Dawn was making lunch for herself when she
heard a soft sound from the bedroom. Curious, she peeked around the dividing wall. Dave had turned over onto his back, bumping
right up against Ken, and one knee was resting against her husband’s hip.
As she watched, his expression tightened
and he muttered something indecipherable. His hands clenched and then relaxed, and all the while his eyes never opened, though
she could see the pupils moving erratically under the lids.
She shook her head. Great. Not only is he annoying when he’s awake, but he also talks in his sleep.
She went back to her meal preparation, thinking
to herself that if Dave rolled over one more time, he’d end up shoving Ken right off the bed and onto the floor. She
knew she shouldn’t find that thought funny, but she did. She snickered to herself as she spread cream cheese on her
A moment later she nearly dropped her knife,
as Dave yelped a single word. “No!”
for goodness sake!
Concerned, she was back in the bedroom in
a handful of quick strides. Dave was still very much asleep, but Ken’s head had shot up off the pillow to stare at his
friend with a look of alarm. He did not notice Dawn standing a few feet away.
Placing a hand under Dave’s shoulder,
Ken rolled him back onto his side of the bed with a slightly pained grunt of effort. He then pulled himself over next to the
other man and stretched a long arm across his back, briefly massaging the back of his neck. Dave did not wake, but Dawn saw
some of the tension around his mouth and eyes begin to ease, soothed away by the comforting touch. His face turned blindly
towards Ken, unconsciously seeking the familiar presence of his friend, even as he slipped into a deeper, dreamless sleep.
Reassured that all was well for the moment, Ken closed his eyes and let himself drift back into unconsciousness. His arm remained
where he had placed it, draped over Dave’s shoulders.
Bemused, Dawn quietly left the room. She
had an uncomfortable feeling that she’d accidentally intruded into something very private.
back storeroom hadn’t been used in years. Dust clung to all surfaces thickly enough to have in places turned to a greasy
black film. It hung in the air, drying out Becky’s eyes and throat. She sneezed as she bent to lift another file box
of long-defunct records, and then wrinkled her nose as a bulbous black spider scuttled away into a corner.
The Bay City
branch of the ASPCA had been caught inside the evacuation zone, resulting in a decision to temporarily transfer all of the
animals to the independently operated Bayside Shelter where Becky worked. This building was crowded at the best of times,
being a no-kill facility, and right now, it was very nearly bursting at the seams. Cages were stacked in the halls, the animals
were stressed, and the noise was unbelievable. Staff and volunteers had been working around the clock to try to bring some
order to the chaos.
At the same time, a steady influx of citizens
had been arriving at their doors to drop off house keys, thanks to a promise by the director that volunteers would go into
the restricted area to feed any pets left behind.
Becky shook her head, as she handed the box
to the person behind her. The director was a lovely woman, but she’d clearly never heard of the concept of over-commitment.
Luckily, however, there did seem to be plenty of help, thanks to a radio campaign by a local disc jockey.
She brushed her hair back from her face,
unconsciously smearing dirt across her forehead, and smiled at the man who had just entered the room. Reg had shown up that
morning with the other new volunteers. At the moment, he was helping Becky sort through boxes in order to clear the storeroom
for use as temporary home for some of the animals. He’d offered to ferry whatever could be disposed of over to the dump.
There had been a lot of junk to pitch, but they were finally close to finishing.
It was going to be a relief to get the cats
well away from the dogs. Opposite sides of the hallway was just not cutting it.
“I can carry more than this,”
said Reg, amiably. He was a tall, broad man, with a blandly cheerful smile. Becky had a vague memory of seeing him at the
funeral, and when she asked him about it, he told her that he had once had a passing acquaintance with Anna, from the days
when she had worked at Crazy Al’s Discount Emporium. This was reassuring, but Becky still found him intimidating, since,
at just around five feet tall, she had to crane her head back to see his face, and he had a way of standing just a little
too close when he talked to her.
Personal space issues aside however, he seemed
extremely nice and very helpful. She loaded him up with another several boxes, and sent him out the back door to load them
into his tan sedan.
As he left, a harried but cheerful Sandrine
stuck her head into the room. “Hey, Becky! Guess who called looking for you almost half an hour ago?”
Becky had no idea. “My mother?”
Sarah had been in a panic over the train disaster and had called several times already to make sure her youngest was safe.
Becky was not at all surprised that it had taken Sandrine half an hour to pass the message on. Everyone was up to their ears
in work, and personal phone calls took a necessary back seat.
“Well, if that’show you think of him…” teased Sandrine.
