Her name was McGill
And she called herself Lill
But everyone knew her as Nancy.
“Starsky, look man, our white knight is grieving. Even if Vanessa was his ex, there was a whole lotta lovin’ vibes there once. That’s hard to shake off, especially for a soulful loverman like Hutch. You know he gives his heart all the way once he lets it go.”
Starsky looked down at the well-worn bartop and nodded at Huggy. The Pits was jumping tonight and it was a little hard to hear his friend’s wise words above the commotion. Starsky followed Huggy’s glances to the booth where Hutch was absently chasing a lime around his empty glass with a swizzle stick. The blond appeared to be watching the impromptu dance floor where a few couples were practicing the Hustle. He was doing a perfect impression of a lonely man drowning his sorrows.
“But you’re not alone, buddy.” Starsky sighed while he waited for Huggy to pull a beer for him and mix another vodka and tonic for his partner.
They had just returned from Duluth, Minnesota, where Vanessa’s parents wanted their daughter buried. It was a simple funeral, unlike how complicated Vanessa was. Most of Vanessa’s friends and associates, including Hutch’s parents, had sent flowers, but few showed up to mourn her. It seemed in the last few years of Vanessa’s life she had managed to alienate most of her friends and family with her eye on the prize attitude.
Hutch had been anxious about seeing his ex in-laws again. But with Starsky glued to his side, staring down anyone who might say anything that would hurt his partner, Hutch managed to get through the funeral without family drama. In fact, Vanessa’s mother had invited both partners back to her home for a buffet arranged by the friends of the family. Starsky declined for both of them though, saying they had to get back for a case. That it was actually a case of beer at the Duluth Hilton, he never let on.
“Hey, Hug? Set me up a plate of munchies. Hutch won’t eat, but he might nibble offa mine. Put some rabbit food on it.”
Huggy nodded and passed the order onto his busy bartender who then passed it onto his even busier cook.
Starsky resumed watching Hutch, who had closed his eyes and leaned back, his head resting against the hard wood of the booth. Starsky’s heart tightened in his chest. Hutch was a beautiful man. The soft light of the bar reflected silver in his hair. His long neck made Starsky ache to nuzzle along its length. Hutch’s slightly open mouth invited wanton thoughts – thoughts Starsky struggled every day to contain. Especially when the blond was hurting. He loved his partner, he knew that. Huggy could attest to the fact that he was not opposed to taking an occasional male lover. But Hutch was someone he would never fool around with. Hutch was his better half – his soulmate – and he held that precious heart right in the palm of his hands. He took protecting Hutch’s heart very seriously. Even if it meant protecting it from himself.
The door to the joint opened and a crisp wave of fresh air entered along with a man that had Starsky taking a second look. The fellow looked a lot like his brother, Nick. Same dark good looks, same arrogant swagger. But this guy was short and had a slightly smaller build hidden under his fashionable jeans, boots, and fringed leather jacket.
Both Starsky’s beer and Hutch’s drink appeared at Starsky’s elbow. He took a swig of the brew and licked his lips, watching the Nick look-alike survey the room and settle his eyes on Hutch. The man’s countenance quickly brightened. He walked purposefully towards Hutch’s booth said something and waited for Hutch to acknowledge him.
Hutch blinked owlishly and straightened. A smile flitted across his face and he rose from the booth, pulling his long legs across the seat and scrambling to get out. He stood before the smaller man and spoke what looked to Starsky like a single word, perhaps the new-comer’s name. The guy nodded and placed a palmed hand on Hutch’s cheek. He said a few quiet sentences that caused Hutch to lean in to listen. He lifted his other hand to cup Hutch’s face, then placed a kiss on his lips. Hutch returned the kiss slowly. It was obviously not passion fueled, but offered as comfort. Hutch pulled away and stared into the other’s eyes.
Then Starsky watched in horror as Hutch’s face crumbled and he fell against the stranger who drew him in tightly and cradled Hutch’s head against his neck. Hutch’s shoulders began to heave in grief. The man turned to hurry them both outside, but before he could do so, Starsky shook himself out of his shock, then bolted to the door to stop them.
