“Ken, why do you keep coming here?” The gray-haired physician shrugged off his lab coat and sat down across the desk from the silent man. “You know all the facts. We’ve done all the tests that are available…we’ve discussed all the options.” He smiled, a sad, bone-weary parody of the real thing.
This was not easy for him. Nathan Cummings had doctored this man and his life partner for over thirty years and wasn’t much younger than they were. They had fast become much more than patients to him and he had been a guest in their home, had wept with them and laughed with them. More recently, he’d stood at Hutch’s side, his presence ‘rounding out’ the traditional foursome at the altar as Dave and Ken had been able, at long last, to make their commitment legal. Nathan’s own literal rotundity had embarrassed him somewhat when he first met his counterpart at the rehearsal dinner, but the lanky, elegant Huggy Bear made him feel comfortable right away. Immediately throwing one arm around Nathan, he quipped, “Let me tell you, Doc…These two don’t rightly need nobody else, so we’ll just put in an appearance and then go hang at The Pits. They’ll never even notice.“ This earned him scowls from both grooms and a pinch from Dave.
Outraged, Huggy snarled, “That does it! I say we three grownups stand on one side and let the dwarf bride here hold her own self up!“ This elicited snickers from all present, except Dave, who took exception to the remark. “You call me a bride one more time and I may be forced to show you that I’ve got more under my skirts than you do! And remember, if I’m the bride, that makes you the maid-of-honor, hot shot!“ That really set them all off into peals of laughter. When the wedding pictures came out, it all started over again…Nathan, and even the officiating parson, both stood well over six feet tall.
When it came right down to it, Huggy stood proudly with his hand protectively at Dave’s back throughout the lengthy ceremony. The normally unflappable Starsky had surprised everyone by becoming faint and everything had come to a screeching halt while the search was on for a paper bag for the man to breath into. After hovering over him anxiously, the proceedings resumed with Ken hauling his partner to his feet and holding him until he was sure all was well. Only the four of them heard the bigger man croon “If you think you’re getting out of it at this late date, you’d better think again, buddy-boy.” The smile in his voice belied the threat and the small party of wedding guests held their breath as Ken put his big hands around the other man’s face and kissed him so sweetly that Dave’s knees started to buckle again. The minister saved the moment by announcing good naturedly that the kiss usually came at the end of the ceremony…after the vows. Dave turned red as a beet, laughter and catcalls erupted and the good vibes returned.
The urgency in Ken’s voice startled the doctor and he realized that his wool gathering had made the situation worse. Not a sign of a good physician, but this was no ordinary patient, either.
“Sorry, Ken, I was just remembering…”
Hutch glanced up at the shelf by the window where the medical books had been shoved to one side to make room for photos and smiled to see his own wedding picture displayed proudly along with the physician’s own family pictures.
“I know…that was quite a day, wasn’t it? And I stressed over whether I was going to get stage fright.” He chuckled “Poor Starsk. I’ve never let him live that one down.”
Nathan used the diversion to slip back into his ‘invisible doctor duds’, as Dave delighted in calling his bedside manner.
“Ken, you know you can come here every day and rant, rave, cry on my shoulder, throw things, even. That’s not what I’m telling you here. I love you and Dave like the brothers I never had. I’m right there with you both…you name the time and place.” He decided he was going to have to take a sterner approach or nothing would ever get done. “But…the time has come, my friend. From what you’ve been telling me, we need to stop sitting on our hands and start some aggressive treatment. You’ve done the research and you know there’s no magic potion. But you’ve got to tell him first.” Nathan checked his schedule. “Listen, let me come over after rounds and we’ll break the news to him. That way, if he has any questions…”
“No, this is mine!” Hutch jumped up and made a clean sweep of the books and papers that littered the desk, sending them flying. “My problem! My responsibility! My Love…oh god…my love!” He fell back into the chair, tears running unheeded down his face.
Nathan quickly set down the laptop and phone he’d adroitly snatched out of the fire before all hell broke loose and rounded the desk in a hurry. He knelt by the chair and gathered as much as he could reach of the big body into his arms. His nurse rushed in, eyes wide with concern, but he motioned her out. He said nothing…just rocked the man like a child until he began to quiet. He knew there were other patients waiting, but couldn’t counsel or treat anyone with tears running down his own cheeks, so he just let it happen. He’d known it was coming, knew that when the last shreds of hope were gone, the grief would begin.
