“Mmm… do that again, Starsk.” Hutch closed his eyes and made a noise somewhere in the back of his throat that sounded like purring.
“This?” Starsky ran a tongue slowly over one nipple. “Or this?” he asked before catching it between his teeth and pulling it up slowly. He straddled Hutch in the bed, his head bent low, Hutch’s fingers playing in his hair.
“Both,” Hutch gasped.
“How about this?” Starsky laughed and flipped over onto his back, rolling Hutch on top of him. He pulled him down hard for a kiss, one hand wrapped around the back of his neck, his hips grinding up against him.
“Yeah, that works too,” Hutch said, breathless. Hutch closed his eyes and said a silent prayer that they would live long enough to make up for all the time they had wasted.
One night, after too much beer, Starsky had decided to do the math. He'd told Hutch that now that he knew what they’d been missing, he needed to know exactly how many times they had missed it. He ignored Hutch’s muttered protests that doing the math was always his job, not Starsky’s.
“Okay, Hutch. We’ve known each other, what, eight years?”
Starsky sat on Hutch’s couch, balanced the beer bottle between his legs, and held up eight fingers. “Minus, let’s say, two for when you were married. Another one, if you add up all the girlfriends…”
“Whose girlfriends? Yours or mine?”
Starsky thought for a second. “Ours.”
“As I recall, we only shared a girlfriend once.”
“We didn’t share her, you borrowed her, remember?”
Kira was a safe topic now. Although Hutch would never admit it out loud, he suspected that without her, he and Starsky would still be dancing around each other like boxers, each waiting for the other to make the first move.
Starsky continued, “I meant all the girlfriends put together. Adds up to one year, maybe. That makes…”
“Five,” Hutch pointed out helpfully, and burped.
“Right, five.” Starsky held up two fingers on one hand and three on the other until it dawned on him he could use one hand for counting and still have a free hand for drinking. “So we’re average guys, right? And we want sex, what, seven, eight times a week?”
“At least.” Hutch opened another beer, threw the cap across the room and said that maybe they shouldn’t be so greedy. Six times was enough. “Even God rested one day,” he added solemnly.
“Okay, six times a week times, fifty-two weeks a year. What about vacation? Do we do want to do it more on vacation, or less?”
Hutch thought while he drank. “How about we say fifty weeks? In case we don’t vacation together?”
“Fine. But we’re going to talk later about why you don’t want to vacation with me. So that’s… shit… we could have had sex three hundred times last year. Times five years that’s…Hutch. I need to borrow some fingers from you.”
In the end, Hutch suggested they stop counting and get back to doing. Starsky didn't argue.
So when the phone rang that night at precisely the moment they were about to finish what they had started an hour earlier, they ignored it. Until the fifth or sixth ring, anyway.
“Damn!” Starsky groaned and reached for the phone.
“Don’t you dare answer it, Starsk...” Hutch pulled Starsky’s hand away and placed it back where it had been a few seconds before. Wrapped around his cock, where it belonged.
Starsky muttered, “Could be Ma. Maybe something’s wrong.”
At the mention of Starsky’s mother, Hutch wilted faster than a hothouse flower, and rolled off Starsky with a loud sigh. He moved as far away as he could without falling off the bed. Far enough that there could be no chance of Mrs. Starsky sniffing out his presence in her son’s bed in the middle of the night.
Starsky feigned a sleepy hello, and then and mouthed “Dobey” at Hutch. “Yeah…No, it’s okay. I’m awake, really…Sure... Give me the address… Hutch? No, not sure why he doesn’t answer his phone. Heavy sleeper, I guess.” Hutch suppressed a laugh and Starsky held a hand over the receiver as he reached across the bed to kick him. “No it’s okay; I’ll stop by his place to get him. I’m sure he’s fine, Captain.” He glanced down at Hutch and grinned. “Though he probably isn’t up anymore. We’ll be there in half an hour.”
By the time Starsky hung up, Hutch was gathering his clothes off the floor.
Starsky answered before Hutch had a chance to ask: “Missing ten-year-old. Mother said she went in to check on her and she was gone. Up near the beach. One of those big houses.”