“Hey, Hutch! Whoa there, buddy. Who’s your pal? Where ya goin’?”
Starsky placed a hand on Hutch’s back and began to rub soothing circles on it. Hutch straightened and his newly arrived friend handed him a handkerchief. Hutch accepted it with a watery smile and wiped his eyes.
“Sorry, Starsk. I got overwhelmed, I g-guess. I… I can sit back down.”
“You sure, Rocky boy?” said the friend in a silky tenor.
Starsky cringed at the sense of history and intimacy of the endearment.
The man continued, “I have a room at the Bay City Holiday Inn. You can crash with me, baby. I don’t want you to be alone tonight.”
Starsky started to fume. “Hey, man. Who says Hutch is alone? Does he look like he’s alone here? We just got back from a funeral in Duluth. Hutch needed to wind down. This place belongs to our good friend, Huggy, and neither of us would let Hutch be alone tonight, bub.”
Hutch smiled a little at Starsky’s blustering. He threw his arms around both his friends’ shoulders. “Let’s sit down. I… I could use another drink and I think Starsky needs an explanation before he… he bursts a blood vessel.”
They returned all together to the booth where Starsky slid in and Hutch sat across from him. Hutch’s friend sidled next to Hutch and sat as close as he could. Hutch placed a hand on his shoulder and started the introductions. “This is my partner, David Starsky.”
“Partner? Rocky! You came out?”
Hutch chuckled and squeezed his friend’s shoulder. “No, McGill, I’m a… cop now. Starsk is my work partner… and… and my best friend.”
Then Hutch turned to introduce the newcomer to this partner.
“Starsky, this… this is… ummm…”
The smaller man nodded, a ghost of a frown darkening his handsome face. “It’s okay, Rocky. If you trust him, I do, too. We have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Well… Starsk… th… this is my ex-wife, Nancy. She’s… I mean, he — sorry, McGill –he and I married very young, before we knew who we were or what we wanted out of life.”
As Starsky stared, trying to absorb this news, Nancy picked up the story.
“Rocky — I mean Ken – sorry, those knick-names come from the song, Rocky Racoon, you know, the Beatles? We were so young and idealistic, rebels both of us. Ken was so supportive of me and my journey to discover my gender identity. We divorced six months after I went to Stockholm for my sex change operation. We decided it was best for us both to start over in a new life, but I know Ken would have remained faithfully married to me no matter what gender I presented, if I had just asked. My Rocky is a very special person. We parted the best of friends and I still love him dearly. That’s why I flew in from Paris when my mother told me Vanessa died.”
Starsky was trying to act cool like the swinging single he professed to be. But this was different from sharing a couple of stewardesses with his best pal. The sexual revolution held a certain appeal to Starsky’s wild boy image. But he and Hutch knew they were both simple men at heart wanting that elusive forever love they both craved. The kind of love Starsky felt for his partner when he allowed himself the indulgence.
Nancy, however, was a lover of a different color. Hutch obviously still had feelings for his ex-spouse. It was a whole different side of the Hutch he knew. And it turned his understanding of his friend into a puzzle. A puzzle he desperately wanted to unravel. He swallowed dryly, wishing he hadn’t left his beer at the bar, and watched the interaction of the couple in front of him with a wary eye.
“Paris?” asked Hutch. “Are you still touring in Europe? Starsk, Nancy is a fantastic singer. Oh, sorry, I am so dense. What name did you finally choose?”
Hutch’s ex suddenly looked down at his hands shyly. “Douglas Hutchinson. I hope you don’t mind. I never did ask you for permission. I knew your father would throw a fit.”
“Grandpa’s name? You chose Grandpa Hutchinson’s name out of all the names you could have chosen?”
Doug looked up sheepishly as Hutch’s beautiful blues beamed at him. Hutch kissed his cheek and whispered, “Thank you, Doug. That’s a great honor you paid me and my grandpa.”
Starsky’s eyebrows rose at the chaste kiss. His world was changing right before his eyes. He was a bit jealous of the easy affection Hutch showed Doug. But he reasoned with himself that Hutch was just as affectionate with him. Starsky craved Hutch’s smiles and gentle touches. Watching Hutch with Doug made him crave more than he ever hoped for.
