The Bear Necessities
Love is a game two can play, and both win.
THE FINAL STRAW might have been
the second domestic call. The one where the woman refused to press charges because,
as she said, “He loves me.”
Then again, it could also have
been the hooker they busted who was offering a two-for-one special, “In honor of the season.” Or the overwhelming
numbers of hearts, flowers and smirking baby cherubs presently infesting the storefronts and newspaper stands of Bay City.
Whatever the reason, Hutch was
not surprised when he glanced up from his typewriter to find that Starsky had disappeared.
“Where’s your partner?”
Hutch, though he knew perfectly well that Starsky hadn’t just stepped out for a break.
Starsky always announced his trips to the bathroom. He wasn’t the
kind of person who could make any kind of move without everyone knowing it.
On the other hand, Starsky also
wasn’t the sort of person who could be described as morose, but today had definitely
been a morose kind of day. Hutch hadn’t been able to get more than a handful
of words from his partner since morning.
“I’m almost done
here, Captain,” said Hutch. “Let me just tie up a few loose ends
and we’ll call it a day.”
The teddy bear on the filing
cabinet caught his eye. It had fallen over on its side, and Hutch was sure there
was something accusing in the bear’s expression.
Dobey harrumphed, but said only,
“Tell him I want his last three daily reports on my desk by eight tomorrow morning.
And no, the digest version is not acceptable. I want three separate reports.” Muttering to himself, he stomped back to his office.
Hutch thought Dobey sounded almost
as worried about Starsky as he was. Finishing his own report, he leaned over
to retrieve the neat stack of papers from the top of Starsky’s desk. His
concern increased as he noted that Starsky had already cleared up the backlog. Over
a week’s worth of forms had been filled out in triplicate and sorted by date and time.
He briefly entertained the notion
that his partner had been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with a not-terribly-convincing replica of himself. The thought made Hutch grin, until he realized that he was starting to think like Starsky.
Nature abhors a vacuum, he thought. Which meant he’d better get Starsky back to his old self, or the line of, “He’s
Starsky, I’m Hutch,” would stop being a joke.
Ollie the bear was precariously
close to falling off the edge of the filing cabinet. Hutch propped him back up
before leaving the squad room.
“Don’t let either
one of them change.”
Hutch grimaced. I’m
doing my best, darling.
Starsky’s apartment was
dark when Hutch got there, but his car was in the driveway.
Hutch had started out this morning
with a plan. It had gone something like this: take him out, get him drunk, get
him laid, and pretend it was just another night on the town, not the almost-anniversary of the worst day of Starsky’s
However, the moment he’d
suggested going down to the disco tonight, Starsky had said, “Geez, Hutch! I don’t want some one night stand with
some girl I don’t even know. That’s not what love’s s’posed
to be about!”
Then before Hutch could start
in on the peddlers of phony commercial sentiment who’d created this holiday just to turn a cheap profit, Starsky turned
from the wheel of the car and said, “And don’t go blaming the chocolate manufacturers.”
There were definite disadvantages
to having a partner who could read your mind.
Hutch climbed the stairs to the
front landing, trying to come up with another, hopefully more workable, plan. Every holiday had its own rotten brand of sentimentalism,
he thought, but maybe they could still escape the grip of this particular one.
When there was no answer to his
knock, he tried the doorknob and found it unlocked. Cautiously, he stepped inside
and reached for the light.
The quiet request made Hutch
pause, his hand on the light switch. Squinting through the dark, he saw Starsky’s
shadowy form slouched on the couch.
Great, he’s sitting
in the dark.
Hutch hesitated, debating whether
to turn on the light anyway. Finally he shrugged, and made his way across the
dark room towards his partner. He tripped over something and heard what sounded
like a glass bottle rolling into a chair leg.
And he’s been drinking. This is getting better all the time.
“Watch your step,”
Starsky warned, too late.
When Hutch reached the couch,
Starsky sat up and swung his feet off the cushions, apparently trying to make room for his partner. However, he misjudged
the angle and slid off the couch, his rear end hitting the floor with a thump. He
Hutch dropped onto the couch
and grabbed Starsky’s arm, intending to haul him back up off the floor. “You big dummy...”