“Who?” Becky asked, eagerly.
“No one important; just a certain gentleman
named Dave Starsky.” Sandrine paused, gleefully taking in the quick flush of Becky’s cheeks. Her voice acquired
a teasing lilt, “Ooh… look at her! She’s all excited, ‘cause her boyfriend called…”
“Stop that!” Becky tried to scrub
the blush off of her face, her efforts resulting only in the application of more dirt. “What did he say?”
“Well, first he was wondering if you
were here, and when I told him you were, he wanted to know what time you got off.”
“What did you say?” Becky was
curious to hear Sandrine’s answer, since it couldn’t be said that anyone was working a regular shift today. She’d
been at the shelter since early morning, and it was now nearly . She’d spent the whole day feeding animals, moving crates, and generally doing whatever
she was called upon to do. Her usual files had been completely neglected, though she was trying to keep a temporary one going
that listed all of the new arrivals, as well as the details of the house key drop off program.
Sandrine smirked. “I told him he should
come and rescue you as soon as possible.”
Becky was horrified. “You didn’t!
What about all of this?” She gestured at the nearly empty storeroom around her, trying rather unconvincingly to illustrate
the impossible volume of work ahead of her.
Reg returned just as she was saying, “I
can’t leave now. What about the records? What about the new arrivals?”
“Becky, you’re an idiot, you
know that?” Sandrine smiled fondly at her friend. “You’ve been working since six this morning. You need
to stop, or you’ll fall flat on your face, and then what will I tell your mom?” With a final careless flip of
her hand, she left, saying, “Finish up what you need to do. You’re out of here!”
Reg watched her go before turning to Becky,
with a smile. “So, they’re kicking you out?”
She reached for something else to hand him.
“Yes, I think they must be getting tired of seeing my face around here,” she commented lightly, turning to hand
him the cardboard box.
His hands enveloped hers, pinning them against
the box she held, and he bent down to look into her eyes. “I’m sure that’s not true. You’re a beautiful
woman. Why don’t you let me buy you a few drinks, as a reward for all your hard work?”
All of Becky’s defenses went up. This
was definitely too pushy. Freeing herself from his grip took rather more effort
than she was comfortable with, and she stepped back, clutching the box against her chest as if it were a shield. “No,
I’m sorry,” she said, politely but firmly. “I already have a date for tonight. My boyfriend’s picking
me up in a few minutes.”
There was something in his expression that
made her catch her breath in sudden alarm, but then it was gone, and the only thing she saw in his face was a sort of pleasantly
“Oh, well, he’s a lucky man.”
Reg took the box from her hands, and she
decided that she must have been imagining things after all.
that moment, Dave Starsky was not feeling in the slightest degree lucky, or fortunate, or anything along that vein. Yes, he’d
successfully tracked down Becky, but as soon as he had hung up the phone, Hutch had taken charge of him. He had been parked
quite firmly in front of a ham and cheese sandwich with a side of painkillers, and the promise of a chocolate brownie if he
ate everything on his plate. The only saving grace in all of this was the fact that Hutch was too stiff himself to suggest
trying one of his therapeutic torture-massages.
The problem was that Hutch had woken that
evening positively beaming, despite his sore muscles and a lingering headache. He was on a high, having once again survived
a near-death experience. The fact that someone somewhere might still be out for his head did little to diminish the fact that
right here and now, the sun was shining (somewhere in the world, even if it had already set in this particular location) and
the birds were singing (ditto) and he felt very much like celebrating the fact that he was still alive. Unfortunately, all
this ebullient joy served only to deepen the black depression dogging Starsky.
He could hear them in the bedroom, on the
other side of the dividing wall. He tried not to listen, concentrating intently upon his sandwich.
Dawn examined her reflection in the mirror
critically. She was attempting to dress for her shift at The Pits, and once again the only thing she could find to fit was
her stretchy pants. She turned to Ken, who was lying across the bed, watching her with keen interest.
“Do these make my butt look big?”
He dropped his chin onto his hands and looked
up at her. “I think you look great.”
She twisted in front of the mirror. “I’ve
got a big butt. I know I do. I just want to know if these pants make it better or worse.”
Rolling off the bed and onto his feet, Hutch
came around to stand behind her. His hands cupped the smooth swell of her stomach and his cheek pressed against her temple.
He looked at the image of the two of them in the mirror, and was quite satisfied with the rightness of that picture. “You
know I always tell you when I think that something you’re wearing isn’t doing justice to how good you look.”
Pretty lady, was the message he silently conveyed to her.