Hutch pulled his turtleneck over his head, smoothed his hair with one hand, and headed to the bathroom. “And why are we going? What about Murdoch and Miller? Where are they?”
“Dobey said they were busy. Whatever the hell that means. Where’s my shoe? Hutch, did you see my shoe?”
Hutch could hear Starsky hopping around on one foot.
“It’s under the bed, my side.”
“You have a side of the bed now?”
“Oh shut up, Starsk. Let’s go.” Hutch muttered under his breath all the way to the door. “Why me? I hate missing kids, Dobey knows I hate missing kids, you know I hate missing kids. Why do they keep doing this to me? God, I hate these cases.” He ran a hand through his hair and felt old. “Let’s just get this over with,” he said as he closed the door behind them.
“Hutch, reading the report one more time won’t help. We’ll start again tomorrow. They’ll call us if they hear anything.”
Hutch didn’t say anything, but that didn’t stop Starsky. He took the file from Hutch’s lap, laid it on the floor beside the bed, and reached over to turn out the lamp.
Starsky knew his partner. He knew how to reassure him when he was scared, comfort him when he was hurt, and in the last few months he had even learned how to fuck him better than anyone else ever had. But he never knew what to say to Hutch when he was like this. Starsky knew he was replaying the last forty-six hours in his head minute by minute, looking for something they'd missed, something they should have done and hadn't. In the past, he would have driven Hutch home, gone up for a beer, then left him to work things out on his own. But now Hutch lay brooding and silent beside him. So Starsky did the only thing he could think of: he reached out to take his hand. But he felt something already clutched there. He cradled Hutch’s hand for a minute, then gently removed the small picture of a smiling ten-year-old girl and placed it back in the file on the floor. Hutch turned on his side and drew his hands up under the pillow.
Starsky whispered, “Goodnight,” but Hutch didn’t answer.
They were no closer to finding the missing girl than they'd been a week before. There had been no ransom demand, and their only evidence was a drop of blood on a piece of broken window in the girl’s otherwise perfect bedroom.
They’d done everything right—opened a phone line for tips, placed her picture in every storefront window, stapled it to every telephone pole — but no one had called except the crazies. The police chief called in the FBI on the third day, but the agents they sent weren’t able to do anything that hadn’t already been done. They’d scoured the files and tracked down every known perv. They leaned on every snitch, called in every favor, and they still had nothing. But they didn’t have a body either, so they kept at it.
One night at the victim's house, they watched the girl’s mother retreat to her room in a haze, vodka glass in one hand, bible in the other. Hutch wondered silently which offered her more comfort. The father was different, helpful but distant. Starsky said “cold fish”; Hutch had countered with “concerned father.”
“Not everyone’s like you, Starsk,” Hutch had told him.
“Well, at least people know I have feelings,” Starsky snapped back.
“He has feelings. He just hides them better than you do.” It sounded like an insult. Maybe it was. Maybe he was just tired.
“Explain to me why someone whose daughter is missing has to hide his feelings. There’s something off about him.” Starsky glanced sideways at him, looked as if he was waiting for answer, but Hutch didn’t have one. He was all out of answers.
Hutch hadn’t been home in days. Starsky’s place was closer to the station so they ended up there most nights, with greasy take-out and soda, sometimes a six-pack. But that night, he’d asked Starsky to take him home instead. The plants needed watering, and he needed clean clothes.
The drive home was quiet. He wondered if Starsky was coming up, wondered if he needed to ask. In the end he said nothing, but he heard the car door slam shut and the jangle of keys as he walked away. Hutch stopped and trailed an open hand behind him. He felt the familiar rush as Starsky’s fingers brushed the length of his palm. At the top of the stairs, as Hutch fumbled with the key, Starsky leaned in against him, trapping him against the door.
“You water your damned plants while I take a shower. You have ten minutes.” Starsky’s breath was hot on his neck.
It was warm in the apartment and the air smelled vaguely like sour milk. Hutch opened the windows, apologized to the plants, and dropped his clothes on the floor beside the bed. He fell into it, shivering, and waited for Starsky.