Doug took Hutch’s hand weaving their fingers together on the table top. “Grandpa Hutchinson was very dear to me. He was kind to us both when we were newlyweds and things were so rough with our families. He once told me that love is our most precious possession and what package it came in didn’t matter.”
Hutch smiled shyly, then focused his attention on Starsky.
“Starsk, I guess this is quite a surprise, especially after what we just went through with Vanessa.“
Starsky leaned in, glad Hutch had finally invited him into the conversation.
“Well, yeah, Hutch. I mean you mentioned you were married before. But you never talked much about it. I thought maybe Nancy here met with a tragic end or somethin’, so I never pressed you about it.”
“Oh, I’m not surprised, Starsky,” Doug said. “Hutch was always my secret keeper and protector. He never would have outed me to you without my permission. I just regret missing so much of Ken’s life. I hope you don’t mind me dropping back into his life like this. I don’t want to interfere with your partnership.”
Starsky hesitated as the ghost of Vanessa flickered in a corner of his mind. But it did bother him that another ex had shown up out of nowhere. Was Doug going to break Hutch’s heart too? He hid his concern with a lopsided smile.
“The way I see it, Doug, you guys have a long history. Longer than Hutch and I do. I can share Blondie here. It’s not like we’re married or anything. I hope we can be friends. I could use another little brother.”
The conversation was interrupted by Huggy bearing food on a tray. The promised munchie platter was placed in the middle of the table, and three red baskets containing roast beef sandwiches and chips were put in front of each person.
“Wow, Huggy,” said Hutch, “this is quite a spread. Thanks. I guess I am kinda hungry after all.”
“Glad to hear it, Hutch. You want that drink now?”
“Ah, no, Hug. I’ll switch to beer.”
Huggy turned his brightest smile on Doug. “Welcome to my establishment, sir. Any friend of my blond brother is a friend of Huggy Bear Brown. What can I get you from the bar? Oh, and if you’d rather have something more substantial than sandwiches and rabbit food, I can get you a Huggy’s special in a flash. Free of charge, but one time only,” he added with a wink.
Doug laughed a little and let go of Hutch’s hand, as if he feared embarrassing his ex.
“Thanks, Mr. Brown. I’ll take a beer, make it a round on me. The sandwich looks delicious. I had a long flight and not up to eating a big dinner. This is fine.”
Hutch took up Doug’s hand again, as if wanting his ex to know he wasn’t embarrassed by him.
“Huggy,” said Hutch. “This is my ex, Doug Hutchinson. We were married when we were both eighteen. He heard about Vanessa and flew in from a gig in Paris. He’s a fantastic singer.”
Same-sex couples had always been welcomed in Huggy’s place. So Starsky wasn’t surprised that Huggy never batted an eye at Hutch’s disclosure.
“Pleasure to meet you, Doug,” Huggy said. “Oh, we have got to get together and swap tales about tall, blond, and handsome here. Did you know, you look just like Starsky’s brother, Nick?”
Doug smiled. “No, I never met Starsky before. Ken and I hardly ever talked after he married Vanessa. We drifted apart, and at the time it seemed the right thing to do. But I hope to see more of him now. I’m thinking of moving to Las Vegas. I think my act would do well there.”
“That’s groovy, Doug. Vegas is where it is at for a singer. Good luck to you.” Huggy left with a wave to give the waitress their drink order.
Hutch brightened up at the news. “That would be great, Doug. I’m sorry. I never should have let Vanessa stop us from keeping in touch.”
“It’s okay, Ken. I know how Vanessa felt about me. I just wanted you to be happy. I’m glad you have such good friends watching out for you, now.”
“Don’t worry about the blond blintz here, Doug,” Starsky insisted. “I have his back on the streets. Always have, always will. I’d give my life for this guy.”
Starsky started in on his sandwich, avoiding further eye contact and letting the truth of his statement sink in.
Doug picked up his sandwich too as a waitress delivered their drinks.
