Starsky helped Rosie and K.C. arrange the fully decorated tree toward the back of the stage so that each act would be illuminated from behind by the soft glow of the tree lights. Although this show wasn’t as big a production as he was used to overseeing, it was by far more important. Starsky wanted to bring an old fashioned Christmas to life right in Dobey’s lodge.
He wanted Christmas magic to come alive for the Dobeys, for K.C., but especially for Hutch.
Besides K.C.’s set and a few numbers from Hutch, Starsky had also suggested inviting Mae and June to perform. Everyone agreed their act was just the thing to liven up the place and that Captain Dobey would adore them. K.C. had invited Whimsy along, too.
Keeping everything a secret from Dobey was hard work. Starsky had double talked Dobey into confusion and the captain, all too familiar with Starsky’s flimflam, finally just agreed that he didn’t understand show business. He gave Starsky and his accomplices free reign to plan the Christmas Eve show.
Huggy had called to let Starsky know to expect a full house. He’d worked his magic as always. He’d even volunteered to act as emcee, although it hadn’t taken much arm twisting, and he’d spent a lot of time playing phone tag and working out details with Starsky.
Simmons and Babcock had also helped spread the word to everyone who had ever worked with or under Dobey about the Christmas Eve concert to honor their former captain.
The night before Christmas Eve, everyone was exhausted. Long rehearsals, combined with last minute problems in coordinating an overflow of guests, a temperamental sound system, and even several broken guitar strings had left everyone on edge.
By midnight, Starsky accepted that everything was as much under control as possible considering the circumstances. Along with his other responsibilities as stage manager, he had directed Hutch to bed for a good night’s sleep.
Ever since the night Hutch had sung Blessings, they’d avoided being alone together. Paradoxically, neither were sleeping well. Starsky could easily read the slight shadows under Hutch’s blue eyes and how his lips were pulled back in tension. He was sure Hutch could see the same on him.
Once Starsky had seen Hutch go into his room, he fell into bed himself, tossing and turning in an uneasy rest.
Across the hall, sleep continued to escape Hutch as well. Other than Starsky’s soft snore, the only cure for insomnia he knew was music. He waited until he figured Starsky would be asleep, then went down to retrieve the guitar he’d left by the snack bar.
In the common room, Hutch noticed Rosie and K.C. sitting by the fire indulging in midnight snacking and deep conversation. K.C. looked to be trembling slightly and he watched Rosie placed a gentle hand on her shoulder in response as the flames flickered and hissed nearby.
“It’s no secret I love a good secret, but this one’s a doozy,” Rosie said.
K.C. shook her head. “I can’t figure it out, Rosie. The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone. I know what I want to do, but what if I’m wrong?”
“I’m no expert, sweetie, but any kind of love comes with risks.”
Something about the intensity of their conversation grabbed him. Hutch knew he should just go back upstairs, that it was wrong to eavesdrop, but he couldn’t seem to move his feet. He listened to their confidences shared under the cover of darkness, just as he had so many times before in another life. But that was done under the auspices of the law; now he had no excuse other than the tightening in his chest.
“I know they’ve been together for a long time,” K.C. continued. “But neither one is happy. I can see it in their eyes. They’ve just become overly dependent on each other.” K.C. sighed. “They are both very, very good people. Neither wants to be the one to break it off.”
“Are you saying they aren’t moving on because they don’t want to hurt each other?” Rosie asked.
“Yeah. And if I make a move, get in between them, I’ll be labeled as the bitch who broke up a long-term partnership.”
“K.C., you can’t know for sure how they’ll react. They may be grateful that it’s finally out in the open that their relationship is over.” Rosie lifted the bowl of popcorn on her lap and offered some to K.C. “Besides, my mother told me once that if you love something, you need to set it free.”
“Your mom was one sharp lady.” K.C. tossed few of the white kernels in her mouth.
The tightening in Hutch’s chest had turned to a white hot poker, as if the poker that leaned against the fire pit had speared him through. He squeezed his eyes closed as he felt them threatening to fill with tears yet again.
He took a stumbling backwards step into the shadows. He would not give in to his selfish emotions. He needed to think of Starsky’s needs.
