweetheart, it's you I wanta' talk to. Got a favor to ask."

"Just like old times!" the policewoman laughed. "Baby, it'll cost you. My favorite takeout's still Chinese."

"It's not a favor for me, Minnie, so be generous." Starsky knew she was only teasing; Minnie had always harbored a soft spot for him.

"What do you need?" she asked, with an exaggerated sigh.

"You know I have my cousin Miriam staying with us for a few weeks?"

"I think Hutch might have mentioned it."

"Well she ran into an old friend, and she's going on a date. But she doesn't have anything to wear, so she needs to go shopping and she doesn't know a good place. I thought you might know somewhere." He suspected the two women had similar tastes.

"Could be, Starsky. Put her on." There was a thoughtful tone in her voice.

Starsky handed the phone over to Miriam. "Miriam, meet Officer Minnie Kaplan."

He backed off to let the women talk.

After a few minutes, Miriam hung up the phone. “OK, she gave me some good ideas. You mind going with me now?”

Starsky shrugged. He wasn't thrilled with the idea, but... “For you, anything, Miriam.”

"Oh good. I'd like some male input."

Starsky realized that she was really nervous. "Hey, no problem. We'll find something that'll knock 'em dead."

Minnie had recommended a little boutique not far away. Miriam found a soft lose velvet pantsuit in a deep rich purple that set off her dark coloring, and a pair of shoes to go with it. "Thank goodness they take American Express" she said gratefully.

"Come on, let's get back home." Starsky said. He was tired, and besides, he wanted to be sure to be there before Hutch. Hutch is not going to believe this he thought wryly.

***

That night Starsky met Hutch at the door when he got home.

"Hi, Starsk, something wrong?" he asked in concern.

"Just wanted to give you a quick heads up on the day. This is kinda' weird. Merle asked Miriam on a date tomorrow night. Seems they were an item back in the old days."

Hutch stared. "Miriam and Merle?"

"Funny, that's just what I said. Come on and hear all about it." He ushered him into the kitchen where Miriam was working on the night's dinner.

"Hey Miriam, I hear you had an interesting day."

She looked up from kneading a meatloaf.

"Davey told you? I hope you don't mind me taking an evening off."

"Of course not. Your evenings are your own. You can take any time you want."

She beamed. "Davey helped me pick out a great outfit." Starsky rolled his eyes.

"So, you and Merle used to be...?" Hutch trailed off. The whole idea of Merle and anyone, let alone Starsky's cousin Miriam, was fairly strange. Yet was it any stranger, really, than the idea of Starsky and him? Merle, at least, was the right sex.

Miriam told him the story. Hutch listened, still not quite believing that Merle could be anybody's vision of Prince Charming. Yet Miriam was quite obviously enthralled.

"I'll start dinner tomorrow right after I bring Davey back from the therapist's," she concluded. "That way it'll be done as soon as you get home, we can eat early, and I can be ready by 6:30."

"Sure. However you want to work it." He tried desperately to think of something constructive to say, but nothing came to him.

Before the silence could grow uncomfortable, Starsky broke in with "And Merle says he'll have the Torino done by the time I'm ready to drive."

"Oh great" Hutch mock-sighed. "The Tomato back again. Just what I needed."

Starsky just laughed.

***

The next morning as usual Miriam made breakfast before Hutch got up, then took Starsky to his therapy session. All day he could see she was in a state of nervous tension, though she tried hard to hide it.

It came out when she gave him his massage after the session. He could feel it in her hands kneading his back muscles.

"Ow! Careful there, Miriam! That's a little too rough."

"Sorry Squirt," Miriam said, contrite.

"You worried about tonight?"

Miriam laughed a little. "Yeah, a little. Davey, it's been almost thirty years. He's changed. I've changed. What if there's nothing left?"

Starsky shrugged as best he could. "Then you have an evening out with an old friend, and that's all. Geeze, Miriam, no one says you have to marry him!"

She snorted. "That's true." She gave his back a last swipe, and pulled the covers over him. "OK, Squirt, get some sleep."

***

By the time Hutch got home she had a light meal finished. She'd already gotten her hair fixed up, though she wasn't yet dressed to go out. She served dinner, but only picked at it herself. “I’m too wired to eat,” she sighed. “I’d better just go and get ready.” She left for her bedroom.

Hutch glanced at Starsky. “She’s really nervous.”

“Yeah. I guess Merle was a really big part of her life. I think she’s hoping maybe they can get together again now.”

“I hope it works out for her. After all this time.”

“Me too” Starsky agreed.

By the time she was ready, it was almost time for Merle to pick her up.

She looked beautiful. Her dark eyes glowed, and the deep purple of her outfit set off her skin to perfection. Hutch whistled appreciatively. She still wasn’t his type, but who knew she could look so elegant?

“I feel like a father waiting for his daughter’s prom date,” Starsky muttered. “Should I ask him his intentions?” Hutch elbowed him in the side, but gently so as to not hurt his healing incisions.

Merle was right on time. He drove up in what was obviously one of his own creations, a customized '67 Thunderbird convertible in a deep metallic-flecked blue with stylized yellow flames.

