December 24, 2009
"What time is their plane getting in?" Hutch’s voice is raspy with sleep. The bedroom is still dark.
"Liz said Molly sent you the itinerary. Check your e-mail when you get up." Starsky rolls closer, one hand reaching out to rest on Hutch’s shoulder, his skin is warm and smooth under his touch, and Starsky feels the familiar anticipation coil in his stomach.
"Hand me my Blackberry – it’s over by the phone," Hutch says.
Starsky ignores him. "You know you can’t read e-mail on that thing without your glasses." He draws a line of wet kisses along Hutch’s collarbone and moves lower to kiss the hollow of his throat.
Hutch sighs and spreads his thighs apart. "Then hand me my glasses, too. I think I left them on the dresser last night."
"For God’s sake, Hutch, what did your last servant die of? Liz said they’re getting in around two on United. Terminal 8. Satisfied?"
"Then why didn’t you just tell me that when I asked?"
"Because ‘around two’ is never good enough for you."
"Think we have enough food?" Hutch asks.
"We’d have enough food if they stayed for a year. Quit worrying." Starsky moves between Hutch’s thighs, stretching out, getting comfortable.
Hutch slides one hand up Starsky’s back, cups his neck and pulls him close. They are both hard now and soon they find the familiar rhythm, thrusting against each other slowly. Hutch’s head drops back to the pillow, and Starsky watches him bite his lip, his skin flushing pink.
This is how they started, he thinks, moving against each other in the dark. But they moved faster then, always in a rush to find the shortest distance to the finish line. These days they run marathons.
But in the last few moments, when the rhythm is lost, and they crash against each other, and Hutch shouts, "Yes, now – now – now," the years fall away and they are young again.
In the first six weeks Molly lives with them, she runs away twice. The first time, she’s gone three days before they find her – hungry and hung over – on the corner of Hollywood and Highland, leaning into the windows of wood-paneled station wagons. She’s sixteen and wears her juvie record like a badge of honor.
The second time, she turns up late on Christmas Eve, and drops a bag of shoplifted presents by the door before heading unsteadily to the bathroom. She reeks of beer and pot and Love’s Baby Soft, and tells Hutch to go fuck himself when he tells her he understands.
Starsky wakes early. The house is quiet, the hot water heater ticking. Hutch is snoring softly beside him. He walks barefoot to the kitchen and stands in the cool light of the refrigerator and eats leftover green bean casserole from a Corningware dish. In the freezer he finds four boxes of Girl Scout cookies, and he eats a handful, rinsing them down with milk straight from the plastic jug.
He carries the jug back through the living room to the den. Molly is still sleeping on the old fold-out couch in this makeshift bedroom, her head to one side, one hand resting under her face. He studies her, the way her eyelids move, the slow rise and fall of her chest, the black Joan Jett t-shirt she wears everywhere. Why did they ever think this would work? It’s like falling, he thinks, once you start, you can’t stop until something stops you.
She blinks her eyes open and for a minute she stares at Starsky, unseeing. Then she sits up quickly, "What are you looking at?" She swings her feet to the floor. She’s been with them thirteen months now, and hasn’t let down her guard for a second. She leans down to gather up the blankets, then sits with them on her lap.
"Nothing," he says. "I was just thinking this isn’t much of a bedroom."
"No shit, Sherlock. It doesn’t even have a closet." She grabs the milk jug from him and drinks, then wipes her mouth with the back of one hand.
"You can’t stay here forever, you know," he tells her.
He only sees it because he’s looking for it. The flash of fear that maybe she’d finally gone too far this time. That the consequences of what she did – what she said – at the Dobeys’ during Christmas dinner the night before would finally prove what she’s always suspected. That this little social experiment of theirs is exactly that – an experiment.
But it’s that fear that finally makes him sure. "It’s time we bought a house," he says. "With a proper bedroom for you."
"Hutch know about this? He’s not exactly my biggest fan right now." She picks at a loose thread in the blanket.
"Leave him to me. But you’re going to have to apologize to Mrs. Dobey. And pay to get the door fixed."
"Or else I can’t stay?" She looks at him and she’s not seventeen anymore. She’s twelve and afraid and alone.
He smiles. "Or else we paint your new bedroom pink."
At first, the house seems too large, too old, too domestic. The down payment takes most of Hutch’s savings and all of Starsky’s. What’s left they spend on paint ("I want a black room," Molly tells them, daring them to say no), new plumbing, and a king-size bed. But the house is theirs, and for the first time since they convinced a judge that Molly would be better off with them than without them, Starsky dares to believe it.
