was the smell that hit Hutch first, the heavy, sour stench of vomit. That, along with the sound of retching, made it clear
that Starsky wouldn’t be making it in to work on time today - if at all.
Hutch banged on the bathroom
door with the side of his fist. “Where was the party last night, and why didn’t you invite me?”
Starsky’s reply was
muffled, but Hutch heard something about, “ . . .and the horse you rode in on . . .”
Hutch grinned, and strolled
into Starsky’s kitchen. Rummaging through the fridge, he contemplated the creation of a hangover cure. The specific
ingredients didn’t matter so long as they were healthy and his partner found the resulting combination disgusting. The
real satisfaction came from convincing Starsky that the noxious mixture would cure what ailed him and then conning him into
I should stash some seaweed and brewer’s yeast here for just these occasions.
“Put the eggs away,”
said a hoarse voice behind him. “I’m really sick.”
Hutch turned to find Starsky
standing with one arm braced against the wall, as if it was the only thing holding him upright. He was bare-chested, wearing
only his blue pajama bottoms. Hutch took in the glazed eyes and immediately stepped forward to feel Starsky’s forehead.
“Oh buddy, that’s a hell of a fever.”
Starsky gave him a watery
smile. “Glad you agree. Grab me some aspirin and a glass of water, will ya? I’m going back to bed.” He pushed
himself away from the wall, but after one step, he stopped, swaying and blinking rapidly. “Oh, head rush.”
Hutch steadied him with
a hand on his arm. He paused and tightened his grip. “What’s this? Spots?”
Horrified, Starsky followed
Hutch’s gaze. “I got zits?”
Hutch, taking a closer look. “I don’t think so . . .” Carefully, he turned Starsky’s arm over and
exposed more of the small red dots. “Look.” With a gentle push he rotated Starsky. “And they’re on
your back, too. You’ve got some sort of rash.”
Starsky. He craned his head in a futile attempt to look at his own back. “But I’ve got the flu!”
Hutch suppressed a smile
as he released his friend’s arm. “Why don’t you sit down,” he said. “I’ll call your doctor.”
And Dobey, he added to himself, already mentally composing a list of necessary
tasks. Luckily he and Starsky weren’t working on anything Hutch couldn’t handle by himself. And he’d also
have to cancel his date with the lovely . . . Brenda, wasn’t it? Or was it Belinda? Because Hutch knew exactly whose
couch he’d be camping out on this evening.
For a tough, competent
man in the prime of his life, Starsky could be surprisingly helpless when it came to dealing with illness. A bullet in the
shoulder? No problem. But let one little virus get a foothold in his system, and he folded like a house of cards.
If it had been anyone else,
it would have annoyed the hell out of Hutch. But this was Starsky and looking at him now, leaning against the wall with his
pjs hanging off his hips and his hair standing on end, Hutch couldn’t help but feel a warm rush of affection for the
man. “Come on,” he said again, as he tugged on Starsky’s arm, suddenly conscious of the dry heat radiating
from his partner’s skin. “Sit down.”
Starsky poked mournfully
at a spot on his chest. “I wonder if it’s contagious?”
Hutch let go of his arm
immediately. Love only went so far.
Hutch hung up the phone.
Under normal circumstances Starsky would have been hanging over his shoulder, trying to listen in on the conversation. It
was a testament to how sick his friend was, that instead he was lying on the couch looking up at him with equal parts of impatience
“The doctor said
it sounds like you’ve got chicken pox.”
he said.” Hutch headed for the bathroom, hoping Starsky would have something for the nausea as well as fever in his
Leave it to Starsky to catch a kid’s disease, for Christ’s sake.
“But I already had
chicken pox!” protested Starsky from the couch.
Wrinkling his nose at the
rancid smell in the bathroom, Hutch quickly collected two aspirin for the fever and some antacids that might help settle his
partner’s stomach. “Your doctor said that sometimes you don’t get full immunity, especially if you only
had a mild case.” There was a glass by the sink, and Hutch filled it with cold water before returning to the living
Starsky accepted the glass
and peered blearily at the handful of pills Hutch offered him. “That damn doctor’s a quack,” he muttered.
Hutch watched until he
was sure Starsky had taken all of his medicine. “You’re welcome to tell him that during your appointment this
Starsky moved remarkably
fast, considering his condition. He was off the couch and at the wall phone before Hutch could react. “I don’t
need to see a doctor for chicken pox!”
slapped down on the hook, disconnecting the call. “He can’t make a proper diagnosis unless he sees you!”