K.C. was absolutely right about one thing. Starsky would hold on forever to ‘me and thee.’ It was up to Hutch to be strong and make the break. For Starsky’s sake. For a sick moment, he thought of how a woman nearly had broken them apart once before. He shuddered as memories of a sexy, scheming siren came back in full force with a name they no longer spoke aloud.
Even if Starsky wasn’t wholeheartedly in love with K.C., this time Hutch wouldn’t interfere. He needed to give them the space to allow love to grow. This time he’d set Starsky free. Even if it meant half of Hutch’s heart and soul would be left behind with a curly-haired imp of a man that he loved more than life itself.
Hutch hung his head in sorrow and determination as he went to pack. The best thing to do would be to leave immediately. Make a quick, clean break and never see Starsky again.
As he made his way slowly up the stairs the rest of their conversation drifted out of range.
“I’ll think about it, Rosie,” K.C. said through her own regrets. “I guess you’re right. I have to be brave and speak up about my feelings. I need to do it in person though. Mae and June are definitely coming tomorrow morning to be in the show and Whimsy agreed to drive them here. I’ll tell Whimsy how I feel when she gets here.”
K.C. gave Rosie a quick hug. “Thanks, Rosie, for listening. When you’re gay, you don’t always know who you can confide in. Who you can trust.”
“Well, I’m glad you feel can trust me. You’re a special person, K.C. I can’t wait to meet the woman who has your heart.”
“I just wish I could explain it to Starsky and Hutch. I think they have the wrong idea about me.”
“After all these years, I think they have the wrong idea about each other,” Rosie mused.
“Men can be so dense.” K.C. giggled and dropped some more popcorn in her mouth.
Hutch waited until he heard the women say their goodnights in the hallway and go to their rooms. Then he placed the note he’d addressed to K.C. on the pillow of his undisturbed bed, picked up his old duffle bag and guitar case and walked out the door.
There was still no sign of snow clouds in the dark blanket of sky, though he thought the wind must have picked up since he felt a definite chill down to his bones. Stars shone with brilliance, and he was struck by one star that hung next to the half moon right above the lodge. It shone brighter than the others.
Hutch suspected it must be a planet, maybe Venus or Mars. But his heart reminded him of a similar star that once hung over a manger where a son of David slept. Beneath that star, his own David, his own pure love, was sleeping safe and warm under the broad roof.
He turned away from the Eastern star and followed the cold North wind toward the woods.
When Hutch decided to leave behind his life as a singer, he’d also chosen to leave behind most of his personal possessions, all of his professional clothes and, regretfully, his ski jacket. He’d taken only the barest necessities and, of course, his guitar.
He put down his bag and guitar to zip up his black leather jacket and turn up his collar against the biting wind. He wished he had a little black knit cap like Starsky used to wear years ago on the streets of Bay City—back when they were young and idealistic and couldn’t have imagined a night like this.
He shook his head. Those days were best forgotten. He would live a simple life in the woods, with only his guitar for comfort. Maybe he would write a book, like Thoreau.
“Pine Lake,” he said aloud. His voice was a strange echo to his own ears.
He figured he’d spend the rest of the night in the old cabin. Just one more time. As for tomorrow? He didn’t know.
The letter he’d left for K.C. explained how he’d secretly made arrangements to pay off the mortgage on the ski lodge. Hopefully, the captain wouldn’t find out about it until after New Year’s. Hutch would be long gone by then.
As soon as he could, he’d put the biggest part of his personal savings and all of his investments in Starsky’s name. With Hutch’s small fortune, Starsky’s own account, and the joint business accounts Starsky already had access to, K.C. and Starsky would be amply provided for. Starsky could retire or open a club in Reno where K.C. could sing. He’d never have to spend long days or sleepless nights on the road again. Starsky could focus on staying healthy, living a long, comfortable life, and never have to worry about his albatross of a partner again.
Hutch only wanted enough money to survive, because without Starsky, that would be all he’d be doing. Survive. He huddled into his jacket and wondered if he would ever feel warm again.
Starsky was startled into wakefulness by loud insistent banging on own door and the terrifying sounds of an angry woman.
“Open up, Starsky! You chauvinist bastard! Open up and explain the meaning of this letter!”
Starsky rubbed his eyes and grabbed a robe.