“You do,” agreed Dawn, slowly,
a hint of a smile in her eyes. “But I sometimes think if you had your way, I’d never wear anything at all.”
His hands slid up her body and he pressed
himself closer against her rear, which, in his contented opinion, was quite as fine an example of that portion of the female
anatomy as any he’d ever known. “Can’t improve on perfection,” he murmured into her ear. He heard
her make a low sound deep in her throat, as her body reacted to his caress.
She turned to the side and tilted her head
back to meet his lips. His scent had changed, shifting subtly towards desire, and his kiss was insistent and exploratory.
For a brief moment, there was nothing whatsoever in their universe but a male and a female body locked in a single embrace.
And then they heard the sharp clatter of
dishes being dropped into the sink, on the other side of the rather flimsy dividing wall.
“Oops,” whispered Hutch.
Dawn disentangled herself from his grip,
and said, quietly, “You know, in a few more months, we’ll have a kid. We’d have to learn discretion eventually.”
“So, this is practice?” He raised
an eyebrow at her.
They heard the front closet door yanked open
as Starsky said loudly, “Hutch, I’ll see you later!”
Flustered, Ken looked at her and made a ‘wait’
motion with his hand, before bolting from the room. Dawn sighed and thought to herself: Our
real child will be a lot cuter, and more pleasant to be around.
Starsky gave Hutch a crooked smile as he
intercepted him at the door. The big blonde appeared decidedly disheveled and more than a little worried. The last thing Starsky
wanted to do was inflict any of his current state of mind on him. It was nice that Hutch was feeling so alive and… whatever.
He should stay that way.
But Starsky didn’t want to have to
listen to it. “Look,” he said, pleasantly. “I know you’re stuck with me sleeping here for the next
few days, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with me the rest of the time. This is your place; yours and Dawn’s.
I’ll stay clear and give you two lovebirds some space.”
He knew immediately that he’d made
a mistake. Hutch’s face dropped. He looked as if he’d just been kicked in the stomach. Starsky felt the resentment
he’d been trying to suppress flare up again. What was he supposed to say? He was trying!
“Don’t worry, Mom. I’ve
eaten my dinner and taken my meds, I won’t push my limits, and I’ll stay off the booze.” Despite his best
efforts, Starsky couldn’t quite mask the edge in his voice.
Hutch tried to rescue the exchange with a
small joke. “Just remember to be home by curfew.”
It went over like the proverbial lead balloon.
Starsky simply stared at him for a second, his expression unreadable, before turning to limp painfully down the steps.
Hutch blew out a long breath as Starsky reached
the ground level, a little surprised to discover he’d been holding it the entire time his friend was navigating the
staircase. Oh boy, he’s in a black mood today.
Becky slid into the passenger seat of the
Torino, grinning delightedly. Starsky felt a smile cross
his face as he looked at her. She had clearly tried to clean up before seeing him, because her face was still damp and the
small hairs around her ears clung to her skin. However, she had somehow managed to completely miss a dark smear across the
tip of her small nose.
He gestured at the dirt on her face and said,
“I think you missed a spot.”
“Oh!” She scrubbed vigorously
at the wrong side of her nose with the heel of her hand. “Did I get it?”
He laughed. “No, it’s still there.”
He licked the side of his thumb and said, “Hold still a minute.” A brief bit of attention, and the dirt was at
least no longer obvious, if not actually gone. His hand lingered on her face, and she pressed her cheek into his palm, eyes
shining. He felt a brief pang of guilt.
Becky saw a shadow cross his face as he withdrew
his hand. She’d seen it in his eyes the day they first met, and a few times since then, and each time, it made her sad,
though she did not know the exact reasons behind it. She put her hand on his thigh, and said, “Can I make you dinner
tonight? After all, you bought me pizza last night.”
it really only last night? To Starsky,
it felt as if their dinner date had been a lot longer ago than that. Starting the car, he winked at her and said, “I
promise I’ll try to stay awake this time.”
She laughed, saying, “That’s
good! Because, you know, a girl might get a complex if her guy kept falling asleep on her.”
As she began telling him about her busy day,
he found himself reflecting on how good it felt to be here in her company. He didn’t deserve this, he probably wasn’t
being fair to her to pursue the relationship, and it was anyone’s guess whether it would last, but perhaps Hutch had
the right idea today after all. In this moment, here and now, life was fine.
was not until after a meal of homemade burritos with a side salad, and a trashy made-for-TV zombie movie, that it finally
occurred to him to ask her if she’d noticed a very tall, large man in a green suit at Anna’s funeral.