Starsky hung onto the phone
with a tenacity that suggested it was as much for support as out of stubbornness. “I can’t go! I’ll be the
laughing stock of the precinct if he says I’ve got a kid’s disease.”
pox is a lot more serious for adults. There could be serious complications.”
Sudden alarm crossed Starsky’s face. “Could my nuts swell up?”
Trust him to think of that first.
“No, dummy, that’s
mumps. The main complication of chicken pox is pneumonia.”
“Well, when I get
- I mean, if I get pneumonia, then I’ll see the doctor.”
“I’m not letting
you cancel the appointment.”
released the phone and staggered away. “You go, and bring me back a lollipop. I’m going back to bed.”
die of chicken pox.”
just nifty on my tombstone.” Starsky suddenly changed course and veered toward the bathroom. The door slammed behind
him, and a moment later Hutch heard him retching. The muffled exclamation that followed sounded a lot like, “God, kill
Wincing in sympathy, Hutch
dialed the precinct, and asked to be patched through to Captain Dobey.
going to need some sick leave . . .”
Two mornings later, the
nausea had eased enough to let Starsky keep some dry toast and flat ginger ale down, but the fever, headache, and light sensitivity
hung on with a vengeance.
“Is this what it
feels like when you get a migraine, Hutch?” asked Starsky. He was flat on his back in bed, his eyes closed.
Hutch placed a cool damp cloth on Starsky’s forehead, mentally running down his ever-expanding checklist. Chicken soup
in the fridge if his partner felt up to it, meds and crackers in easy reach, and a glass of water on the table beside Starsky’s
bed . . . “Are you going to be okay, Starsk? Dobey’s expecting me in his office in twenty minutes, but I can be
“I’ll be fine,”
the whine in Starsky’s voice belying the claim. “M’ just lying here and dying. And itching.” With
an exclamation of intense frustration he stuffed his hand down the front of his pjs and scratched his lower belly.
Hutch ordered. “Or I’ll duct tape socks over your hands.”
That got Starsky’s
attention. His head came up off the pillow, the damp cloth falling off. He stared at Hutch through watering eyes. “Huh?”
Hutch held up a warning
finger. “And don’t think I won’t! I called your mom and that was number six on her list of recommendations.”
Starsky dropped his head backward, wincing. He pulled his hand out from underneath the sheets. “She would say that.
That’s how she broke me of sucking my thumb when I was five, and cured me of biting my fingernails when I was eight,
and . . .” He stopped abruptly and blushed.
Hutch grinned, and replaced
the cloth on Starsky’s forehead, taking a moment to smooth the wrinkles out. “And just what else did she try to
stop you from doing, buddy?”
sucking my thumb and biting my fingernails –that’s it!”
said Hutch, his smile widening. “Besides if there was another habit, I doubt
she succeeded in discouraging it anyway.”
“Will you get outta
here!” snapped Starsky. “You’re gonna be late.”
As Hutch retrieved his
jacket, he heard Starsky grumble, “Nosy bastard . . .”
But when he stuck his head
back into the bedroom, Starsky insisted he hadn’t said anything at all.
Just like a big kid, thought Hutch, not for the first
time that day.
Every day, at eleven and
two, Hutch called Starsky from work.
“Did you take your
“Have you been drinking
“Watching TV is only
going to make your headache worse, go back to bed.”
Starsky called him names.
Then he stopped answering his phone, but Hutch persisted. In the end, the baths were taken, although Starsky maintained that
oatmeal was even more disgusting as a bath than as a breakfast cereal. His partner also consumed sufficient water and flat
ginger ale to keep dehydration at bay. Hutch purchased a variety of car and photography magazines in the hopes of easing his
partner’s boredom. He had less success persuading Starsky to lay off watching so much TV.
Before and after work,
liberal use was made of the calamine lotion. Starsky took care of the bulk of the job, while Hutch applied it to the places
that he couldn’t reach.
Hutch had never seen his
partner so miserable in his entire life, as spots erupted in every conceivable place on his body. And in some places he had
thought inconceivable, which Starsky refused to name.
The spots in these unmentionable
places were an open secret. Starsky was constantly adjusting his shorts, shifting position, and occasionally giving up and
scratching his crotch with a look of angry defiance at Hutch.
“It’s not my
problem if you end up with scars all over your dick,” said Hutch, meeting Starsky’s glare with one of his own.