When he opened the door, K.C., still in baggy pajamas, barreled in and shoved a letter on the lodge’s stationary under his nose. “You better have a good explanation for this, buster.”
Starsky seized the letter as he immediately recognized the handwriting. “It’s from Hutch.” He moved the paper back and forth before his eyes as though playing a trombone until the writing came into focus. “What the hell? It reads like a last will and testament.”
Starsky’s hand started to shake and he grew pale as he continued to read. When he finished, he looked back at K.C. in disbelief and horror. “He’s left. He’s left because… Oh! Shit!”
“Yeah, I know. The letter says it plain enough. He left so that you and I can be free to be together. There’s only one person who could make Hutch act crazy like this. Tell me what you did, Starsky,” she said firmly.
“No… no… K.C.! It’s you and him who are supposed to be together.” Starsky took a few steps back and collapsed on the bed as the paper crumpled in his hand. “He got it all wrong.”
“So that’s why I’ve been feeling like a ping pong ball between the two of you for the past few days,” she huffed.
“I… I… wanted Hutch to have his dream of a real life—the one he gave up to be with me. You know. Not traveling around with his broken down partner. I wanted him to have the house, the wife, the kids, the dog. The whole thing.”
“Which one was I supposed to be?” Her eyes blazed angrily. “I’ve got news for you two morons. I’m not in love with either of you. If you must know, I’m in love with Whimsy.”
“Whimsy? Whimsy—the bartender at Sisters?”
“Some detective you are. You couldn’t tell I was gay?”
“Well, no, I…” Starsky stammered, his face turning red.”
“Maybe you two should quit second-guessing everyone and just ask. It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble. He thought you and I wanted to be together and he was keeping us apart. Knowing Hutch, I’m sure he figured you’d never break up the act as long as he was around and that all he had to do was remove himself from the picture and you and I would live happily ever after.”
“Oh, God! He’s gone! Out there all alone with no backup. I never wanted that! I gotta find him!” Starsky covered his face with his hands.
“Starsky, honey, it’s too late. I checked.” K.C. sat down next to him and put her arm around him. “He just up and disappeared. Not a trace. The cars are all here. He didn’t call a cab. If he hitched a ride with a trucker, he could be anywhere by now.”
“What did I do?” Starsky let the letter drop to the floor, and K.C. held him in her arms as his shoulders shook.
What was Hutch thinking? That I could have a better life on my own? What kind of a life would I have without Hutch? Hutch had always been there for him, not only to watch his back him but to laugh with, argue with, sing with. To talk sense into him, too, especially when Hutch thought he was making a mistake. Like the horrible mistake Hutch was making now.
Suddenly, he pushed K.C. away as a thought cut through his head. Did Hutch think he was going to let him walk away just like that? “That blond bastard! He tries to set me up with you! Then he skips out on the captain. When I find him, I’m gonna knock some sense into that dumb blond head of his.”
“Honey, this rollercoaster ride you and Hutch are on is better than the one at Disneyland. Why don’t you both just admit that you are crazy in love with each other.” She sighed. “Emphasis on the crazy.”
“Oh, yeah. Everybody knows it but you two.”
Starsky closed his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. He finally looked into his heart honestly and candidly the way he hadn’t in years. Maybe never had. When he did, he saw Hutch and only Hutch. Smiling at him, giving him that special, blue eyed, dumb blond look that was so full of love Starsky thought how sometimes he had to look away.
He opened his eyes and saw K.C.’s worried frown. “We are, aren’t we?” A stupid grin crossed his face. Then his insides lit up with the combined luminosity of a Hanukkah menorah and a Christmas tree.
“This ain’t over, K.C.,” he said, straightening. “I can fix this. I’ll track him down if it’s the last thing I do. He’s played hide and seek with me before and I won. But it’ll have to wait till after tonight’s show. I already let you and Hutch down. I can’t let the captain down too.”
K.C. sat wrapped in a wool blanket on a window seat in the common room, nursing a tepid coffee and staring out into the woods.
Rosie joined her and pulled her into a hug. “Uncle Dave told me about the letter. He’s really gone? Just like that? He won’t be at the show tonight?”
“He thought he was in the way of Starsky’s happiness. And to him that’s more important than any show. He’s never really understood how important he is to his fans.”