Starsky shook him off. “Nah, I’ll just stay down here. It’s safer. Not as wobbly.” He fumbled for
something under the coffee table.
His hand bumped into Hutch’s
leg, and Hutch reached down and caught a bottle just before Starsky dropped it on his toes.
His eyes were adjusting to the darkness, and he squinted at the label on the beer.
“Have a drink,” said
Starsky, ever the courteous host. “I would have waited, but I didn’t
know you were planning on joining the part -- the party tonight.”
“I was going to ask if
you’d changed your mind about going out,” said Hutch. He turned the
bottle over in his hands, feeling the damp condensation on the cool glass. He
had no idea where the bottle opener might be, whether in its usual spot in the kitchen, or lost somewhere in the chaos of
the dark apartment.
Funny how Starsky always arranged
his environment to reflect the state of his mind.
“What’s the point?”
asked Starsky. He shifted restlessly, trying to reach between his shoulder blades.
Hutch automatically stuck his
hand down the back of Starsky’s collar and scratched. He knew exactly the
spot to go to, it was the scar of the bullet wound he’d earned in the Italian restaurant. Starsky made an appreciative noise and pressed back against his hand.
“You could go and get that
other itch scratched,” suggested Hutch.
“Nah,” said Starsky. “You do me fine.”
Before Hutch could decide whether
that statement was a non-sequitur, a drunken assurance, or an offer of something else entirely, Starsky spoke again.
“Do you ever think about
“Who?” Though Hutch knew already. This time last year she’d
been dying, a bullet lodged in her brain. In one more week they’d be facing
the first anniversary of her death.
He heard a wet snuffle, from
somewhere near his knee, followed by something that might have been a laugh. “Terry.”
“Oh.” Hutch’s hand stilled on the back of Starsky’s neck, as he tried to think of the proper response.
He wanted to tell him that it was just another day, a date on the calendar, as meaningless as any other, but he knew it wasn’t
true. It wasn’t about chocolate or crass profiteering, it was about love.
Only in this case, it was about
a love that had been murdered, cut short before it had a chance to bloom. Feeling the warm weight of Starsky’s head
against his leg, Hutch wondered if the bottle opener might be somewhere within
reach after all.
“Aw hell, Hutch, don’t
you got a date, or something?”
Hutch felt a rush of melancholy
affection for the man leaning against his leg. Leaning over, he lightly kissed Starsky’s forehead. “Guess what,
you lucky devil. You’re my date.”
The sound Starsky made might
have been a chuckle. He tilted his head back against the couch and looked up at Hutch.
“I didn’t buy you anything.”
“I’ll take it out
“Promises, promises.” Starsky hooked his arm over Hutch’s knee.
“So, is this it? Is this all you got planned for tonight? Just hanging out with me and getting depressed?”
“Well...” Hutch paused, letting the suspense build. “I did send
Edith a big heart-shaped box of chocolates, and a dozen long-stemmed roses.”
“Huh?” Starsky straightened, half turning.
“I signed it, ‘From
your secret admirer.’ Dobey’s going to go nuts trying to figure out
who sent it.”
Starsky’s surprised bark
of laughter was a pleasure to hear, and for a moment Hutch allowed himself the luxury of thinking that the crisis might be
past. They could turn on the lights, clean up the beer bottles, watch some TV,
and maybe forget that there ever was such a thing as this crummy holiday.
But Starsky sobered too quickly,
and his cheek pressed against Hutch’s knee. Quietly, he said, “I
think this has got to be the loneliest day of the year.”
Hutch groaned, suddenly realizing
that there could be another reason for Starsky’s blue mood, besides Terry. “Oh
God, Starsk. Tell me you didn’t call your mom.”
This time Starsky’s chuckle
was sad. “No, she called me.”
He paused, before adding, “Told me she loves me. Worries about me. Wants to know if I’ve met any nice girls, and says they don’t even have
to be Jewish anymore.”
Hutch wove his fingers into Starsky’s
hair, feeling the curls twisting around his knuckles. After a moment, Starsky
released a long, shuddering sigh.