They made love slowly under the covers, eyes open, skin against skin. It was different now that they had learned to take it slow sometimes. At first, after Kira had pushed them apart and then back together, they went at each other with a ferocity that astounded them both. Each time had been a race to find the shortest distance to the finish line.
Every day of those first weeks together, Hutch had held his breath, wondering when Starsky would recognize that telling each other the truth meant telling everyone else lies. Wondering when Starsky would tell him they had made a terrible mistake. But he never had, and one night in early March, he promised he never would. Most days Hutch believed him.
They lay in the dark room and listened to the sound of the rain on the greenhouse roof. Starsky lay on his side and Hutch’s fingertips traced the raised round scar on his back, like a blind man reading Braille.
Starsky hesitated, wondered whether he should pretend to be asleep. He was too tired to talk. Too tired to think. Too tired for sex, if it came right down to it. Not that it would, he guessed.
“Yeah?” He turned to face Hutch.
“The phone tip that came in today sounded promising, don’t you think?”
“Maybe,” Starsky answered, but it sounded more like no. He knew he should have just agreed with him, told him things were starting to turn around, told him finding her was just a matter of time, but he was all out of platitudes for the day.
“Why do you have to be so negative?” Hutch’s voice was cold.
Starsky took a breath and said evenly, “I’m not being negative. I’m trying to be realistic. And not just about the phone tip. It’s been two weeks. We’re running out of places to look. People to talk to.”
Starsky waited. He hated feeling like this. He wanted to find her as much as Hutch did. Being realistic didn’t mean he didn’t care as much.
“We should go see her mother again tomorrow. In the morning, maybe. We might have missed something.” His voice had lost the anger, and Starsky heard the desperation that hid behind it.
Starsky sighed. “We didn’t miss anything and we don’t have anything new to tell her. We show up and she’ll think there's news. I hate doing that to her.”
“She should know we’re still looking.”
“Hutch…please.” Starsky reached across to touch his face.
“We’ll find her,” Hutch said, voice low.
The room was quiet. Starsky wondered when it had stopped raining.
Starsky had pulled him from Dobey’s office with a muttered “Just shut the fuck up.” Had led him downstairs and into the car. He hadn’t said anything as he drove home, hadn’t even looked at him. He had pulled up in front of the apartment, turned off the engine, and slammed the car door behind him.
Hutch sat in the Torino and watched him walk away, then dug in his pockets for the keys to his own car. It was parked somewhere down the block, had been for days. He wondered if it would start; the battery was finicky and the spark plugs needed changing. It really was a pile of shit, that car, kind of like the anti-Torino.
He pulled himself out of the car and closed the door awkwardly with his left hand when he heard Starsky’s voice from the top of the stairs. “You coming in or not?” It was still angry, but not homicidal. A step in the right direction, Hutch thought, as he climbed the stairs behind him.
Starsky unlocked the apartment door, thrown the keys and his jacket on the couch and disappeared into the shower. Hutch waited for an invitation but didn’t get one. He didn’t think he’d be welcome without it.
Now he sat on the edge of Starsky’s bed and opened and closed his right hand a few times. The blood—his and Simonetti’s—had dried, and he picked at it while he waited for the shower. Went over the whole mess in his head.
Starsky came in from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist. He leaned against the wall opposite the bed, his arms folded in front of him. The way he stood there reminded Hutch of nights when his father had climbed the stairs to his son’s small room to give him what he called “a talking to.”
“How’s your hand? Still bleeding?”
“Not anymore. It hurts though.” Hutch made a fist and winced.
Hutch thought he saw a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. Starsky dropped his arms to his sides.
“Think Simonetti will file an official complaint?”
“Let him try. I shouldn’t have to justify how I interview a suspect to him.” Or to you, he thought.
“Franks wasn’t a suspect, Hutch, and you know it. He made a few crank calls to the hotline, that’s all. You didn’t have to bring him in. And I wouldn’t call what you did an interview.” Maybe it wasn’t a smile Hutch had seen after all.