At night, when the house is quiet and Molly is sleeping, he and Hutch lie together in the warm, wide bed, shoulders touching, fingers laced together and just talk. About Hutch’s new case. The noise the Torino makes every time it turns a corner. The way Molly only smiles when she thinks they’re not looking. Sometimes he suspects he’s gone soft, the way talking to Hutch about everyday things makes him so happy. Maybe he should try again to qualify for active duty, give up the academy teaching job he took after Gunther. But he knows what that would do to Hutch and truth is, he likes teaching. He likes this life. Even if Molly regularly throws a well-aimed wrench into the middle of it.
It surprises him sometimes, this fierce protective love he feels for her. He understands her need to push back, to look for the fine print in their promise of forever. He’s learned to stand back while she rages against the rules and the curfews. It’s harder for Hutch. His love – for Starsky, for Molly – comes with expectations.
So when Molly misses Christmas Eve dinner – their first in the new house – Hutch simmers silently through the meal and retreats to the den after everyone leaves. Starsky knows he’s more hurt than angry, and lets him be. He clears the table, wraps the leftovers in foil and washes the dishes. He hums Christmas carols to himself while he works, and listens for the sound of the front door.
When he’s almost finished, he turns and sees Hutch watching him from the doorway. He’s holding a glass of something amber, probably Glenfiddich. Molly always drives him to the expensive scotch.
"Where do you think she is?" Hutch asks. "This time?" he adds, and empties the glass in one swallow.
"I don’t know. I’ll give it another hour and go looking." He dries the last of the pots and walks over to Hutch. He takes the glass from Hutch’s hand, then loops the dishtowel around Hutch’s neck, and uses both ends to pull him close.
"Starsk, you think she’s –"
Starsky cuts off the question with a kiss. Hutch’s mouth opens and Starsky deepens the kiss until they are both breathless.
"Jesus Christ, get a room, you pervs," Molly says from the doorway. "I can’t believe they let me live here."
Hutch’s face is red now, and Starsky can’t tell if it’s from the heat of the kiss or anger. Or both. "Where were you? It’s after ten," Hutch says.
"I can tell time," she answers.
"You were supposed to be home at six. It’s Christmas Eve, Molly. I thought that tonight of all nights you could–" Hutch stops, takes a breath, then lifts his hands in surrender. "Forget it. I’m not doing this anymore." And he walks away. They hear the bedroom door slam a minute later.
"Geez, it’s not like I killed someone. I missed supper, that’s all." Molly says.
"On Christmas Eve. He went to a lot of trouble . . ."
"Where did you two grow up? In a Hallmark card?" She walks over to the fridge, opens the door and starts lifting the foil off plates of leftovers.
Starsky wants to go after Hutch, but follows her instead. He closes the fridge door and stands in front of it with his arms folded. "Not yet." He points at a kitchen chair. "Sit." It’s been a long time since he’s played bad cop.
He sits opposite her, hands on his knees, and stares. She fidgets with her hair, tucking it behind one ear, then the other. "I was at Stephanie’s house and we were listening to music and I just forgot . . . He–," she lifts her chin towards the staircase, "– is so uptight."
"Maybe. But every time you don’t show up, he thinks it’s his fault, like he failed you somehow. He’s convinced himself that if he were better at this, you’d want to be here. Especially on Christmas Eve. And when you’re not–"
"Hutch thinks I hatched out of some egg the day he met me." She holds up one hand when Starsky starts to talk, "No, it’s my turn. You think my father cared about Christmas? Only tree we ever had was the one I stole from outside the bar he used to drink at. I never got presents, or ate turkey or nothing. Only real Christmas I ever had was the year Pop died and I was staying at Kiko’s. The next year I was back at Hellside." Hillside was a children’s home outside Bay City. "Know what the tag on my Christmas present said that year? Girl, Age 12-14." She wipes at her eyes with the heel of her hand and says, "Can I eat now? I’m starving."
He wants to hug her, but instead plants a quick kiss on the top of her head before he takes the lasagna out of the fridge.
"Hutch made lasagna? I fucking love lasagna." She reaches for a plate from the cupboard.
"Sorry. He should’ve told me he was making lasagna. I can’t run away now, there’s like two days of leftovers here." She sees the look on his face. "I’m kidding, Geez, Dave, lighten up."
Later that night, Starsky makes Hutch go to Molly and tell her all the things he once told Starsky – about love and family and forever – and for the first time, she cries into his shoulder and says she sorry. And when Hutch says, "I’m sorry too," it makes her cry even harder.
"Did she say who’s she bringing?" Hutch asks between spoonfuls of Corn Flakes.
"Nope, she just asked if she could bring someone home with her for Christmas break. I said yes. She said great. End of conversation." He’s standing at the counter waiting for the toast to pop up.
"I should phone her."
"No. Leave her be." Starsky spreads peanut butter – Jiffy, none of Hutch’s organic shit – across the toast and dips his knife in the strawberry jam. Remembers too late how much Hutch hates toast crumbs in the jam. "If she wanted us to know, we’d know."
"Think she’s bringing home a boy?" Hutch says. He’s got a milk moustache from the cereal and Starsky resists the urge to kiss it off.