Struck by inspiration, Hutch
said, “Let’s quit. I’ll find you a nice Jewish wife who’ll
make your mom happy, and I’ll get some WASP girl from a good family for me. We’ll
raise a whole pile of kids, and grow old and fat and contented, sitting on our porch swings, talking about the good old days.”
Starsky lifted his head, without
dislodging Hutch’s hand. “That sounds awful.”
“Oh, I don’t know,”
said Hutch, with deliberate obtuseness. “It’s the ultimate goal,
“Someday, maybe. But I’m not ready for retirement, yet!” Starsky
Hutch smiled to himself, careful
to hide the expression, even in the dark. “Okay, then try this one on for size.
We keep on doing what we do. Maybe you find the girl of your dreams...”
Belatedly remembering Terry, he added, “Again.” Hutch’s voice
cracked and he coughed once, to cover the sound. “Or maybe you don’t. Either way, eventually you grow old and fat and contented, and you end up sitting
on your porch swing, talking about the good old days with... who?”
When no reply was forthcoming,
Hutch gently patted Starsky’s cheek. “Who’s going to be there,
no matter what?”
For a moment, Hutch thought he’d
pushed too far. It was too soapy, or too dumb.
He was just making matters worse, like that time he’d compared the life of another one of Starsky’s dead
lovers to the ephemeral character of nature’s most beautiful creations. Starsky
hadn’t taken to that particular metaphor very well.
Remember when you told me
my girlfriend was like a sunset? Geez, Hutch...
But then Starsky caught Hutch’s
hand and kissed the palm. His voice was rough, as he said, “You.”
Another wet snuffle followed
the first, and Hutch leaned back on the couch, relieved. He laid his hand back
on Starsky’s hair, and didn’t call attention to the fact that his knee was growing damp. He’d said what
he could, and all that remained now was to see if Starsky would believe him. Really
believe him, deep down inside where it counted.
He thought of his own Gillian,
and of all the other lovers who had passed through his life. He even briefly
wondered how Vanessa was doing, and if she’d found another man to love. And
he realized that Starsky wasn’t the only one who needed to believe.
Hutch lost track of the time,
only gradually becoming aware that Starsky seemed heavier than he’d been before.
Hutch sat up and peered down to see Starsky’s head resting on the arm he’d hooked over Hutch’s leg.
The only response was a quiet,
congested snore. Hutch had to bite the inside of his lip to keep from chuckling.
He shook Starsky’s shoulder,
and said, a little louder, “Hey, Starsk!”
That earned him a slight shift
and a confused, “S’okay, m’good...”
Hutch slipped his arms around
Starsky and hauled him to his feet. “C’mon buddy, you’re all played out.
It’s time for bed.”
“Oh.” Starsky was wobbly, but he knew where to find his bedroom, and got there mostly under his own steam. He flopped down on the bed, apparently determined to pass out fully dressed on the
covers. Hutch heaved him up again and with some struggle, managed to pull his
arms out of his shirt. His shoes and socks were easy enough to remove, but Starsky’s
tight jeans defeated him.
Deciding that it would have to
do, Hutch folded the blanket over Starsky. He turned away, intending to clean up the living room.
Hutch stopped. Starsky’s half-open eyes were glazed with the kind of exhaustion only intense emotion could cause.
“I’m not going anywhere,
buddy,” Hutch said, reassuringly. “Your couch has my name on it tonight.”
“No.” Starsky reached for Hutch’s leg, his fingertips barely brushing the corduroy. He tried again and managed to snag enough fabric to tug Hutch toward him. “Stay.”
With a sigh, Hutch crossed over
to the other side of the bed and sat down. “Are you sure? I kick.”
Starsky’s reply was to
flop his arm across Hutch’s waist, moving up to his chest as Hutch lay back on the bed.
Starsky’s head turned blindly, and he buried his face in Hutch’s armpit.
“You know,” said
Hutch. “When I said I’d always be there for you, I didn’t really
mean I’d be your teddy bear.”
He had a sudden image of himself,
reincarnated as a blonder version of Ollie, propped up next to the other bear on top of the filing cabinet.
Wouldn’t Dobey be thrilled.
Starsky said nothing. His breathing was slow and deep.
Surrendering to the sentimentalism
of the holiday, Hutch kissed the top of Starsky’s forehead once more.