Hutch went to the window, stared outside, and remembered a night a long time ago. His father had been disappointed in him again. And disappointed meant angry, even if no one admitted it. Hutch had turned away while his father was still talking, suddenly tired of trying to be good enough, sorry enough. He remembered his father’s anger as he pulled him back to face him. “Don’t you ever do that to me again,” his father had said so deliberately and quietly that he’d been fooled. Had underestimated the anger, hadn’t seen it coming when it did. Then the familiar taste of blood as his tongue licked the cut on his lip. His father reached down to pick up the clean white t-shirt that lay folded on the bed, wiped the blood from the signet ring on his right hand, and threw it at Hutch. “Clean yourself up and get down to supper.”
Now Hutch looked down at his own bloodied hand. Shoved it deep in his pocket. He jumped when Starsky touched his arm.
“You scared Franks. A lot.” There was a pause. “You scared me too.”
Hutch didn’t say anything. Didn’t know what he could say. He knew he’d screwed up.
“And then you had to go and hit Simonetti. Thought we agreed that was my job.” This time it really was a smile. A small one anyway.
“Fuck Simonetti,” Hutch answered. He was smiling a little now too. Smiling felt strange, used muscles that hadn’t been used in days.
“I’d rather fuck you.” Starsky dropped the towel.
Hutch pulled his hand from his pocket and held it up. “You might be disappointed, I’m kinda disabled here.”
“The only thing that will disappoint me, blondie, is if you’re not undressed in the next two minutes.”
Hutch needed help undoing his belt. Starsky was happy to oblige.
He dropped Starsky off early that night. It felt strange, saying goodnight in the car. They hadn’t done that in a long time. It started to pour ten minutes from home, and even on high, the wipers barely let him make out the road ahead. He swore, and heard a low giggle from the back seat. He felt two small hands cover his eyes.
“Guess who?” she whispered in his ear.
“Don’t do that! You scared me. You could have killed us both.” He tried to sound angry, but he was laughing now too. She crawled over the seat, settled in beside him, and smiled. When she smiled, she looked just like she did in the picture.
“Let’s go for a drive, Hutch.”
“It’s raining, sweetheart, let me take you home.”
“I like the rain. April showers bring May flowers, silly. Didn’t your daddy teach you anything?” She held a hand out the window.
“We don’t get April showers in California. And close your window. I’m taking you home.”
“Not yet...please.” She pouted a little, but Hutch knew it was all part of the game.
“Fine, fifteen minutes, then you’re going home. Deal?”
“Deal,” she said solemnly and held out her hand. They shook on it.
She curled her legs up under her nightgown and sang softly to herself as he drove.
“One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret
Never to be told.”
He took her the long way home. By the time he pulled into her driveway, she was gone.
Starsky shook him gently. “Hutch? You okay?”
“What?” He ran a tired hand across his face. Ignored the concerned look on Starsky’s face.
“You were talking, woke me up. The dream again?”
“Yeah…it’s okay…go back to sleep.”
The rhyme repeated over and over in his head as he drifted slowly back to sleep.
“You still awake, Starsk?”
“It depends,” he said.
“Depends on what?” Hutch leaned up on one elbow and stared at Starsky for a moment. One finger brushed aside a stray curl from his face. Starsky reached up and pulled Hutch’s hand toward his mouth to kiss his palm.
“Depends on why you want to know.” Starsky wondered if he sounded as horny as he felt. It had been three days since Hutch had touched him…three fucking days. Not strictly true—more like three non-fucking days. And nights. It was like being married. Not that he’d been married; it was just…it was just you didn’t go to the candy story to look at candy. You sure didn’t sleep in the candy store if you weren’t planning on at least tasting the candy…
"Starsk…” Hutch’s voice was tired and not remotely inviting.
“Let me guess, Hutch. You got a headache.” Starsky sighed as Hutch pulled his hand away. We are married, he thought.
“Starsk, did I ever tell you about Melissa?”
“Melissa? Don’t think so. Old girlfriend?” Great, he thought. Another trip down memory lane.
“Young girlfriend actually. Sixth grade. Well, half of sixth grade.”
“She dump you?” Starsky tried to sound sympathetic.