“But your girlfriend might not be pleased . . .” What was her name again?
He tried to remember who Starsky had been dating lately. Some ditzy brunette . . .
With a groan of despair,
Starsky yanked his hand out of the front of his pajamas. “Gimme that bottle!” he said, pointing at the calamine
lotion. Hutch tossed it to him as he stalked off toward the bathroom.
Half an hour later, he
was scratching again.
you’ll get scars!”
“So what? No one
can see scars on my scalp.” Starsky dug his fingers into his hair and scratched with vigor.
Hutch caught Starsky’s
hands, pulling them down to his sides. “Starsky, you could end up with bald spots. You don’t want that, do you?”
Starsky twisted his wrists
inside of Hutch’s grip, trying to ease some of his agony. “Hutch, I gotta scratch!” He moved closer, squirming
inside of his pjs.
Christ, he’s transformed into a giant itch, masquerading as a human being.
Hutch pushed him back,
and looked pointedly around the apartment. “Okay, where’s the duct tape?” He didn’t know whether he
was threatening to duct tape socks onto Starsky’s hands, or just duct tape the man to a chair, immobilizing him completely.
Both options were equally appealing at the moment.
slumped in defeat. “You’re mean, you know that?”
because I love you, buddy.”
It was a throw-away line,
something he’d said a hundred times before, but this time Starsky gave him an odd look. “You really do, don’t
here every day,” said Starsky. “You buy me groceries and do my laundry. You make sure I’m eating right,
you nag me not to scratch, and you put calamine on my back.” He frowned. “Cindy only came by once, stayed five
minutes and didn’t even kiss me.”
Before Hutch could come
up with any kind of response to that startling statement, Starsky suddenly cursed and did a fair imitation of a man trying
to wriggle right out of his skin. “Arrgh! I can’t stand it!”
Taking pity on his suffering
partner, Hutch volunteered to put more calamine lotion on him. Starsky had his shirt off and back turned to him before he’d
finished making the offer.
As Hutch spread the lotion,
Starsky hummed happily in the back of his throat. He sounded like a contented cat. Soon, however, his happy noises faded and
he started to squirm again.
“Just scratch there,
will ya?” Starsky contorted himself, trying to point to a spot between his shoulder blades.
“Starsk . . .”
“Just scratch around
it. C’mon, I’m going crazy here.”
Hutch sighed, and began
to carefully scratch around the pox, trying not to disturb any of the delicate, healing tissues.
Starsky hummed again and
pushed back against him, an expression of bliss on his face. Hutch felt a responding heat inside himself and snatched his
hand back, horrified that he was getting turned on by his partner.
Starsky. “Don’t stop!”
“I’m not scratching
your back,” Hutch told him firmly. “You’ll get scars, and then you’ll blame me.”
Hutch retreated to Starsky’s
bathroom and splashed his face with cold water, wishing he could apply the same treatment to other parts of his anatomy.
his partner’s physicality on an esthetic level for years, and didn’t mind that he sometimes found Starsky attractive.
Watching him dance usually had that effect, and Hutch’s girlfriends always benefitted. However, it was one thing to
admire his friend from afar - what had just happened in the livingroom was another thing entirely.
Because Starsky was straight,
and so was Hutch. That weekend at the beach with Jack Mitchell had been nothing more than some teenage experimentation. Hutch
had accepted that fact.
Hutch looked into the bathroom
mirror, staring straight into his eyes.
Yes I have. I’m not a horny teenager anymore.
He sighed, and glared down
at his dick which seemed intent on a second youth. Then he smirked, remembering the time Starsky had called it little Hutchinson. The adjective didn’t
apply at this moment.
Get over it. Big or little, you’re not getting what you want.
“Hey, did you fall
in the toilet and drown, Hutch?” Starsky’s voice came from the livingroom. “I could’ve jerked myself
off twice in the time you’re taking in there.”
“You better not be
doing that out there,” Hutch yelled back. “Or I’m going to make sure the sock and duct tape treatment works
Most of Starsky’s
response was inaudible, but definitely sounded crude.
Hutch grinned at his reflection.
Their exchange had apparently reminded his hormones of the status quo, and the problem was already going away.
But things only got worse
for Hutch over the next few days.
The primary problem, Hutch
decided, was that Starsky was a sensualist and right now he was all about the physical. It seemed as if every one of his partner’s
senses had been heightened to an intensity where anything that wasn’t outright painful appeared to be borderline orgasmic.