Starsky opened the door to his knock. “Hey Merle” he said cheerfully. “You here for my cousin?” Merle’s eyes went over Starsky’s shoulder, behind him, where Miriam waited nervously, and the normally voluble mechanic simply nodded.

As Starsky stepped aside to let him in, Merle pulled out something that he’d been holding behind his back. “For the fairest of the fair.” It was a corsage of white orchids.

“Oh Merle!” Miriam took them, her eyes shining. “They’re gorgeous.” She pinned them on.

Merle was a sight to behold. Hutch suddenly realized it was the first time he’d ever seen the mechanic in anything other than the coveralls he wore at work. Seeing him now in his finery, he could almost understand what Miriam saw in him.

He was in a suit flamboyant enough to do justice to Huggy, wide lapelled, in some silky material. But the amazing thing was the color, an absolutely perfect match for Miriam’s outfit. Without any prior discussion, they looked as though they were deliberately matched and color-coordinated. Hutch looked from one to the other, stunned.

"So you kids have a great time" Starsky said cheerfully as she put on her jacket.

Miriam laughed. "We will"

"Don't be out too late, and don't do anything I wouldn't do" he added.

At that Merle whirled around “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do? Why you turkey...”

“Merle... he was joking” Miriam said with a grin.

Merle just shook his head and gave her his arm. “The lady will be homing when we decide to stop roaming” he said with dignity, and they left.

***

Much later that night, Starsky rolled over in bed, and opened an eye. There were quiet noises coming from the living room. He was about to wake up Hutch and get up himself, when he heard a familiar voice murmur something to the dog. Miriam was just getting in. He peered over at the bedside clock. 4:30. He grinned and chuckled softly. Guess things must have worked out OK. Then he rolled over, snuggled back up to the still-soundly sleeping Hutch, and let himself drift back into sleep.

***

That morning when Hutch got up for work, Miriam was awake making breakfast as usual, but with a decidedly bleary look. She blinked at Hutch as he came into the kitchen.

“Morning” she said, suppressing a yawn.

“Morning, Miriam, How was the evening?” Hutch asked.

She smiled widely. “Oh we had a great time. Merle still has it.”

Hutch decided that was a comment he really didn’t want to pursue too deeply. “I’m glad it all went well.”

She yawned again. “Thanks. There’s nothing I have to take Davey to today, right?” Hutch shook his head. “Good. I’m looking forward to a nap later on.”

***

When Starsky got up for breakfast he was not surprised to find Miriam only half awake.

“Heard ya’ coming in last night. I don’t think your mom would approve” he said with a grin.

“What Mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” She yawned and stretched. Starsky’s eyes were drawn to the large red mark on her neck that her movement revealed. His grin widened.

“Had a good night I see,” he said wickedly.

Miriam slapped her hand over the hickey. She blushed. “Oh crap, that’s so embarrassing.”

Starsky shrugged, and pulled the collar of his pajama shirt away from his neck. “We match,” he said solemnly, revealing an equally large hickey.

Miriam snorted, then chuckled, then guffawed. It was contagious, and soon the cousins were laughing uncontrollably.

Starsky was the first to recover. Pulling himself together, he said, “So anyway, Miriam, I guess that means however much you changed, it wasn’t too much.”

Miriam took a deep breath. “Yeah.” Her tone grew more serious. “Davey, it was like we’d never been apart.”

“I’m happy for you” Starsky said. “Though, I gotta’ admit, it’s gonna’ be weird thinking of Merle as part of the family.”

“Weird for the rest of the family too” Miriam sighed. “I'm not even thinking that far ahead, Davey. Even now, it’s not going to be easy, is it?”

"Well, it's not like they have to worry about kids any more" Starsky reminded her. "You've fulfilled your duty to be fruitful and multiply, and raised 'em up Jewish, so they don't have anything to complain about on that score."

"That's true" Miriam agreed, brightening. "And I'm not going to have any more at this stage of the game."

"So you have less to worry about than I do. At least Merle's a guy," Starsky pointed out.

"Yeah, but they've been getting used to the idea of you and Hutch for years," Miriam replied.

Starsky shook his head in wonder. "You, me, and Nicky, all in new relationships. Who'd have thought the one who'd be the least scandalous would be Nicky?"

Miriam started laughing again. “Davey, I am too tired to think about this now. I am going to go back to bed for a few hours. You’ll be OK?”

Starsky gave her a dirty look. “If anything happens I’ll yell.”

“And then” she continued, ignoring his expression, “After I get up, I’m going to do some shopping. You want to come with me?”

“I’ll let you know then.”

***

By the time Hutch got home that night, Miriam had had her nap, shopping had been accomplished, and dinner was once again in preparation.

"So, Miriam, going out with Merle again tonight?" Hutch asked.

Miriam shook her head. "We decided that we should take it slow. We'll see each other next week. Not any day when Davey has to go to an appointment the next day."

Hutch nodded. “I appreciate that.” Starsky started to say something, then just shook his head.

“There is one thing I need to know, though." Miriam went on. "Guys, how out are you? If Merle asks…” she trailed off uncertainly.