“Can you believe she said I was no fun?” He sounded serious.
“That a rhetorical question?”
Hutch ignored him. “She had a red bike. A Schwinn, I think. And long hair. She always wore it in one long braid down her back. And figure skates. White figure skates. She took skating lessons. We skated on the pond by her house after school every day. Her father strung up lights so we could all skate after dark. I used to play hockey with the other boys and ignore her. But when we were alone… She could do this really fast spin. When she stopped, she would hold out her arms wide and curtsy, like she was in the Ice Capades. I thought she was beautiful. Then I stopped going and she found someone else to worship her.”
“Why did you stop going?” Starsky watched him, but his face was unreadable in the darkness.
Then Starsky heard the slow intake of breath that he knew meant Hutch was deciding what to say next, like he was passing the story through a filter, discarding the messy parts of truth. Finding a version that was easier to tell. Easier to live with. Starsky had seen him do it when he talked about Vanessa. Hutch finally said, his voice even, “I got home late too many times, so I wasn’t allowed to go anymore.”
“After school you mean?” Starsky said.
“It was really my own fault. He warned me enough times.” Hutch picked at a loose thread in the blanket.
“He took away my skates for the rest of the winter and he made me...” He didn’t finish the sentence, just closed his eyes. Starsky heard the hurt still lurking there after all these years, like wallpaper under paint, the pattern only showing through when the light shone on it in just the right way.
Starsky rested a palm on Hutch’s face. “I love you. You know that, right?”
Hutch’s voice was tired. “Yeah, I know. It just doesn’t make a damn bit of difference sometimes.”
The tip had come in two days before. Starsky had stopped at Peterson’s desk in the afternoon to pick up that day’s tape, then settled in at his desk with pen and paper. The original task force had dwindled, only he and Hutch remained full-time on the case. Not full-time for much longer, he guessed. Not with nothing new.
He hated listening to the calls now: the wild confessions, the alien abduction theories, the reported sightings everywhere from the beach to Disneyland. They all had to be checked out, followed up, documented. And Starsky hated how each dashed hope ate away a little more at Hutch. So when he had heard a man insisting that the police visit the local hospitals, he hadn’t paid much attention. But then the voice had continued, the words running together as if he had to say them quickly or they would be lost forever, “The papa hurt la niña. He hurt her many, many times. Hospitals know. My wife, she knows, but is afraid to say.” Heart pounding, Starsky rewound it and played it again. Louder this time.
Starsky had looked up in time to see Hutch lean his head back against the squad room door and close his eyes. One hand held a coffee cup, and its contents splashed onto his shoes as his arm dropped and his shoulders sagged. Starsky went to him and laid a hand on his shoulder, but he brushed it off and disappeared towards the men’s room. Starsky let him go.
It had taken them twelve hours to get the warrants, and then another twelve to visit the six hospitals on their list. Hutch had hung back and grown more silent as each new folder had been added to the pile. And later, he retreated to Venice Place alone. Looked surprised and grateful when Starsky didn’t argue with him. Starsky wanted to go through the files alone anyway, to spare Hutch what they both knew they would find there.
Starsky sat cross-legged on the bed, the files spread out around him. Three hours earlier he had started a list of dates and injuries. After two hours, he had taken a break and headed for the shower. He had stood under the hot spray, the bile rising in his throat, and gathered the strength to go back and finish what he'd started.
He'd been at it another hour when he heard the key turning in the front door, then footsteps crossing the living room floor. He looked up and saw Hutch smile at him tentatively from the doorway.
“I didn’t know if you’d still be up, but I was driving by…”
“Driving by? On your way to…?” No games, Starsky thought. Not tonight.
“On my way here, okay?” Hutch took off his jacket and threw it on the chair. The breeze it made blew a sheet of paper off the bed that floated to the floor. Hutch bent to pick it up. Starsky watched his face pale as he read the hospital report, as he sank slowly into the chair, still holding the paper in one shaky hand.
“How many more like this?” His voice was thick.
“All of them. Every fucking one of them.” He felt his own throat closing.