When pigs fly. "I think you’re turning into an old woman. And I gotta say, Hutch, it’s not attractive."
If she wanted us to know, we’d know. Only Starsky’s never told Hutch that he does know. Ever since he walked in on Molly and her friend Stephanie three years ago. The girls were making out on the couch in the den while the TV blasted The Price is Right. He’d backed out of the room without saying anything, and if Molly saw him, she never said. He still doesn’t know why he didn’t tell Hutch – loyalty to Molly, maybe. Which he knows is ridiculous. When he thinks really hard about it – which isn’t often – he admits he’s a little hurt that she’s never told him. The one thing he doesn’t think is that Stephanie is the only girl Molly’s ever kissed.
Molly’s in her last year at Fresno State on a full softball scholarship. Every fall, they pack up the car and drive her north to school. The first year she was gone, Starsky was surprised by how much he missed her – turned out all those fantasies of sex with Hutch in front of the fire and naked football watching were highly overrated. Even now, when the house is quiet, he thinks that maybe he and Hutch should have adopted more children, but he knows all he really wants is more time with Molly.
A year after she’d been with them, Molly told Hutch that she had no pictures of herself as a baby, no photos of her parents, no childhood mementos. "We moved so much. It seemed like we were always leaving stuff behind. "Pictures, toys, my mother." So now Hutch labels each picture Starsky takes (Carmel vacation ‘83, softball finals ‘84), files report cards, packs away oversized school art projects, heavy with crumbling papier-mâché. Here is the proof we were a family, they seem to say.
Molly arrives home two days later, trailing Christmas presents, dirty laundry and a tall, blonde girl behind her.
"This is Liz," she says. "She wants to be a writer."
Starsky hugs Molly tightly, and whispers in one ear, "Looks like we both go for tall blonds, Mol."
"I missed you," she says without letting go. "And be good. I don’t want Hutch having a heart attack when he figures it out."
At dinner, Starsky watches Molly and Liz’s foreheads collide over a dropped napkin. He sees Molly reach under the table for Liz’s hand when Hutch, in full interrogation mode, asks her where she’s from, her GPA, and what exactly she plans on doing with an English degree. He recognizes the look Molly gives her when Liz says, "Dallas, 3.4, and I’ve heard police departments are always looking for good writers."
Starsky recognizes the look because it’s his look. The one he uses when Hutch cooks and cleans up after, when they’re almost asleep and Hutch snugs up under his chin. The look he used when Hutch dropped to one knee and asked Starsky to "seal this death do us part deal."
But isn’t Molly way too young to have that look? He glances over at Hutch, who is winding up for the next pitch, and Hutch looks up, arches an eyebrow and shoots Starsky the same damn look, all heart and soul and smoldering come on.
"How about some champagne?" Starsky pushes away from the table.
"What? No egg nog?" Molly puts her arm around Liz and takes a long breath. "There’s something we want to tell you."
Starsky feels his knees give a bit and sits back down.
Hutch puts his hand over Molly’s. "I’ve got something I want to say too."
Now it’s Molly’s turn to look nervous.
"When you first moved in with us, nobody thought it was a good idea. Teen-aged girl, two cops – I know I was a bit hesitant-"
"A bit?" Starsky and Molly say together.
"Okay, so I wasn’t convinced it was a good idea." He hesitates and both Molly and Starsky hold up their hands. "And it wasn’t a good idea. But then it was. The best idea Starsky and I ever had. And now look at you. You’re practically grown up-"
Starsky rolls his eyes. "Oh lord, here comes the soap, get a rope,"
Molly and Liz both put their fingers to their mouths to shush Starsky.
Hutch continues, "And you’ve grown into such a beautiful, kind, loving girl, and I am so proud-"
Starsky nudges Hutch’s arm.
"We’re so proud of you and what you’ve accomplished and . . ." Hutch scrubs his face and smiles. "Oh I know, I’m just an old softie . . ."
"Old woman, I’d say." Starsky walks around the table and puts his arm around Hutch.
"But Liz, I know we don’t know you well, but if you and Molly are . . . if you . . . I mean if . . ." He looks to Starsky for help.
"We’re together, Hutch." Molly says.
"Yes, well, Liz, all I’m trying to say, hopefully before the peanut gallery chimes in again, is that if you and Molly share half of what this half-wit here and I have – then you’ll be very happy. I think I’ve embarrassed myself enough-"
"Nope," Starsky and Molly say together.
Hutch shakes his head and smiles. "I knew I left them alone together too much."
"Where’s that champagne, old man?" Molly says, then hugs Starsky, and kisses him on the ear. "Thank you."
"I thought you were in training – won’t champagne shorten your swing?"
Starsky puts his arm around Molly and they head to the kitchen. Starsky turns back and laughs when the look he gives Hutch turns his face three shades of pink.