Hutch composed himself and pulled his body tiredly out of the chair. He strode towards the door purposefully, too intent on the task ahead to even say goodbye.
“I said I’ll tell him.” Hutch hissed through clenched teeth.
Nathan made an attempt to pick up the papers and books that littered the floor so he could see his next patient, but ended up on his knees. People often said that doctors thought they were gods. Just for one day…he wished that he could be. His patients could wait a little longer. He had his own cross to bear.
Hutch made a half-hearted effort to drive home, but somehow he ended up in his old neighborhood. Passing Venice Place, which was looking almost ready for a wrecking ball, he ended up at the beach. It was too cool for big crowds…just a few stragglers here and there. He would have preferred a bench, or better yet, the dream house he and Starsky had bought with the soft loveseat on the deck, to planting his ass in the sand, but he gamely lowered himself rather ungracefully, wondering a little too late whether he was going to be able to rise again without Starsky there to give him a hand up.
‘Ironic,’ he thought. He’d always imagined that it would be his partner’s misused body that wouldn’t age well, but he’d been the one with the health problems…arthritis, high blood pressure, hernia, sciatica and now, he was working on an ulcer…for god’s sake. All those years of eating wheat germ and rabbit food while his partner ate anything he wanted and never had as much as a stomach cramp. And the worst indignity of all…hemorrhoid surgery…‘small wonder…’ he snorted. ‘Not so small, really.’ Starsk had won that one, maximizing his part in the whole matter. You’d have thought he’d gotten Hutch pregnant or something the way he crowed. The little shit threw that damn rubber doughnut at him for months afterwards until it mysteriously came up missing. But he cared for his partner tenderly and Hutch had often caught him biting his lip and wincing whenever he saw the damage that he felt he had helped create. Hutch didn’t have the heart to tell him that most of the Hutchinson males suffered from the complaint at some point in their lives.
He had done his best to reciprocate, but finally came to the conclusion that one of his partners ancestors had mated with a gumby at some point in the distant past. That wasn’t nearly enough for him to give up, though, and he kept trying, every chance he got. He still loved the vulnerability and need on the other man’s face which screamed, “take care of me, babe…I’m so out-of-control here.”
He grabbed a big handful of sand and threw it, the breeze helpfully sending a portion of it right back into his face. ‘Aw…fuck the golden years…all the gold I’ve seen goes to hospitals, specialists, medication and now this shit.’
The years had gone by so fast. They’d sailed through their forties, celebrated Captain Dobey’s retirement with him and all of a sudden, they were facing 60. That seemed so old. He and Starsky had laughed at the forms and surveys they filled out which had a place to check ‘30-40, 40-50, 50-60’ and then ‘60 and over.’ Like your life was suddenly a big question mark and you were lucky if you made it to the next ’0’. Starsky complained that they got so much mail about life insurance and burial plans, Hutch must be considering bumping him off. Hutch’s answer was that it would take too many years to train another slave, which invariably brought on a tussle, culminating in one of them getting royally screwed.
Then…a couple years before their own retirement, the wheels had started coming off of the wagon…Hutch had held things together until they’d both been able to bow out gracefully.
He decided that he’d better head for home before his partner figured out for himself that something was up. He managed to get up with a modicum of dignity left, deciding that beaches were overrated and headed for his car and home.
The small, rustic beach house had always been a source of pride to both of them and a haven, especially in the early years, when the closet seemed to be the only place they could be themselves anywhere else. Now it looked ominous as hell.
He pulled into the carport and tiredly trudged to the door. He had the knob firmly grasped in his hand when the door violently flew open and he landed on arthritic knees. His initial response was to fumble for his gun, which, of course, was not there anymore. Then he saw blue Adidas in his peripheral vision and, for the second time today, tried to rise without falling on his face. He was thwarted in this endeavor by a hand pushing him back down so he ended up on his ass again.
He looked up into a pair of blazing midnight eyes and groaned. Wasn’t his day going badly enough without Starsk obviously ready to throw a real hissy fit about something or other?
“Just stay down, Hutchinson. I don’t want you to have to get back on your knees when you start beggin’ for mercy.”
“Starsky, what the hell…?”
Starsky cocked his head to one side and seemed to be considering that statement. “Hell? Yeah…I guess that is where you go when you start lying and sneaking around. We’ll start there.”