Hutch lifted up his beer mug and took a sip, but Starsky noticed he didn’t touch the food. Starsky munched on his chips and wondered if he’d have to pick up the pieces of Hutch’s heart after this ex got done with him.
The following Monday morning, Starsky drove to Venice Place to pick up his partner. Hutch had insisted that Doug stay at his apartment instead of a hotel. Starsky had made himself scarce all weekend, biding his time until Doug’s flight back to Paris Sunday night.
Starsky must have picked up the phone a dozen times to call Hutch to see if he was all right. But each time he imagined Doug taking care of Hutch, hugging him, kissing him, and holding his hand. Then he would imagine them making love and he headed to the shower instead of making the call.
He hated to admit that he was jealous of Nancy, aka Douglas, who had the enviable ability to stop Hutch from hurting and drying his tears. He wondered if they were going to resume their relationship on some new, albeit complicated level. A place he couldn’t go. And where would that leave him?
Starsky parked the Torino at the curb and took the stairs to Hutch’s apartment two at a time. He opened the door without knocking and called out, “Hutch?”
“Over here, Starsk.” Hutch’s voice was muffled and coming from his big brass bed.
Starsky stood at the foot of the bed, taking in the sights. His partner’s hair was tousled and he was half naked, cocooned in his sheets, hiding his face in his pillow.
Starsky sat on the bed and placed a hand on Hutch’s sleep-warmed back. “Hey, Hutch. What’s goin’ on, buddy. You feelin’ okay?”
Hutch slowly rolled over and put an arm under his head. Starsky saw his eyes were bloodshot and red rimmed.
“Starsk? What’s wrong with me?” Hutch asked tremulously.
“Huh? Wha’? Are you feelin’ sick, babe?”
“No. I mean what’s wrong with me that no one ever thinks I’m good enough… to love?”
Starsky’s heart froze. “What happened, babe? Did Doug dump you?”
“Yes. No. It’s complicated. Nancy was honest with me from the start. She tried to explain to me that she felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body. If I made love to her I was making love to her femaleness and not who she really felt she was. I loved her, Starsk. I loved her because my body, my good looks, had no effect on her. She loved my heart, Starsk. She loved that I would listen and try to make things good for her. We tried different positions and role playing. Sex with Nancy was… sweet. But never passionate. Then I started pre-med in college and began to read about transgender issues, hormone treatments, and sex change operations. Nancy was my spouse and my friend. I stuck with him through it all, even though I knew his happiness would be the end of mine.”
Hutch rolled closer to Starsky and rested his head on Starsky’s denim clad thigh.
Starsky took the opportunity to stroke his hair. “Babe? Did you and… uh… Doug sleep together this weekend?”
“We did. Sleep,” he emphasized. “He held me in his arms. It felt… good. He’s strong and secure in himself. It felt good to let go and let him take care of me for a little while, like I took care of Nancy years ago. Why you desire someone is not cut and dried. Doug is dating a women right now, although he did think Huggy was a charmer. Everyone is different, sexuality and desire can be very fluid once you open your mind to it. I could make love to Doug as a man, it doesn’t matter to me. But there is no passion between us. I’m not good enough for him. I married Vanessa because she loved this body of mine. It made her happy. I felt like a man. But she detested my heart. The real me inside the body.” Hutch sighed. “I’m so tired of being a loser.”
All Starsky’s warning bells were going off. Hutch was acting strangely. His usually brash and stoic partner was depressed, sluggish, and vulnerable. Starsky already knew it was his turn to be steady and supportive for Hutch, just like Hutch had been there for him so many times before.
“Babe, whatta ya mean, loser? You ain’t no loser. I would never have a loser as a partner.”
Hutch, pulled himself to a sitting position with effort and placed his bare feet on the floor. His drawstring cotton pants hung loosely around his hips. Starsky didn’t move, except to let his hand fall to Hutch’s leg, squeezing the soft fabric of his pants and feeling the firm muscles beneath.
At the sensation, Starsky’s heart beat increased with his excitement. Could this possibly be the right time to tell Hutch his deep feelings for him? Doug made Starsky see that he underestimated Hutch and his big heart. Even if they decided to remain platonic friends, Hutch would never hurt Starsky as so many others had.