Aw hell. Should have known it would come up. Hutch exchanged a look with Starsky. Merle was his mechanic, his friend, not really Hutch’s. “Your call, Babe” he said. It wasn't an easy decision. They hadn't yet told anyone but Huggy.

Starsky swallowed. “I’ll leave it up to you, Miriam. Obviously you know him better than me. How would he take it?”

“Truthfully, Davey, I think he guesses already. That’s why I want to know, I’m sure it’ll come up.”

Starsky buried his head in his hands. “How come everyone in the world knew we were lovers before we knew we were lovers?” he asked plaintively.

Miriam patted him on the head. "Is it our fault that you two were so slow on the uptake?" she asked, laughing. Then she sobered. "So, then, if Merle asks, it's OK if I tell him?"

Starsky shrugged. "You might as well." He sighed. "Make sure he knows we aren't exactly out to the world, though.”

She nodded. "He'll keep it quiet. He remembers how it was for us, too."

"You know, Miriam, there's still going to be a lot of people who give the two of you a hard time" Hutch pointed out.

"And Miriam" Starsky put in in worried tones, "Not just from our family. I went out with a black woman for a little while." Hutch thought about Joan Meredith. He had been so jealous of the pretty black detective for her temporary partnership with Starsky. "It didn't last long, I didn't even have time to worry about what our family would think. She broke it up because her mother gave her such a hard time over it."

Hutch looked quizzically at Starsky. "You never told me that, partner."

Starsky shrugged. "I didn't think you wanted to hear about Meredith, and anyway, I didn't really want to talk about it. It wasn't even that I was white. It was because I was Jewish. Her mother freaked, and..." Starsky shrugged again. "Doesn't matter anymore, in the long run I did better, anyway." He grinned at Hutch.

But Hutch was too stunned by what he had said to take in the compliment. "Because you're Jewish?"

Starsky and Miriam exchanged a glance. "It happens, Hutch. You get used to it. Well, not really, but... what can you do?"

"Well that's one thing I don't have to worry about at least." Miriam put in. "Merle doesn't have a family. He grew up in foster homes. And after dealing with one set of in-laws, you have no idea what a relief the thought of not having to deal with another is."

"What, was Jerry's family really that bad? He seemed like a nice guy."

"Oh, Jerry was OK. It just didn't work out between us, that's all. But his mother... Oy!" Miriam shook her head. "Davey, I could not do a thing right for that woman. From the way I vacuumed the rugs, to the way I lit the Sabbath candles...” She paused for a moment, and looked at her watch. “Speaking of which... Davey, do you mind? I know you’re not very observant, and neither am I, but I’d feel funny if I didn’t at least light the candles.”

Starsky smiled. "Sure. Go ahead. It's been a long time since I've had Shabbat candles lit for me."

Hutch watched, with interest, but with the strange feeling of being an outsider as Miriam set up two candles on the dining room table. She lit them and waved her hands over the yellow flames, then covered her eyes and recited "Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu l'had'lik neir shel Shabbat. Amein."

"Amen" Starsky echoed, and Hutch murmured a quiet “amen” as well. The cousins' phlegmatic acceptance of the anti-Semitism Starsky had experienced had him shaken. He’d never had to live as a member of a minority group. In Minnesota his Norwegian background and Lutheran upbringing had put him solidly in the majority.

That night in bed with Starsky cuddled close to him, he brought it up.

"I didn't know that was why you and Meredith broke up."

"You were too busy recovering from being shot to pay attention, no big deal. I just didn't bother mentioning it. Geeze, Hutch, it was only a casual thing, it wasn't like I was going to marry her or anything. And we're still friends."

"Yeah, but... because you're Jewish? I didn't know there was still that much prejudice. Never thought about what it much be like for you to live with that."

Starsky rolled over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. "Better get used to the idea, Babe. What do you think life is going to be like when people start realizing we're gay?"

Hutch stiffened slightly. "I wouldn't say we were gay. It's just a normal variant of the sexual-activity spectrum. Why do we have to label it gay or straight or bi?"

Starsky rolled over towards him again. “We don’t have to call it anything, Hutch. But you know as well as I do that the world out there is going to say we’re a pair of faggots. Just like when I was a kid and the De Marco brothers down the street called me a ‘dumb kike’.”

Hutch was silent. He hated the thought of having his love for Starsky labeled, derided, laughed at.

“Hutch?” Starsky’s voice held a note of uncertainty. “You aren’t changing your mind about us, are you?”

The worried tone cut Hutch to the core. “God, NO, Babe!” He rolled over until he was on top of Starsky, pinning him down. “Get one thing straight. Of all the things in this world, the one I’m most sure of is that this is where I belong. Here. In your bed. With you in my arms.” He pulled Starsky to him, holding him tight.

Starsky gave a shaky laugh. “Ya’ don’t have to get all soapy on me, Schweetheart. I just... you know it isn’t going to be easy, don’t you? We’re going to have all kindsa’ crap to deal with.”

“Like Miriam and Merle will, if they stay together. Long as I have you, Starsk, I can deal with anything.” He punctuated his words with a long, hard kiss.