Starsky developed a love
affair with showers, standing under the pounding spray until the water ran cold and his landlord called to complain. Hutch
had to leave the house, unable to endure the moans of pleasure emitting from the bathroom. He promised that he’d never
again object to Starsky’s singing in the shower, no matter how loud or off-key.
Worse still, Starsky’s
intense frustration with food had transformed into a near obscene pleasure once his nausea began to recede. The first time he drank a full glass of water and kept it down, Hutch felt like he was watching a pornographic
movie. The first time Starsky ate chicken soup and kept it down, he had visions of the Vice Squad arresting the both of them.
Hutch knew he was overreacting,
but still, it didn’t seem like it was too much to ask that Starsky just eat a bowl of ice cream without savoring each
and every bite with loud, appreciative groans. He understood that the frozen treat soothed and numbed the sores inside his
friend’s mouth, but the ecstatic noises, half-closed eyes, and tilted-back head were shamelessly over the top.
Hutch told himself it had
nothing to do with sex, but it was becoming increasingly hard to convince his body that Starsky was just sick and not coming
on to him. His dick was unconvinced when Starsky was rubbing himself on the furniture, moaning with an enthusiasm that could
put every porn star in Bay City out of a job.
Still . . . it wasn’t
as if Starsky was doing any of this on purpose, Hutch reminded himself.
One extremely long week
later the intense itching had subsided, along with the nausea, fever and headache. Hutch was relieved to finally have some
respite from the constant assault on his libido, but Starsky was still far from a happy man.
The flat red spots that
had emerged in fresh crops over the first days of his illness had turned into small white pustules, which were now forming
thick, dark scabs. As far as Hutch could tell, every square inch of skin on his body was covered with lesions in various stages
Hutch worried as his partner
became increasingly withdrawn. This level of depression was not normal for Starsky, and he put more effort into drawing him
out. It must have been the fourteenth or fifteenth time he’d offered to set up a game of Monopoly that night, when Starsky
finally lost it. He announced he was never playing the game again, and he’d
appreciate it Hutch would stop hanging around with that stupid, fake smile on his face.
Hutch lost the smile. He
also informed Starsky exactly what kind of asshole he was. In detail. He then left before the shouting woke the neighbors.
His phone was ringing by
the time he got home. He picked it up and snapped, “What?”
“Um . . . So, I just
noticed that the late movie tomorrow night is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid . . .” Starsky’s voice trailed
Hutch felt his anger vanish.
“I’ll bring the pizza?”
“Yeah. See you then.”
When he came over the next
night, Starsky made an obvious effort to be better company. It was clear, however, that his mood hadn’t improved and
Hutch continued to worry.
After the movie, Hutch
checked the spots on Starsky’s back and pronounced him almost ready to return to work. “I don’t see any
new ones. Another couple days, and these should all be dry. You won’t be contagious anymore.”
Hutch was puzzled by this
lack of enthusiasm. He was about to ask what was wrong, when Starsky mustered something closer to a genuine smile and said,
“Yeah, it’ll be great to get back to work.”
Unconvinced, Hutch decided
not to press the issue. Starsky would tell him eventually, if it was really serious. In the meantime, Hutch decided to look
for different ways to entertain him.
did not always appreciate Hutch’s idea of entertainment.
Two days after their fight,
Hutch brought over a thick medical text he’d found in the back of his bookshelf, a leftover from his pre-med days. “You
might find this interesting, Starsk. Chicken pox is actually one of eight known herpes viruses to infect humans.”
sat up in bed, staring at Hutch in horror.
“Not that kind, dummy.
Just has the same viral structure as mono and genital herpes. So, you see, it could be much worse.” Hutch gave Starsky
a bright smile. C’mon buddy, cheer up!
“Oh yeah, you’re
a great comfort.” Starsky lay back on his bed and closed his eyes.
chickenpox vesicle, surrounded by an erythematous halo, has been described as a dewdrop on a rose petal. Isn’t that
a lovely image?”
“Bet some doctor
thought that was just hilarious,” muttered Starsky.
“Did you know chickenpox
wasn’t named after chickens? In England, they used to call small children ‘chickens’. So for us, it would
be like calling it ‘kid-pox’.”
“Hey, I almost forgot.
Rosie drew you another picture to make you feel better. She remembers very well what it was like when she had chickenpox.”
Starsky opened one eye.
“Yeah? Let me see.”
Hutch fished the crayon
drawing out of the front of the book and handed it over. Starsky’s forehead crumpled, then his eyebrows drew in as he
looked it over.