He handed Hutch the list. Broken bones and stitches. The ruptured spleen two years ago. The concussions. They had never taken her to the same hospital twice in a row. Her well-dressed, educated father had explained each injury away.
“Fell from her bike. Playground accident. Tripped on the stairs. He used them all. And this time I think he went too far, panicked and called her in missing. Tomorrow we get a warrant for the house. And then we bring him in.”
Starsky cleared the bed and dumped the files in the living room. Filled two small glasses with scotch from the bottle under the sink. “Scotch tape” Hutch had called it late one night. He said they only drank it when they needed to put the pieces of their fucked-up lives back together.
When Starsky came back into the room, Hutch was standing at the window, his hands buried deep in his pockets, his forehead pressed against the glass.
“Hutch? You okay?” Stupid question.
“I think I knew all along, Starsk. Suspected, anyway.” Hutch said quietly, then turned back from the window to take the glass from Starsky’s hand.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“It was just a feeling.” He swallowed the scotch, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Based on what?”
Hutch let out a deep, slow breath, then looked up at him. “He reminded me of my father.”
In the end, it was easier than they expected. When they arrived at the house the next morning, the maid took one terrified look at them, started to cry and admitted her husband, Hector, had made the call. Faced with the hospital records, the mother had talked, pointed a manicured finger at her husband who pointed one back directly at her. They both made deals. Eight to ten years for him, 60 Minutes for her. “Loss of Innocence” they called the story when it aired two months later.
Hutch did a little finger pointing of his own. At the hospitals, for never reporting the abuse, at the mother for watching it, at the DA for allowing murder to masquerade as manslaughter.
As part of his deal, the father agreed to disclose the location of his daughter’s body. He led them to the woods up in Palos Verdes, raised both cuffed hands and pointed to a tree a few hundred feet off the main trail. Then he tried to tell them how much he had loved her. Hutch was on him in a second, bloodying his lip, and would have done worse but for Starsky pulling him off. Starsky stood behind Hutch, wrapped his hands tightly around his arms, and whispered something in his ear. Hutch nodded and backed off with both hands in the air.
An hour later, they stood shoulder to shoulder, fingertips barely touching, and watched as Annie’s body, still wrapped in the pink polka dot bedspread, was carefully removed from the shallow grave her father had dug a month before. They watched silently as she was placed in the black zippered bag, lifted into the coroner’s van, and was finally driven away.
After the funeral, Hutch asked Dobey for a week’s leave. Starsky rented a small beach house for them near Carmel and they drove up together the next morning. They went for long walks, played chess on the small table on the porch, and sat together on the beach each afternoon. Starsky read an old paperback copy of The Maltese Falcon he had found in a dresser drawer. Hutch had brought some back issues of National Geographic and carried one to the beach with him each afternoon. He ended most days on the same page he had begun.
On the fourth night there, feeling drowsy from too much sun, they'd left the dinner dishes soaking in the sink and gone to bed early. They made love for the first time in more than a week, but Starsky felt Hutch slipping away from him again, even as they came.
The next night, as they lay together under the cool white sheets in the darkened bedroom, Hutch reached across the bed and rested a hand lightly on Starsky’s arm. Starsky covered Hutch’s hand with his own.
“Starsk, did your father…did he ever hit you or Nick?”
“Nah. He was a screamer. When we did something that made him mad, he would holler about how we were impossible, didn’t he teach us right from wrong? His favorite expression was ‘what were you thinking?’ But he’d always yell himself out. Then he’d throw up his hands in surrender, shake his head at us. We’d swear we’d never do whatever it was we did again, and he’d give us a hug and a kiss.” He laughed. “And then Ma would give us our punishment.” Starsky paused and finally asked the question he knew Hutch had been trying to avoid for years. “What about your father?”
“He wasn’t like yours. He didn’t yell or raise his voice. Sometimes I didn’t even know what I had done wrong until later. His silence scared me most. It was like a two minute warning. The only thing I could do was wait, try to brace myself for what was coming…hope it would be over fast. And then I’d lie for him, tell the teacher I fell off my bike or…You’d think since it happened often enough, I’d have gotten used to it, but I never did. And I never stopped trying to …” His voice trailed off, and he pulled his hand out from under Starsky’s. Blinked and ran a hand across his face.