As the kiss ended, Starsky pulled away with a soft sigh. “Awright. Long as I have you I can deal with it, too.” He shifted in Hutch’s arms until he was snuggled in comfortably. “And things are gonna’ get better anyway. Look how much things have changed! Up until 1976, what we do would have been illegal, even in our own bed.”

“Still is in a lot of states” Hutch felt compelled to put in.

“Yeah, but I bet it won’t be for much longer. Bet some day we’ll even be able to get married!”

“You think so?” Hutch asked dubiously. He wondered, himself.

“Yeah, I do. And I bet it’ll be easier than it was for that couple that got the Supreme Court to say it was OK for a mixed race couple to get married, what was their name, Miriam was telling me about it today... Loving vs. Virginia, that was the case. 1967. And I bet no one’s ever gonna’ try and pass an amendment to the Constitution to stop it, either, like they tried against interracial marriage in 1912.”

“Also something you learned today from Miriam, I guess” Hutch murmured, nibbling a little on Starsky’s neck.

“Yeah.” Starsky wriggled in Hutch’s arms, and sighed happily. “’N when it is legal, I wanta’ marry you...” He trailed off with a soft moan as Hutch reached down the length of his body to find the swelling hardness at his groin.

“You do, huh?” Hutch whispered through the line of kisses he was tracing down Starsky’s chest. He doubted it would ever happen. Starsky couldn't even tell his family about them. But for now, for the moment... he let his mouth roam over Starsky's body, feeling his arousal.

“Yeah... But lets not wait to have the honeymoon...” Starsky tangled his hands in Hutch’s hair and gasped as Hutch zeroed in on his target. And after that they didn’t talk for a long time.

***

The next day everyone slept late. They were expected at the Dobey's at 3:00.

"You know, Miriam" Hutch said as he got out the bottle of wine he'd bought to bring along, "You could have asked Merle to come today. I'm sure the Dobey's wouldn't mind an extra guest."

"I thought about it" Miriam agreed, "But I thought it was a bit early to be bringing him along to parties and things. We need time alone together first before I start showing him off to the world."

They returned that night replete with hamburgers, hot dogs, Edith Dobey's home made potato salad, and her chocolate angel food cake. It had been a good day, the Dobey's had been charmed by Miriam, and Rosey had confided her newest ambition to her.

"I want to be a doctor when I grow up, like the ones that fixed Uncle Starsky when he was hurt. Junior's friend Sammie is a doctor, and she says there's no reason I can't be one too."

"You do that, sweetie,” Miriam had said. "When I was a little girl I wanted to be a doctor, too. But it wasn't as easy for a girl to be a doctor then as it is now, so I ended up as a nurse instead."

The only downbeat part of the day was Hutch's suspicion that Dobey was starting to suspect something about his and Starsky's relationship. Not that he said anything, but it was the troubled look that he had whenever he looked at them and didn't think they were watching. Still, that was a minor worry.

When they got back, it was time for Starsky to make his weekly call to his mother.

"You want to talk to her, Miriam? I know she'll want to talk to you, but I can always say you're busy if you don't want to."

Miriam assured him that she'd love to talk to her aunt if she wanted to talk to her, so Starsky dialed.

"Hi Ma? It's me."

Hutch always found it amusing to listen in on Starsky's side of his conversations with his mother.

"I'm good, Ma. How's everything in New York?"

There was a long pause as Starsky listened.

"Yeah, big surprise there, you know Uncle Myron is always a bastard... OK, OK, I'll watch my language, sorry Ma. But he is, you know it, and there's no point getting upset about him. I can't figure why Aunt Lena ever married him. So what else is new?"

There was another pause as Starsky listened. It was obvious he was getting a long rundown on the health and lives of all his New York relatives.

Finally he broke in "OK, so how's Nick? And Rina?" There was another long pause, during which Starsky rolled his eyes, and mimed his exasperation with the monologue.

Miriam and Hutch laughed silently, as their imaginations filled in the other side of the conversation. But then the subject changed.

"No, I haven't met any nice girls. Ma, I'm still laid up here, I don't see anyone new except the doctors and the physical therapist. No, Ma, none of them have nice nurses." Starsky's face twisted as he strove to keep his tone light.

There was another, not so long pause. "Yeah, Hutch is fine. No, he's not seeing anyone special either." The hand that didn’t hold the phone was clenched tight.

“Yeah, Ma, I know neither of us is getting any younger. I’m sure we’ll both find the right girl one of these days.”

Another, briefer pause.

“Yeah, she’s right here.” He turned towards Miriam. “Ma wants ta’ talk to you, Miriam.”

Miriam took the phone. “Hi, Aunt Sonya.”

Starsky moved over to Hutch, and put his head on his shoulder. Hutch squeezed his shoulder comfortingly. He knew how much it hurt Starsky to lie to his mother, and he knew how terrified he was, deep inside, of telling her the truth.

“Oh the guys are doing fine.” Miriam was saying. “Yes, I’m taking care of Davey. He's doing very well.” She laughed a little. “No, I don’t know anyone I could introduce them to.” She snuck a brief look at the two men holding each other on the couch. “I’m sure they’ll do fine on their own.”