“I can tell that,” said Starsky, sourly. “But did she have to draw on so many spots? You can hardly see me. I
look like the creature from the black lagoon’s spotty cousin.”
“How about if I stick
it up on the fridge?”
improve my appetite.” Starsky handed the picture back, and shut his eyes again.
Closing the medical text,
Hutch went to the kitchen and placed Rosie’s picture on top of the fridge. Starsky would probably appreciate her gesture
more when he was feeling better.
When Hutch let himself
into Starsky’s apartment the next afternoon, he was not surprised to find Starsky wearing nothing but his oldest, softest
pair of cotton boxers. Even without the itching, the chicken pox lesions made having anything next to his skin almost unbearable.
He was also not surprised
to see Starsky sprawled belly down on the couch with his bare, scabbed feet in the air, and his nose buried in a magazine.
What did surprise him was
Starsky’s choice of reading material.
Before Hutch could comment
on the small pile of Cosmos scattered on the floor beside the couch, Starsky got defensive. “Cindy left them for me.”
“Oh, she visited
again?” Hutch had nothing but contempt for Starsky’s girlfriend-du-jour.
Starsky grimaced. “Sort
of.” He dropped the magazine and sat up, swinging his legs off the couch. “She says the exclusive thing isn’t
working out. She needs some space in order to grow as a person, self-actualize her inner-actuality, or some such thing.”
Hutch’s rear end
had hardly touched the couch cushions next to his partner, when Starsky bounced to his feet and began to pace.
Starsky paused by the balcony
door. His face was hidden from Hutch, as he said, “I think she was kinda turned off by . . .” His hand waved vaguely,
encompassing himself. “I think I got dumped.”
“Oh.” All of
a sudden Hutch understood exactly what had been bothering Starsky these past few days.
Of all Starsky’s
faults, pride in his physical appearance was his most notable. Unlike Huggy, it wasn’t so much about the clothes, though
Starsky knew what looked good and how to wear it to his best advantage. It was that Starsky knew he was a good-looking guy
and he liked others to know it as well.
But at the moment he was
covered with black scabs.
Silently, Hutch cursed
the absent Cindy for her callousness. At the same time, however, he felt a rush of relief at the realization that Starsky
really hadn’t noticed anything different over the past week. His body’s
inappropriate reactions to his partner remained a secret.
Changing the subject seemed
the only safe route to take, all others were littered with mines hazardous to Starsky’s battered self-esteem. Hutch
picked up the magazine Starsky had dropped and looked at the cover. “Wow him in bed tonight, sixty sexy surprises?”
He flipped the magazine open and looked inside. “‘Spice up your sex life.’ ‘Boost your sex appeal.’
Jesus, this is like porn for women!”
Starsky turned away from
the balcony door, apparently willing to play along. “Good stuff, huh? I think I might finally have a handle on what
women really want. And so long as I’m stuck looking like this, I’m going to need all the inside help I can get.”
Hutch flipped a few more
pages. “Apparently what women want is ‘sexy hair’.”
Should’ve reconsidered that career as a hairdresser . . .
Crossing back to the couch,
Starsky took the magazine and turned to a page that he’d dog-eared. “This
one is pure gold,” he said, handing it back to Hutch.
Hutch read the title of
the page aloud. “Mr. Right or Mr. Wrong, the secret body language that reveals all.”
“It’s all about
teaching women how to know if you’re flirting with them. Say, f’rinstance, when you put your hand inside your
shirt and do that chest-touchy thing you do, that’s a flirty move.”
Hutch looked up from the
article, bemused. “I thought I was just hot.”
“It’s not what
you think, it’s how the ladies read it. And when you do that, they’re thinking you’re a completely different
kind of hot.” Starsky stopped pacing and stood in front of Hutch. “And did you know? Putting your hand on someone’s
back when you push them through the door, that’s flirting too.”
“I don’t push people through doors!”
“Push, guide, whatever.”
Starsky’s animation increased, and Hutch noticed that he was talking with his hands now.
Hutch felt a burst of relief.
This was the first time he’d seen Starsky excited about anything other than not vomiting in over a week.
“Touch is a powerful
thing. It’s instant human connection.” Starsky paused and looked ruefully down at his chest, lesions in various
stages of healing showing through the hair. “Of course, the only thing any girl’s gonna wonder if I touch her
now will be, ‘is he contagious’?”