He pulled out a kitchen chair that seemed to be too conveniently close by the living room, turned it around and sat down, arms and head resting comfortably on the back, while Hutch was desperately trying to find a comfortable position on the hardwood floor. It looked like it was going to be a long day at Hutchinsky Manor, or Starkington Place, which was his partners particular favorite.
He tried, he really did. “Hey…did you know your eyes look beautiful when you’re angry?” When that earned him a scowl, he mumbled, “Yeah…kind of like candy apple red pinwheels spinning out-of-control.” He snorted, thinking that, at least, he’d scored a point for the home team with that one.
“Shut up, idiot. I’ve got a few choice words to say to you and I don’t want any diversions, got it?”
O-o-kay, obviously this, whatever THIS was, wasn’t going to go down easy. “I got it…” He had to bite his tongue in order not to add sir to the end of that. He hadn‘t seen this side of his partner in ages and normally it wasn’t directed at him. He had absolutely no clue what had set off this particular diatribe, but listening closely did seem to be the best of the very short list of options he had at his disposal.
There was silence for an uncomfortably long time. Not unfamiliar with the other man’s interrogation tactics, he held eye contact for as long as he could, but ended up inspecting the tongue and groove work they’d had installed on the floor.
“So…who’ve you been seein’, Hutch? Or should I check the St. Francis and see if you got a room there? You old geezers are all alike. Steal all someone’s good years and then get bored and start chasin’ tail when the thrill is gone.” Starsky paused. “Oh, you can speak now. Go ahead, but I don’t want to have to wait long. I’ve got a suitcase packed and places to go.”
Hutch was floored, literally. In fact, he was so shocked that he missed the part where Starsky got up and moved until he felt a smack on the back of his head.
“Do you need an interpreter? I’m sure they’d send us one from the precinct, if I asked ‘em nicely.”
“I don’t even know what you’re raving about, Starsk. Could you kind of help me out here?” Hutch rubbed his head. “You know, that hurt!”
The lunatic smiled wickedly. “Good, now we’re getting somewhere.“ He stalked over to the couch and sat down on the arm.
“All right, it’s a matter of morals. I got ‘em, you don’t. That’s why you’re having so much trouble…no conscience.” Starsky shook his head sadly.
Hutch grabbed hold of one of the bar stools and started to pull himself up. “I’ve had about all I’m going to take of this.”
“Don’t you dare move. You haven’t even begun to grovel yet,” Starsky snapped.
“Then get on with it, moron, my legs are beginning to get numb.”
“All right…where were you on Wednesday from 10 till 11:15, huh? Three weeks ago, that is.”
“Um…went to put gas in the car, didn’t I?”
“You did, but somehow it all drained out on the way home, right?”
“Well? what about Friday afternoon, two weeks ago?”
“Went out for groceries, remember?”
“Oh, I remember, but where’d you leave ‘em? Drop ‘em off at the homeless shelter?”
Hutch was beginning to see which way the wind was blowing and was starting to see red…and a whole bunch of other colors.
“And today, Hutch. Where’ve you been all morning? The gym?” Starsky pointed at him. “I guess you never thought of that one. It would have been much safer than coming home minus what-the-hell-ever you went to get.”
Hutch barely had time to open his mouth before the next wave came.
“See, what you don’t understand…what you’ve miserably failed to grasp…is that I can read you like the funny pages and I already know that there’s someone else in your life and that you’ve been stringing me along for years.”
There it was again…a stupid accusation. Surely Starsky didn’t really think…Hutch was appalled to see the other man suddenly cover his face with his hands and shake uncontrollably. All the things he’d done to protect him and it had caused this kind of pain. He lost no time crawling over to his partner and wrapping his arms around his waist, murmuring words of comfort.
The shaking subsided and Hutch looked up to see Starsky with a shit-eating grin on his face.
“See, it just doesn’t take that much to show you that you’re not really the brains of this outfit.” Starsky leered at him. “Hey, while you’re down there repenting, I got something you could do for me.”
Hutch was in a perfect position to sweep his partners legs up and knock him over backwards onto the couch. He was so mad, he didn’t even remember getting up and seating himself on the arm, effectively pinning the other man down.
“You asshole!” Hutch roared. “You were laughing.”
“You needed discipline, Blintz, and the things I really wanted to do to you, I think we’re both a little too old to pull ‘em off.” Starsky struggled. “Do you mind getting off my legs? You’re compromising my circulation.”