“Never stopped trying to what?”
Hutch’s voice was low, his answer pulled slowly and painfully from some dark corner of his heart. “I never stopped trying to please him. I loved him, Starsk. And I hated him too. I still do.”
“Which?” Starsky asked gently. “Love or hate?”
Their last night at the beach house he had the dream again, the little girl laughing, then crying, then gone. Woke with a start, disoriented. He crept downstairs, poured a glass of red wine, and sat on the old wicker loveseat on the porch.
A few minutes later the screen door squeaked open behind him and Starsky appeared with his own sedative, a cold beer. He was barefoot, and wore Hutch’s old orange terry robe. “Okay if I join you?” he asked.
“Sure. Did I wake you?”
“Probably. Something did. But it’s fine. Good night for not sleeping. It’s beautiful out here.” They sat quietly for a while, stared at the stars, listened to the waves.
Later, after the first beer and or maybe the second, he shifted a little and said to Hutch, “Been meaning to ask you something. Do we have a timeline here? Cause I gotta tell you, I’m a little sick of it.”
“What are you talking about?” Hutch rose slowly from the loveseat, turned and leaned against the white railing to face Starsky.
“This self-pity festival you invited me to. I’ve been patient, I’ve been understanding, I shut up when you wanted, talked when you wanted. Now I need to know how much longer you’re going to act like you’re six years old and your dog just died.”
“I’m just tired.” It sounded like a lie, even to his own ears.
“Bullshit. You’re turning yourself inside out trying to find a way to make Annie’s death your fault. She was dead before that call came in. The game was over before we got to the ballpark, Hutch. The best we could do was to find her body, give her a decent burial. If you can’t accept that…”
“Tell me how I accept the fact that a father can kill his own daughter? How do I accept the fact that…” He made a fist and slammed it hard on the railing.
“Say it, for fuck’s sake, how do you accept the fact that your father’s a bastard? That he got his kicks smacking you around? You accept it because you have to, because it was never your fault, just like it wasn’t your fault that Annie died. It just happened. You don’t get to save everyone. Get over it.”
Hutch turned and threw his empty wineglass over the railing. It didn’t even have the decency to shatter; it fell with a soft thud onto the ground below. Way to go, Hutch thought, grand dramatic gesture that turned out to be. He laid both hands on the railing and hung his head. And laughed. Quietly at first. Then louder as Starsky threw his own beer bottle over the railing. It landed safely beside the wine glass. And then Starsky was beside him, one orange-clad arm over his shoulder, laughing too. And Hutch could only sputter, “Why didn’t you ever tell me how ugly that robe is?”
Starsky silenced him with a long, hard kiss that left them both breathless and wanting more. He took Hutch’s hand and led him upstairs, back into bed, back into his arms. Back where he belonged.
Hutch kept track of time. Counted the weeks, measured the months, marked the years. He had done it since he was a little boy. The future had been too large and too uncertain, so he divided time into fractions and looked for constants, found common denominators, calculated probabilities. One month to his birthday, two weeks before school let out, four days until Christmas. He counted backward too, how many months since his grandfather had visited, how many weeks since the new calves were born, how many days since he had made his father angry.
Four months ago, he had slid down from the couch and rested on his knees between Starsky’s legs. He had looked up at him, giving him one last chance to change his mind, but Starsky had just smiled and nodded, and had undone the zipper of his jeans. Together they had pulled them down past his hips. Starsky had leaned forward and buried his hands in his hair and guided Hutch’s head down over his hard cock. Hutch had let his tongue run its length, licking and tasting it. Starsky had moaned with each touch and had lifted his hips to meet his mouth. Hutch had taken him in, sucking him, pulling him deeper.
Four months ago, he had made Starsky come for the first time.
Now, as Starsky lay sleeping beside him, the sheets tangled and sticky with sweat and semen, Hutch felt the first stirrings of happiness. And for the first time in as long as he could remember, he imagined a future, measured not in days or months, but in years.