“Boy, Uncle Dave and I didn’t just lay an egg. We laid a California volleyball.”
K.C. nodded in agreement. “What a mess. Men can be such drama queens. We can take care of Starsky, but I sure hope Hutch is all right. I’m really worried about him. It’s a cold world out there when you’re all alone. I think he’s forgotten that.”
Rosie sighed. “I never should have gotten involved with Uncle Dave’s crazy ass plan. I should have told you what he was thinking. I just didn’t foresee this. I am so sorry, K.C.”
Outside the window, the cold wind whipped the trees making them bow and dance to winter’s frosty tune. A thin trickle of grey rose up between two big pines.
“Is that a forest fire?” K.C. asked.
“That’s all we need.” Rosie looked intently at where K.C. was pointing. “No, baby. My folks’ old cabin is over there. Someone must have a fire going, but it’s not rented out this week.” She frowned for a minute, then grinned. “I think we just found Uncle Ken!”
K.C.’s face lit up to match Rosie’s. “I’m going to get dressed.” She jumped up and ran towards the staircase leaving her cozy cocoon behind.
“I’ll get the Jeep,” Rosie called after her.
Hutch was outside the cabin chopping wood when Rosie’s Jeep skid to a stop just a few feet away, tires spitting out dirt. He’d seen them coming and knew it was pointless to hide. He realized the fire from the stove must have given him away, and he cursed himself for his rookie mistake. He’d been out of the detective business too long, it seemed.
Hutch continued wielding his axe as the two women got out of the Jeep.
“Uncle Ken! We’ve been so worried about you!” Rosie jumped out the driver’s seat and ran to give him a hug.
K.C.’s greeting was less enthusiastic. She walked around the Jeep and came to a stern-faced stop in front of him with her arms akimbo. “Did you think you could get away with running out on us?”
“I’m sorry, ladies, but you’ll do just fine without me. Everyone will,” Hutch said, stopping reluctantly from his chore and gripped the ax like a talisman in front of him as if it could magically protect him from unspeakable pain. “Then after the show you and Starsky can move on with your lives,” he directed at K.C. “Hopefully, they’ll be long and healthy ones.”
K.C. sputtered. “He doesn’t want a life with me, dummy—he wants a life with you!”
Hutch shook his head. “I heard you, K.C. Last night when you and Rosie were talking by the fire about how you felt about him. No sense denying it. I came down to get my guitar. I know I shouldn’t have listened in, but I couldn’t help it. You said we were holding on to something that’d been over for years.”
“And you, Rosie.” He turned to her. “You said if you love something, set it free. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Rosie’s eyes widened. “That conversation wasn’t about you and Uncle Dave. This has all been just a big misunderstanding.” Then she sighed. “Uncle Dave told me he was worried about you. He said he felt awful that you’d given up the chance for a wife and family of your own to take care of him. He wanted to see you settle down, married…”
“To me.” K.C. came closer and gingerly took the axe from Hutch’s hand. “And you were trying to set me up with Starsky for the same reason, right?”
Hutch looked from one to the other of the women, slowly processing what they said. A heat percolated low in his belly. “You mean, Starsky thinks I’d be happier married? He thought I was interested in K.C.? Not that you’re not wonderful, K.C.,” he stammered. “But, but…”
“But I’m not Starsky,” she finished for him.
“All he wanted was for you to be happy,” Rosie added.
“Happy? Happy?” Hutch’s simmering emotions erupted. “That manipulative curly-haired bastard! How dare he do this to me! To you, K.C.”
“Hey! Leave me out of your crazy, screwed up relationship.” She reached up to knock him on top of his head with a closed fist. “I didn’t do a thing, remember that? I never showed the least bit of interest in either of you idiots. I have my own heartache to worry about. I don’t need to be caught up in the melodramatic, sophomoric, bullshit you two wallow in!”
“K.C.! I… I never meant to…”
“Yeah, yeah. You never meant to hurt Starsky. You never meant to tear his heart out and stomp on it. But that’s what your leaving did to him. You two are so far in the closet that you’re stilling looking for your lost Christmas presents from 1976!”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the fact that you two love each other. You belong together. Get it? Call yourself straight, gay, bi, or whatever, but what you two have is what everybody else in the whole wide wonderful world is looking for.” K.C.’s tirade that had started with indignation ended in nearly a sob. “And you throw it away, because you won’t admit to yourselves that you were made for each other.”