Hutch wanted to protest,
but there was no denying that Starsky was an alarming sight at the moment.
okay,” Starsky continued with determined optimism. “Because according to that article, I don’t even got
to touch her to get the sex thing going. Watch this.”
Hutch’s breath caught
in his throat as the atmosphere in the room shifted without warning. Starsky’s feet moved apart to shoulder width, and
his hands landed on his hips. His eyes darkened and his gaze raked Hutch from head to toe in blatant assessment and invitation.
Hutch couldn’t move.
He was pinned under those eyes, helpless.
Starsky hooked his thumbs
in the waistband of his shorts, tugging them down slightly to reveal the taut muscled curve of his stomach. His fingers were
splayed and pointing downward, framing his groin. He then tilted his head to one side, and gave Hutch a devastating grin.
“See, I start like this . . .”
The jarring normalcy of
Starsky’s tone of voice broke the spell. Hutch all but levitated off the cushions, as he scrambled over the back of
the couch. “Do you mind!”
Starsky, bewildered. “It’s not like I’m actually turning you on . . .” An almost comical expression
of surprise crossed his face as he trailed off. “Oh hell, I am, aren’t
Starsky picked the magazine
up and stared at the article. “Wow, this is some powerful stuff.”
Hutch clutched the back
of the couch, and worked on controlling his breathing. “Starsky, I swear . . .”
Starsky strolled behind
the couch and patted him on the back. “Aw, don’t worry about it. Just take a good look at my scabs, and it’ll
go right away.” He shoved his forearm under Hutch’s nose.
Hutch backpedaled quickly
and Starsky said, “See? Told ya.”
“Just get the hell
away from me,” growled Hutch. He stalked into the kitchen and wrenched open the fridge door. A quick scan inside turned
up nothing alcoholic. “Where’s the beer?”
Hutch turned around and
discovered that Starsky had followed him and was now staring at him with a smug grin.
“I turned you on.
I turned you on. Just like that!”
Starsky snapped his fingers. “And I did it even covered with pox.”
Hutch dropped into one
of the kitchen chairs. “I’m so glad I can make you feel better about yourself.” His nerves were still jangling.
Starsky’s smile faded,
and was replaced with a more thoughtful look. He grabbed a chair and turned it around, crossing his arms over the back and
dropping his chin onto his forearms. He stared at Hutch from under dark brows.
After a few minutes Hutch
couldn’t stand the tension any longer. “What?”
Starsky looked at him a
moment longer, then shrugged. “Nothin’. Do you wanna watch some cartoons? I could really go for some Bugs Bunny
and Roadrunner action right now.”
Hutch felt the tension
drain from the atmosphere, and it made him almost giddy from relief. “That roadrunner is evil.”
“I hear you, man.
If that bird ever showed up in Bay City, we’d arrest him for speeding.”
“I think he runs
like you drive . . .”
And with that, they were
back on an even keel again. But Hutch had the uneasy feeling that he wasn’t completely off the hook.
In the end his respite
was even briefer than he’d expected.
That night, Hutch was setting
up the Monopoly board, when Starsky said, “When Johnny Blaine died . . .”
Hutch froze. He looked
at Starsky warily.
But Starsky wasn’t
looking at him. His focus had turned inward, as if he was talking to himself. “You talked about it like you knew what
he had gone through. But . . .” His gaze sharpened. “I know you like girls.”
Hutch took a deep breath.
He could feel the cool metal of the horseman in his hands, and he turned it over. Of
course I like girls. But he wasn’t in the habit of lying to Starsky, and after the past week he certainly couldn’t
keep on lying to himself. “I guess . . . It doesn’t always have to
be one or the other,” he said, finally.
“So, it’s not
Hutch couldn’t read
anything in the tone of Starsky’s voice. “Starsk, I . . .”
“Because I look like
something that escaped from a monster movie.”
was automatic. “You have a few spots, it’s not that bad.”
“I’ve got so
many I can’t tell where one stops and another begins! They’re between my fingers and in my ears, Hutch. They’re even in my mouth, and it’s killing me to eat anything!”
Hutch winced in sympathy.
Starsky had lost weight over the course of his illness, despite Hutch’s best efforts at finding food that would be both
appetizing and relatively painless to ingest. A man cannot live long on applesauce and ice cream alone.
Starsky’s gaze was
direct. “But you still think I’m sexy.”
All the sympathy Hutch
felt vanished. “Are you going somewhere with this? Because it’s not a good idea to antagonize the man with the
bottle of calamine lotion.” He put the horseman down on the board. “Just
pick your piece.”