“Good, now we’re getting somewhere.” Hutch threw his partners own words back in his face. “Now it’s my turn and there isn’t going to be any compromising.”
Starsky sighed, theatrically. “I’m crushed. All those years you been calling me a moron and all this time I thought it was just a term of endearment.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
The fiend settled himself more comfortably and looked up at him, eyes as blue and innocent as a newborn lamb. “So, now that you’ve finally accepted that this is gonna happen and are done crucifying yourself, what have you and old Nate decided to try on me first, Aricept or…” He snapped his fingers a couple times. “That new stuff that just came out?”
Hutch would have fallen over backwards and broken something important if Starsky hadn’t grabbed him by the hand.
“Did you really think I’d believe you selling my car to Huggy to give to those two pale imitations of us real cops was just for the ungodly amount of money he gave you?”
Hutch was speechless.
“Or that everyone over 60 automatically needs an EEG, a CAT scan and a memory test right along with their colonoscopy?” Starsky chuckled. “Although, I did really enjoy seeing you going through all that, too, just so you and Nathan could try to keep me in the dark. The hit to your pocket book musta stung.” “I gotta admit I enjoyed seeing you dance around it for the last couple years, but it was beginning to get a little boring and I think it’s time I got some treatment started, don’t you?” Starsky chuckled. “Besides…”
Hutch’s index finger poked him in the chest. “I’ve still got handcuffs and a gag around here somewhere, buddy. If I’d known I was living with the devils spawn, I would’ve used them more often. Now that I do know, I‘m going to keep them handy.”
Starsky paled slightly, but wisely kept quiet.
“Have you been in contact with Nathan this whole time?” Hutch growled. “You can answer now.”
Starsky smiled. “Hell, no…I hadn’t talked to him in months. I figured you were about ready to hit bottom, so I called him today and asked if all the fuss was over with. I think I scared the shit outta him. We may have to find a new doctor.”
“Jeezus.” Hutch got up, kicked his lovers legs off the couch and sank down beside him.
“It’s just oldtimers, babe, not cancer.” Starsky continued. “It usually takes quite awhile to get bad and with you being so out of shape and all, you’ll probably have a heart attack before that happens. I‘ve got that all figured out, too. Thought I‘d have you cremated and stick you in one of those really big pickle jars…kosher, of course. We could sure use a good doorstop by that guest bedroom door. Fucker won‘t stay open, whatever I do.”
“There’s still that gag, meathead. Don’t push me too far.” Hutch growled softly. “ I’ve had a bad day.”
Starsky jumped up with the agility of a twenty-year-old, forcing Hutch to have to boot him right in the ass.
“You don’t have to be so mean about it. I just wanted you to know that there‘s lots a things worse than old-timer’s.”
“Alzheimer’s, Starsk, Alzheimer’s.”
“I know, but I don’t know who the heck he is, so I think old-timer’s sounds a little more friendly.”
Hutch just shook his head.
“You remember that movie we saw with that Sandler kid and , oh, what’s her name…where she woke up not remembering anything every day?”
“50 First Dates?”
“Yeah, that one. If I get so I don’t know ya…you guys can just make me a tape to watch every morning and that’ll fix everything.”
‘Only Starsky could have boiled it down into something that simple.’ Hutch marveled. He closed his eyes as he felt tears burning behind the lids.
“Don’t I smell something burning?” He asked desperately.
“Cripes, better check the meatloaf.”
“Take your time…please.”
Hutch wiped a couple tears off his cheeks. Starsky wasn’t fooling anyone. This whole insane setup had been for his benefit. After all, his partner had been the one who knew first what they meant to each other, too, but had kept a lid on it until Hutch could catch up and accept it. Who really was the brains of the outfit? It sure wasn’t him.
A couple minutes later, Starsky poked his head out of the kitchen. “Hey, Hutch…I’m sure glad it’s all out in the open finally…it’s hell having to keep you on a short leash for so long.”
‘Oh, God…if I could just haul myself off this damn couch, I’d kill him.’ Hutch pondered. That was the last coherent thought he had as he fell into the most peaceful slumber that he’d experienced in a long time.
When Starsky came out with a plate of food ten minutes later, he grinned. Putting the dish down, he got the afghan off the back of the couch and carefully covered his lover.
‘Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?’ he thought. ‘Starsky, you’re a friggin’ genius.’
Hope you enjoy!