Hutch was gob-smacked. How could they be so transparent to others yet opaque to themselves? He turned away from K.C.’s fervent lecture only to see Rosie nodding her head in agreement.
“Love is the most wonderful, powerful force in the world, Uncle Ken. You and Uncle Dave have shown me that. Do you really think you were immune to its power? What do you think pulled you through all those times that would have killed anyone else? The plague, getting poisoned, a car wreck? Even kicking heroin.” Rosie clasped her hand over her mouth.
K.C. let out an audible gasp.
Hutch just froze.
“Yeah, Uncle Ken, I heard about it. But I’m through with keeping secrets,” Rosie admitted. “But it wasn’t until years later when I had a friend get hooked on horse. I didn’t know how to help him. Then Dad told me about what had happened to you and how Uncle Dave pulled you through. Uncle Dave and the power of love.”
Hutch looked around uncomfortably until his eyes rested on the pile of wood he had poured his heartache into for the last hour. The physical labor had done nothing to alleviate his pain. It was true. He loved Starsky and wanted to be with him now and forever. To have and to hold.
Maybe he’d known it from the day they’d met. He just hadn’t known how to accept it the way he’d seen other couples do. But if they could work it out together the way they’d faced so many other challenges…
“Starsky and I have said plenty of times that we love each other—but as friends. Nothing else. Did Starsky tell you he wanted something more?”
K.C. shifted on her feet. “No. He didn’t say those words exactly, but…”
Her words sliced through his gut like razors. “You’re right, ladies. I do love him; that’s a fact. I can’t deny it anymore, especially to myself. I want him. Always have.” But then he raised his hand, palm out and fingers splayed. “But he doesn’t want me the way I want him. It’s best we leave it at that. For his sake. He really is better off without me.” He spoke stiffly, mechanically. Admitting any more would break him. “This whole fiasco tells me plainly that he wants me out of his life whether he knows it consciously or not. Please. Just—go.”
He stopped and took a deep breath. “Don’t tell him you found me. Just let me find some peace.” Then he took back the ax and turned toward the wood pile.
K.C. and Rosie slowly returned to the Jeep as Hutch resumed chopping.
The secret plan pieces formed together like a puzzle. On Christmas Eve, the stage, the banquet hall, even the room full of guests had taken Dobey completely by surprise. Rosie had even ensured that he’d changed out of his work clothes and into the fresh suit she’d strategically laid out for him earlier. The world-weary widower looked almost like a new man.
When the former captain entered the festive hall with Rosie on his arm, Starsky met them at the door, a Santa hat perched precariously on his head. His call of “Attention!” brought the room full of cops and their families to a stand.
Dobey, visibly shocked, swayed on his feet. Starsky grabbed Dobey’s other arm and spoke softly in his ear. “I know Christmas won’t ever be the same without Edith. But we all wanted to let you know how much you’re still loved. This is all for you, Cap. Merry Christmas.”
The uncharacteristically emotional man surveyed the audience as Starsky held on tight. When Dobey leaned in and asked, “What do I do now, Mr. Show Business?” Starsky couldn’t help but chuckle.
“An inspection!” Starsky suggested and led Dobey up to the mic on stage. Starsky pulled his former captain into an unabashedly affectionate hug and stepped back. Then all Dobey’s friends and adopted sons, past and present, broke out in the chorus of a corny ditty Hutch had written for Dobey’s retirement party years ago. Starsky had dug up the old lyrics and secretly coached them just before Dobey’s well- orchestrated entrance.
“We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go
Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe
Because we love him, we love him
Especially when he keeps us on the ball
And we’ll tell the kiddies we answered duty’s call
With the grandest son of a -you know what- of all”*
Dobey reached for the mic, obviously overwhelmed, and cleared his throat while the room grew still. “I have never seen… such a horrendous display… of unfit, donut hoarding, sorry excuses for policemen in all my years on the force,” he said gruffly. But then his voice cracked. “And I have never seen a more beautiful sight in my entire life. Thank you all. I love you guys…”
He turned to Starsky, his eyes bright with what looked suspiciously like tears. “Now get me outta here before I get any more soapy in front of these clowns.”