Distracted, Starsky looked
in the box. “Where’s the car?”
“We lost it, remember?”
my piece! I always play with the car!”
Hutch spotted the car on
the floor near the couch. He shoved it out of sight with his foot and said, “I think I saw it in your bedroom.”
Hutch sighed with relief
as Starsky left the room to look for the car. All he wanted was a little breathing room - a few minutes to figure things out.
It wasn’t the magazine
article. It wasn’t even the chicken pox. The root of this went a long way back, maybe even as far back as the beginning
of their partnership. Back to the first time Hutch had looked at Starsky and thought to himself, damn, he’s hot. And then immediately thought, No, he’s not
and I didn’t just think that.
And now Starsky knew all
about what he could do to Hutch and his response hadn’t been shock, horror, disgust or even desire. Instead Starsky’s
reaction had been one of surprised pleasure.
Starsky had been suffering
from a battered self-esteem, and Hutch’s inadvertent reaction to him had done something to mend it. Which was all very
nice for Starsky, but it still left Hutch out on a limb.
The idea that he can turn me on appeals to his vanity. Just fucking great.
However, this issue wasn’t
going to be resolved tonight. Retrieving the car from under the couch, Hutch said, “Hey, Starsk, I found it!”
Starsky’s joy was
contagious, and Hutch couldn’t help smiling. But when Starsky sat down on the other side of the board to begin the game,
he was unusually quiet.
After a moment, Starsky
looked up. There was deep concern in his expression, as he asked, “Is it hard?”
“Is what hard?”
Hutch laughed a bit hysterically.
“Not that, you idiot!” Starsky reached forward and smacked Hutch’s leg. Hard. “I’m asking if
it’s difficult being partnered with me. Because . . . you know, because you love me.”
“What? You mean is
it difficult putting up with your total lack of humility, your stunning over-confidence, your baffling conviction that you’re
God’s gift to the singles scene? Or maybe it’s the way you never do any of the paperwork, and you leave candy
wrappers on my desk, and . . .”
Hutch took a deep breath.
He dropped the horseman on the board and reached forward to grab Starsky’s knee. “No, Starsk, it’s not hard.
You’re my best friend.”
“But, what about
. . .” Starsky gestured helplessly, clearly unable to find the words for what he wanted to ask.
Hutch increased the pressure
on his knee slightly, squeezing. He suddenly knew exactly what he needed to say to explain things in a way Starsky would understand.
“Do you want to fuck every pretty woman you meet?”
Starsky paused, clearly
uncertain how to answer. “Yeah, don’t you?”
asked Hutch. “What about Edith?”
Starsky looked horrified.
“She’s Dobey’s wife!”
bad looking, though,” said Hutch. “Got a nice body, a great pair of . . .”
Starsky abruptly leapt
forward, clapping both hands over Hutch’s mouth and knocking him back against the couch. “What are you doing?
You can’t talk about Dobey’s wife like that. It ain’t respectful!”
Hutch looked up at Starsky,
who was currently straddling him, his knees on either side of Hutch’s hips. If there had been anything here, anything
to suggest that Starsky might want a different kind of relationship, it would show up now. But there was nothing in Starsky’s
expression or body language to indicate that he was at all turned on by Hutch. And Hutch’s dick, for once, was behaving
The attraction has to be mutual, or it isn’t attractive.
“Okay, so some pretty
women are off limits.”
“Well, yeah! Married
ladies, and your friend’s girlfriend, and your pal’s sister. I know when I’m s’posed to stay clear.
I’m not a jerk!”
You’re a better man than me, buddy.
“Do you find it difficult
working with Angie from Robbery? Now that she’s engaged? I mean, you even dated her a few times.”
“Well, so did you,”
said Starsky indignantly. “And no, I don’t mind working with her. I like her!”
Hutch placed his hands
on Starsky’s chest, pushing him off. “Well then, why should I have any problem working with you? Just because
I can, in theory, be attracted to a guy, doesn’t mean I have an uncontrollable urge to molest every attractive man I
I can’t tell him he’s only the second man I’ve ever found that attractive. His ego would be too large to fit in the Torino.
Starsky looked inordinately
pleased. “You think I’m good looking? Even with spots?”
“I think you’re
my very straight best friend.” And that was the crux of it. Straight, and in his own way, even further off limits than
“Who can turn you
on. Just like that.” Starsky snapped his fingers.