“Starsky, who else but a twice-divorced loser would watch his ex board a plane for Paris, then end up at Loomis Park at midnight trying to score?”
“Hutch? Loomis Park? What the hell!”
Starsky stood and roughly grabbed Hutch’s arms, turning them over and searching for fresh track marks. Starsky’s fear and rage thrummed through his body and Hutch winced as fingers dug into his skin, but he didn’t try to move away.
“I came close, Starsk. So close to shooting up and kissing my life goodbye. But I couldn’t do that to someone I loved. You saved me, Starsk. You always save me.”
Starsky caught Hutch in a fierce glare that slowly softened to one of heartfelt sorrow. He pulled Hutch close and wrapped his arms around him.
“Damn you, Hutchinson! Why didn’t you call me?” he hissed through gritted teeth. “We talked about this happening. Your Rocky Racoon singing ex hits town like a mini-transgender tornado and you forget who loves you? Do you know what would happen to me if you died from an overdose in some back alley dumpster? How does a guy live with half his heart gone, huh, babe?” Starsky began to gasp, finding it difficult to breath. “I’d bleed out right there beside you. You forget who I am? You forget how much you mean to me?”
Hutch tightened his hold around Starsky and whispered, “I’m s-s-sorry. So sorry. I love you, too, Starsky. I did… I did forget for a little while. This loving crap, it hurts so damn much.”
Starsky surprised himself as a smile tickled at the corners of his mouth. He gently pushed Hutch away so he could see his face, but didn’t let him go.
“It hurts because you’re doing it all wrong, you dumb blondie. You see the trick is to love somebody who loves you inside and out. The whole package with nothin’ held back, forever and ever. Like the way I love you, the way I want to make love to you, if you’d go for it. Whatta ya say, Blintz? Want to try out some Starsky-style lovin’?”
Hutch’s eyes opened wide and he tried to speak. “I… I… S-S-Starsk… I…“
“Hush, babe. I always wanted to kiss that damn stutter away. Can I try?”
Hutch pushed Starsky away and held up a hand to keep him from getting closer. He tried to gain his composure and took a deep breath.
“Starsky? What are you doing? You know I love you, but this isn’t you. You want a wife and kids someday. Is this pity? Is that how much of a loser I’ve become? Or is this about Doug?”
Starsky sighed long and deep. “Listen, babe. It ain’t pity I feel for you. Doug may have been the catalyst for me to say something, but I’ve loved you a very long time. I thought you were after the old white picket fence too. Figured you tried hitching yourself to that fence twice and were just taking a breather. I’m sorry I never let you know that I swing both ways.”
Hutch sank down on the bed and held his head in his hands.
“Huggy?” he asked and Starsky knew what he was asking.
“Yeah. We fooled around in High School. But we both moved on and stayed good friends. I had a few affairs in the army. But you are right. I was really lookin’ for somethin’ permanent. But I realize now that I found it years ago and I won’t ever let it go.”
“Me?” Hutch asked tentatively.
“Yeah, you, Blondie.”
“Starsk. I have an open mind about sexuality thanks to my first spouse. But I really don’t have all that much experience.”
Starsky sat next to Hutch on the bed and gently caressed his cheek. Hutch closed his eyes giving into the sensation of his best friend loving him. He turned into the touch and felt Starsky’s breath, warm and hesitant on his mouth. The kiss was tender and sweet and Hutch smiled against Starsky’s trembling lips.
Starsky kicked off his shoes and the partners fell on the bed. Hands began exploring and tongues began the chase. Both men moaned, then broke apart for a moment to laugh.
“You sure, Hutch? ‘Cause this is it for me, babe. Forever. Fence or no fence.”
Hutch nodded and kissed Starsky on the tip of his nose. “I’m sure. I’m finally with the right partner. And who says we don’t get to have a white picket fence and happily ever after?“
Starsky gazed down on his beautiful soon-to-be lover. “Babe. We’ll hit the lumberyard and built it together.”