She chatted for a bit about her children, and her ex-husband, then she said “Me? Oh, I’m doing all right.” She laughed a little. “The kids don’t leave me much time.... Seeing anyone? Well, I..." she swallowed. A trapped look swept over her face "Well, no, not really” she finally said, in a tone of defeat. Starsky caught her eye, and she gave him a weak smile, and shrugged.

It was only a few more moments before she said “Ok, Aunt Sonya, I’ll put him back on. It was great talking to you. Take care!” She handed the phone back to Starsky. They exchanged a few more pleasantries, and finally Starsky told her he loved her and said good-bye.

He and Miriam looked at each other. She sighed. “It’s not easy, is it?”

Starsky silently shook his head.

Miriam sighed. “Look, I gotta’ call Merle. You mind?”

“Go ahead” Hutch assured her.

Miriam stretched the phone cord as far as possible and just managed to get it into her bedroom. After a glance at each other, the two men decided to wait on the deck to give her more privacy.

It was cool in the evening dimness. Hutch stood and leaned on the deck railing. Starsky carefully lowered himself onto a lounge chair. They stayed silent for some time. Then finally Starsky said, “I’m sorry.”

Hutch turned and stared at him. “What for?”

Starsky sighed. “For not bein’ able to tell Ma’ about you.”

Hutch shook his head. “It’s me that should say I’m sorry.”

Now it was Starsky’s turn to stare. “Are you crazy? For what?”

Hutch sighed. “For not being someone you can bring home to your mother. For not being able to light your Sabbath candles for you. For keeping you from having that nice Jewish wife and nice Jewish kids that I know you always wanted, and that your family wants for you…” he trailed off in despair. It seemed so unlikely that Starsky should want to stay with him, with everything he was losing.

Starsky stood up, shaken out of his own sadness by the misery in Hutch’s voice. “Don’t ever say that” he snapped roughly. He took walked over to Hutch and took his face in his hands. “Yeah, I wanted those things. But life is choice, Hutch. I can’t have them and have you too. It’s one or the other. And I want you more.” He jerked his head in an emphatic gesture. “Got that?” he added fiercely.

Hutch said nothing, just pulled Starsky into a hard embrace. But Starsky was relentless. "I mean it, Hutch. I want to know you understand that."

Hutch still didn't reply, just hugged Starsky harder. Starsky pushed back just far enough to look him in the eye. "You're all I want any more. Maybe if Terry had lived, maybe it would be different. But even then, I'm not sure we wouldn't have got together anyway. Terry would have been OK with it, she knew there was something between us..." Starsky trailed off for a moment, but then waved his hand dismissively.

"Anyway, it doesn't matter. She's gone, and no one else has ever come close to what I feel for you. I love you, Hutch, you gotta' know that. Maybe I don't say it as often as I should, but I do."

"I love you too, Starsk" Hutch whispered.

"Then no more of this 'I'm sorry for not bein' a woman' stuff. I like you the way you are, Hutch, and I like what ya' got just fine." Starsky stared blatantly at Hutch's crotch and put on an exaggerated leer. "It just took me awhile to realize it, is all."

Hutch snorted, then chuckled, and finally, unable to restrain himself, broke into a laugh. It was contagious, and Starsky joined in too. The mood of depression was broken, and when Miriam finally joined them some time later, they were both cheerful again.

Miriam seemed happier too.

“Hi guys” she said, settling into one of the folding chairs.

“So what’s up with Merle?” Hutch asked.

“He’s good. We’re going out again tomorrow night, if you guys don’t need me.”

“It’s OK with me. I don’t think I’m supposed to be going anywhere Monday.” Starsky nodded.

“You could have him come here for dinner tomorrow night if you wanted,” Hutch put in.

Miriam shook her head. “We already have dinner plans, thanks.” She grinned wickedly. “He’s cooking. His place. I‘ll be back late again.”

***

The next few days went by rapidly. Miriam went out with Merle Sunday night. She stayed out just as late as the first time, and although she didn’t say anything about the evening, her mood was very good all the next day.

Starsky had physical therapy on Tuesday, and afterwards Miriam gave him a rubdown and tucked him in for a nap. He had an appointment with his pulmonologist on Wednesday, so she didn’t go out with Merle that night.

The pulmonologist was very pleased with Starsky’s progress and said that as long as he kept up his breathing exercises he could probably stop using the cane as soon as the cardiologist said it was safe.

Shortly after they got back from the appointment, Huggy dropped over for a visit. “I have to meet the Princess of the Desert who’s set the heart of Bay City’s master mechanic a-twitter,” he explained.

Starsky made the introduction while Miriam just stared. “How did you know...?”

Huggy put his hand over his heart. “There is nothing in Bay City that the Bear does not hear. Miriam, you are all that the rumors that come to my ears have said. It is easy to see who got the beauty in the Starsky clan.”

Miriam giggled and blushed.

When Hutch got home, Huggy had some information for him, and he ended up staying for dinner.

Over dinner Miriam brought up something that had obviously been worrying her. “If you know about Merle and me, who else knows? And what are people saying?”

Huggy shrugged. “The news is not so widespread. I keep my ears especially open for any mention of my honorary soul brothers. The mere whisper of the name ‘Starsky’ caught my attention. However, be warned, the word will become more widely heard. The way you two were seen dancing at Club Xanadu until closing time was not an encounter for those trying to be discreet. I was told the ice in glasses halfway across the room began to melt.”