It occurred to Hutch that
he might have to break those fingers.
Starsky carefully scratched
his chest, where Hutch had touched him, and looked away with an embarrassed air. “Hutch, have you ever . . .”
“If the next words
out of your mouth, Starsky, are ‘slept with a guy’, I swear I am leaving now.
You can find someone else to apply your calamine lotion!”
“Oh, all right then.”
But Starsky didn’t move. He continued to look off into space, his brows drawn together slightly. After a moment, he
said, “But . . .”
Now Starsky looked at him.
Hutch stood and picked
up his jacket from where it was flung across the arm of the sofa.
Starsky capitulated. “All
right, all right, put your coat down. I won’t ask! Geez . . .”
There was a long pause.
Starsky got up to sit on the couch, clearly mulling things over. Hutch had an uneasy feeling in his gut. But walking out now
wouldn’t solve anything. Hutch dropped his jacket and looked around for his beer. He discovered it on the kitchen counter.
As he re-entered the room,
Starsky looked up at him and said, “I just don’t get it. I mean, what has a guy got to offer another guy? It’s
not like you can fuck him properly. Well . . . I suppose you could but then what
does the other guy get out of it?”
Hutch felt a surge of anger.
He parked himself next to Starsky and slammed his bottle of beer down on the coffee table. Turning to meet Starsky’s
shocked gaze, he said, “I don’t care if you’re curious, or flattered, or what, but enough’s enough!
Just drop it.”
Starsky spluttered for
a moment, before recovering enough to defend himself coherently. “Well, it’s a lot to take in. I mean, the thought
of you doing that to some guy.”
assumption that his macho tough-guy partner would naturally be the one on top aggravated Hutch even more.
Hey Starsk, you ever hear about this nifty little organ called the prostate gland?
No, most likely Starsky
hadn’t heard of any such thing, and Hutch would be damned if he was going to be the one to enlighten him. The thought
of explaining the very private inner workings of the male body to a curious Starsky held about as much appeal as volunteering
for a rectal exam.
not going to talk about it. So you can just mind your own business and keep your nose out of my sex life!”
Starsky blushed, and then
quite unexpectedly he laughed. “Keep my nose out of where?”
Hutch glowered, and Starsky
had the grace to look slightly abashed.
hit your best friend, would you? Especially not if he’s covered with spots?”
Defeated, Hutch let his
head drop onto the back of the couch. He sighed. “Starsky, right now there isn’t a judge on the planet who’d
convict me of assault.”
Hutch heard a soft chuckle
“I turned you on.”
it go to your head.” It was difficult to maintain his irritation in the face of Starsky’s obvious pleasure.
Starsky reached across
and patted Hutch on the stomach. “Hey, is the Monopoly marathon on, or are you still mad at me?”
Hutch contemplated his
empty bottle. “I want more beer.”
“You got it!”
As Hutch listened to Starsky
clattering around in the kitchen, he considered what had been happening to him repeatedly over the past week.
It was undeniable he found
Starsky sexy, but that didn’t change the fact that their relationship wasn’t about sex. Hutch was grateful for
that. Because sex was complicated and what he had with Starsky was very simple.
He’s my best friend.
Hutch heard a happy sound
from the kitchen and realized that Starsky had made himself another bowl of ice cream, and was no doubt helping himself to
an extra portion directly from the carton. Hutch listened to his partner hum contentedly under his breath and was interested
to note that this time he didn’t have to worry about Starsky picking up any embarrassing reactions on his part.
I love him, but I don’t want to make love to him anymore.
Starsky was his best friend,
and he wouldn’t risk that for the world. Lovers had come and gone in Hutch’s life, but Starsky was constant. How
many people could boast of a relationship like that in their lives?
There was a sound above
him and Hutch opened his eyes to see Starsky standing over him with a beer in his hand, and an apologetic expression on his
Hutch smiled and took the
bottle. “Monopoly sounds great.” He paused, and looked Starsky in the eye. “Just promise me one thing.”
hit on me again, unless you mean it.” Hutch thoroughly enjoyed the shocked look Starsky gave him, and he appreciated
the embarrassed flush that followed even more.
Yes, the status quo was
a wonderful thing.
Starsky leaned back against
the couch, and drank the last few drops of his beer. Wiping his mouth he lazily watched Hutch sorting the Monopoly money into
piles. The game had ended in a mutually agreed upon draw, no winners.
Kind of like this past
week, he thought.