Miriam looked abashed. “Oh.”

“Fear not, Desert Princess.” Huggy was quick to assure her. “The Starsky name is one which is held in high esteem in many communities of this fair city, due to your cousin’s handling of certain cases, and his friendship with certain persons prominent in those communities.”

“You being one of those persons, I’m sure” Starsky laughed.

“Modesty forbids” Huggy said dryly. “But rest assured, Fair Lady, your relationship to Curly here will stand you in good stead in your romantic endeavor."

Miriam smiled faintly. "That's good to know, I suppose. I just hadn't thought that it would be of interest to anyone outside of my family in the first place. It wasn't meant as a political statement, after all."

"The personal is also political," Huggy replied. "And the political is always personal. Look at Peter Whitelaw."

"I just want to be with my friend," Miriam protested.

"As did John Blaine and Mr. Whitelaw," Huggy pointed out. "As do our lovebirds here."

Hutch choked on his drink.

"Lovebirds?" Starsky sputtered.

Huggy and Miriam both laughed, and the conversation passed on to other matters.

***

On Thursday Miriam took Starsky to his therapy session as usual. Afterwards she once again rubbed him down and let him sleep. It was later, after Hutch came home, just before dinner, that Starsky got the phone call from his brother Nick.

"Nicky? Is everything all right? Nothing wrong with Ma, is there?"

"No, no, Ma's fine." Nick hastily explained. "No, I'm just calling to, well, uh..." He trailed off. Starsky waited. He heard Nick swallow and start again. "I called to tell you Rina and I are getting married in two weeks, and we want you to come to the wedding." The words came out in a rush.

"Two weeks?" Starsky said blankly. "You're gettin' married in two weeks? That's pretty short notice. Why the...?" Then something clicked. "Nick! You didn't! She's not...?"

"Uh, yeah." Nick said, shame evident in his voice. "But it's not like that! We were gonna' get married anyway! This just means we have to move things up a bit, that's all."

"Nicky! You knocked up a rabbi's daughter?" Starsky squeaked. "How the hell did you manage to be so stupid? Weren't you using protection?"

Hutch and Miriam were staring at Starsky now. "Oy. That's our Nicky." Miriam muttered disgustedly, burying her head in her hands.

"Yeah, of course I was using protection," Nick protested. "But it, uh, broke."

"It broke? My God, Nicky, how careless can you...” He stopped. “Does Ma know?” he demanded.

"Yeah, we told her tonight" Nick sighed. "As soon as we knew for certain. Rina just got the test results back today."

"Oh man. How's she taking it?"

"Better than you'd expect. She likes Rina, and she's real happy about being a Grandma at last. Long as we get the wedding done before anyone can tell what's up, she's OK with it. I mean, anyone who can count is gonna' know we jumped the gun a bit, but she didn't want anyone to be able to see at the wedding. That's why we gotta' rush."

Starsky shook his head sadly. "Nick, oh geeze. Of all the crap you've pulled..."

"Look, I don't need the lecture. I screwed up, I know. I'm doing what I can to make it right. So what I want to know is, can you come to the wedding?" His voice took on a pleading note. "I really want my brother to be my best man, Dave."

Starsky took a deep breath. It was true, Nick was doing all he could do now. "Yeah, of course, Nicky. I'll be there somehow."

Nick let out a gasp of relief. "That's great, Dave, thanks. Hey, look, Miriam is there with you too, right? Can I talk to her?"

"Yeah, sure. She's right here and waitin'." He laughed a little. "She heard everything I said so you don't have to tell her anything." He put the phone in Miriam's outstretched hand.

“OK, Nicky, I’ll spare you the lecture and just say congratulations.” Miriam said dryly. She listened a bit. “How’s her father taking it? He’s widowed, right, so you just have to worry about him?” A pause. “That’s not too bad.” There was a longer pause. “Well, I don’t know about Mom and Dad, you should call them yourselves. But sure, I should be able to pull a bit more time off. It’s just a long weekend, I can even bring the kids. I’ll get Jerry to pay the airfare. I'll tell him that going to New York will broaden them.” Another pause, then "Um, no. Just me, thanks, no date." A look of sadness crept over her face. "Yeah, maybe your mom knows someone she can set me up with, sure. Back to Davey? Sure."

Wordlessly she handed the phone back to Starsky, then slumped down with her face in her hands. Starsky heard her mutter something about cowardice to herself.

Starsky took the phone. "Yeah, me again, Nicky. What's up?"

"Same thing I asked Miriam. You got a date you want to bring, or should I set ya' up with someone? Rina's got some kinda' cute friends."

Time seemed to stand still for a moment. Starsky took a deep breath. He looked at Miriam, curled miserably up on the couch next to him, and at Hutch patiently waiting to hear what was going on. He thought of how Miriam had lost years because she couldn't tell her family the truth. He started to say, like she had "no, no one." But the words caught in his throat. He couldn't do it. He couldn't.

"Nicky? Is Ma at home, do you know?"

"Yeah, far as I know, why?" Nick asked, puzzled.

"'Cause I gotta' talk to her before I make plans. Can I call you back in awhile?"

"Yeah, sure. We're here at my place, we'll be making phone calls for the rest of the night. What's this about?"

"I'll tell you when I call you back." Starsky said firmly, and hung up.

Hutch was watching him closely. "Starsk? What are you doing?"

"Something I should have done a month ago." Starsky said tersely. "And I'm scared if I don't do it now, I never will." He was busy dialing his mother's number.

His mother answered on the first ring. Waiting for calls from relatives after Nicky called them, Starsky assumed.

“Hi, Ma?”

“Davey! Your brother called you?” Starsky could picture her in the neat Brooklyn apartment, nervously waiting for the whole family to call.

“Yeah Ma. Stupid idiot, but at least he’s doing the right thing.”

His mother sighed. “It’s not the way I wanted my first grandchild, but children are a mitzvah no matter what. And Rina is a nice girl. She’ll be good for him. You can come to the wedding? I know how much it means to him.”

“Yeah, I can come. But there’s something I need to tell you first.”

“What?”

Starsky took a deep breath. “Ma, Nicky asked me if I wanted to bring a date to the wedding. And I do. But Ma, it’s not a girl.”

“Davey? What are you telling me?” His mother shaped her words carefully, precisely.

This was it. Starsky forced himself to say the words. “It’s Hutch, Ma. We’re together, as a couple. And I don’t want to pretend or hide it any more.”

There was a long silence. “Ma? Ma? Are you OK?” Panicked thoughts flashed through Starsky’s mind. Was she angry enough to simply hang up? Was she shocked enough to have passed out? He felt light headed and a little sick.

Then he heard her draw a long breath in, and sigh it out. “I think, Davey, I’ve always known that. Since he called me to ask what your favorite dinner was.” The slight accent that even a life mostly spent in America had never been able to destroy was more pronounced than usual.

Starsky managed a shaky laugh. “When he did that we weren’t a couple yet. At least, not that way.”

“It doesn’t matter, Davey, I knew then that he felt more than a friend does for you. Tell me, does he make you happy?”

“Very happy, Ma. Happier than anyone else ever has.” He couldn’t quite keep the plaintive, pleading tone out of his voice, needing his mother to understand, to accept.

There was another long pause. Then she said "He's a good person. A nice boy."

"Yeah, yeah, he is, Ma. The best."

"It's not what I would have wanted for you." There was regret, and wistfulness in her voice now.

"I'm sorry, Ma."

"Nicky won't take it well" she added sadly.

"I know. That's why I had to tell you first. Ma, I want to come to his wedding. But I'm not coming unless Hutch is welcome too. And not just as my friend, as the person I'm with." That was the only thing he was certain of, now.

His mother sighed again. "I will talk to him if you want me to."

Starsky swallowed. "Ma? Does that mean you're not... I mean, are you OK with it?" Please, God, please…

There was resignation in his mother's voice as she said "I'm not happy with it, but whatever else, you are my son, Davey. I sent you away once, because I needed to, to keep you safe. But I don't want to lose you again. If that means I have to accept this, then I will. And I will talk to your brother if I have to, to make him understand."

For a moment Starsky couldn't speak. Relief, and a rush of love, flooded through him. Finally he said "Ma? Thanks. I love you. Let me talk to Nicky, OK? If I need to, I'll call you back."

"All right, Davey. Remember, boychik, I'm here if you need me."

"OK, Ma. Bye." Starsky hung up. He turned and realized both Hutch and Miriam were staring at him.

"Starsk? Did you just...?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I did. I just came out to my mother" Starsky said defiantly. "And now I'm calling Nicky." He dialed the phone. He had no illusions this call would be as easy as the one to his mother.

The first time he called he got a busy signal, which wasn’t surprising considering how many calls Nick was probably making. But the second time he tried, he got through.

“Nicky? It’s Dave.”

“Oh, Davey, hi.” Nick’s voice was uncertain. “You finished talking with Ma?”

“Yeah. I did” Starsky said, more firmly than he felt. “And I got an answer for you.”

“An answer?” Nick sounded puzzled.

“You asked me if I wanted to bring a date to your wedding.”

“You had to call Ma before you could answer that?” Nick's confusion was clear in his tone.

“Yeah. I had to tell her first, I owed her that.”

“Tell her what, Dave?” Nick asked uneasily.

Starsky took a deep breath. He had no illusions about how Nick would take this news. "That the date I want to bring is Hutch. That we're a couple now."

There was a long shocked silence. Then Nick let out a string of oaths. "I knew that damn pretty-boy faggot was after your ass."

"It's not like that, Nicky."

"No? Come off it, you can't tell me you ever wanted to be some queer’s piece of meat,” Nick spat out.

“You don’t know what I ever wanted.” Starsky said quietly, trying to keep his temper. “I’m the one who came on to him, so if there’s any blame it’s mine, not his.”

“He’s been making eyes at you every time I ever saw you together,” Nick snarled.

“Yeah, and what you never saw was me makin’ them right back at him. Nick, this isn’t about him making me gay or anything. It’s something that’s been coming for a long time.” Starsky tried to keep calm. He didn’t want to lose his little brother. His voice softened. “I love him, Nicky. Same as you love Rina. And I love you too. You’re my brother. Don’t try and make me choose between you.”

“Aw shit, Dave, don’t tell me that” Nick said harshly. “You’re not some faggot. You come out here to the wedding, I’ll hook you up with some hot chick, you’ll forget all about this crap.”

Starsky steeled himself. “I’m not coming without Hutch, Nick. You asked me if I wanted to bring a date, and he’s the only one I want.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Yeah, I do, Nick. Both of us, or neither.”

Next to him, Starsky saw Hutch making frantic gestures at him, but he ignored them. He had to deal with this in his own way.

“Aw hell.” There was a long pause. “You told Ma about this? What did she say?”

“Yeah, I told Ma. She said she’d talk to you if I wanted but I said I’d tell you myself.”

“You can’t be telling me she’s OK with it?” Nick demanded.

“She’s not happy, but she’s willing to accept it. Are you?” Starsky demanded in return.

"How can you ask me to accept it?" Nick snapped. "You tell me suddenly out of nowhere you're some kinda' queer?"

"I'm the same person I was yesterday, Nick, the same person I was last year. That hasn't changed. Only thing that's changed is who I'm sleeping with. You’re going to let that mess things up between us, that's up to you."

There was another long pause. "Look at it this way, Nick," Starsky added. "Suppose I showed up with a girl you really couldn't stand. You'd still be polite to her, just 'cause she was with me, right?"

"This is a little different," Nick pointed out bitterly. "Crap, what's the rest of the family going to say?"

"I thought they'd been talking about me and Hutch for years."

"Well, yeah," Nick admitted. "But no one really knew for sure. I never believed it." He laughed bitterly. "Shows what I know."

"So most of the family isn't even gonna' be surprised," Starsky went on. "And is anyone really gonna' care?"

"Uncle Myron is," Nick said darkly. "God, think how he's gonna' react." There was a pause, and then he gave a small laugh. "Actually... that's pretty cool. Serve the old SOB right."

"That's the way to think about it," Starsky said encouragingly. "Can anything that upsets Uncle Myron be all bad?"

"Well... it will take his mind off me and Rina and why we might be getting married so fast," Nick said thoughtfully.

"There you go. You actually owe me and Hutch thanks for that."

Nick laughed. "Oh hell. OK, you and Hutch can come together. Just don't ask me to be happy about it."

"Nick" Starsky said seriously, "I'll take what I can get. Thanks for that much at least."

The rest of the conversation turned over to more specific plans for the wedding, then finally Starsky was going to hang up. But before he could, Miriam tapped him on the shoulder, and held out her hand.

"Miriam wants to talk to you again," Starsky said, and handed the phone over.

"If you can do it, I can do it," Miriam muttered, and took the phone. "Nick? You asked if I had anyone I wanted to bring. Well, actually I do. I'll have to call him and find out if he can come, though. His name's Merle."

While she talked to Nick, Hutch put his arm around Starsky's shoulder. "You OK, Babe?"

"Yeah" Starsky said. "I think it's gonna' be OK, Babe. Welcome to the family." He gave Hutch a kiss.

"Ya' know, Starsk, I really could have lived perfectly happily without going to Nick's wedding. You didn't have to do that on my account," Hutch pointed out.

"Yeah, yeah, I did, Hutch. We're together now, and my family has to accept that. Right from the start," Starsky said seriously.

"But you risked everything... your mother, Nick, your family... Babe, you didn't have to do that for me."

Starsky looked at Hutch in surprise. "Hutch, I told you, you're the most important thing in my life. Yeah, I love my family, and I was afraid they wouldn't understand, but if I did have to make a choice, there's no choice to make. And I looked at Miriam, and the way she never told anyone about Merle, and how they couldn't take the secrecy, and it tore them apart, and... it was too much to risk. I could risk losing my family, but not you."

Wordless for a moment, Hutch just held him close. Finally he said "I'm glad it didn't come to that, Starsk."

"Yeah, me too." You'll never know how glad, Babe.

"OK, Nick, thanks. I'll let you know about Merle when I know for sure. I'll let you go now." Behind them Miriam hung up the phone. The two men turned to her.

"Congratulations, Miriam" Starsky said, giving her a hug. "Looks like we're all out of the closet now, huh?"

"Well, once they get a look at Merle. I didn't mention that he's black. That'll just be a surprise." She smiled wickedly. Then her smile turned rueful. "Now I just have to tell my Mom and Dad. They'll know, of course, because they know who he is. And I'll have to tell the kids." She sighed, then brightened again. "But first, I have to find out if Merle's up for a weekend on the east coast. OK if I use the phone?"

"Sure, go ahead."

Together they stood on the deck, arms around each other, while behind them they heard Miriam dialing.

"Merle, sweetie? My cousin Nicky's getting married. How do you feel about a weekend in New York City in two weeks? You can make it? Great!"

"Well poor Nick's going to have an interesting wedding, I guess, between us and Miriam and Merle." Hutch said without much sympathy.

“Really.” Starsky snickered evilly, looking forward to it.

 

***