At that, the audience broke out in thunderous applause until Huggy Bear Brown stepped out to take over the stage. He wrapped his lanky arms around the guest of honor. Then Starsky exited with Dobey in tow to where Rosie was waiting in the wings. “So you were in on it too, Rosie?” Dobey asked. “Keepin’ secrets from the old man, huh?”
“Now, Daddy. Christmas practically requires you to have secrets. Otherwise, where’s the fun?”
Dobey snorted then turned to Starsky. “Thank you, son. That you would do this for me means more to me than any Christmas present ever could.” He took a brief look around the room. “But… where’s Hutch? I don’t want to have to say thank you to you two sneaky bastards twice.”
The smile froze on Starsky’s face as Rosie deftly changed the subject. “Did you see the cake, Daddy? Hazel down at the Tinhorn Inn made it. It’s in the shape of a badge!”
Dobey turned his attention to the confection being set on the center table as Rosie sent a sympathetic look Starsky’s way. Starsky turned away quickly as if something offstage needed his immediate attention.
Rosey and Dobey walked through the assembled audience with Dobey’s composure more intact. He flirted with the ladies and shook hands with everyone.
To Starsky’s mind, Dobey’s grin and animated thanks to each and every one made all the hard work worthwhile. The only thing keeping the moment from perfection was not having Hutch there. He slipped back stage and perched on an extra speaker hidden behind the giant Christmas tree. He needed to catch his breath. Normally, he would have been energized by the boisterous crowd, but tonight his reserves were depleted. Between pulling off the secret production and worrying about Hutch, he was worn out to near exhaustion.
At first he’d been tempted to pull out all the stops and call in all his favors to find his lost love. But the more he thought about it, the more he felt Hutch must have been trying to tell him for months that it was time they break up the partnership. Hutch just wouldn’t tell him to his face. The Hutch he knew would never hurt him that way.
Huggy dove into his role as emcee with a long-winded anecdote about his days of solving crimes alongside Captain Dobey. While he was priming the crowd, K.C. prepared for her solo act. Starsky robotically checked his schedule. Everything was going as planned. Except for a major missing piece.
K.C. charmed the audience with her selection of country-western songs performed in her breezy style. Next, Mae and June took the stage with their energetic rendition of Sisters. They had the full house eating out of their hands.
An all-female string trio took the stage next with a swingy number perfect for dancing, prompting K.C. to bring Whimsy up front and swirl about in an unplanned dance. Their enjoyment of each other was contagious.
“The best things happen while you’re dancing
things you would not do at home
come naturally on the floor.
For dancing soon becomes romancing
when you hold someone in your arms
that you’ve never held before.
Even clowns with two left feet
come out alright if the other’s sweet.
If by chance their cheeks should meet while dancing
proving that the best things happen while you dance.”*
Starsky realized now that using K.C. was unforgivable. Sweetheart that she was, however, she’d already forgiven him. As he watched the couple dance, Starsky indulged in a bittersweet memory of getting caught teaching Hutch to dip in Dobey’s old office. It seemed like an eternity ago.
Faces flushed, K.C. and Whimsy took a final spin as the song came to an end and Huggy returned to the stage. This was the part of the program where Hutch was to have sung a few of his hits. Then K.C. would have joined him for some traditional Christmas carols with some audience participation. But the headliner was still a no show.
Starsky hoped that maybe now Hutch would find that peace he had earned, without being weighed down by his partner in a worn-old relationship. He hoped Hutch would find the life Starsky desperately wanted for him.
Starsky listened half-heartedly as Huggy improvised a bawdy comedy routine that had his captive cop audience threatening to arrest him and their wives blushing. Although disappointed not to see their favorite “hometown boy who made good,” the audience was gracious as Huggy then turned the stage over to K.C.
Starsky glanced down at the presents scattered on the blue velvet tree skirt. Most were just empty boxes carefully wrapped by Rosie in bright paper and bows to decorate the set, but interspersed were a few were real gifts for family and the staff of the lodge.
His eyes fell on one hastily wrapped, lumpy and misshapen gift, with a simple red stick-on bow. The gift label featured a jaunty Santa and the words, “To: Hutch, From: Starsk,” scribbled in his own handwriting.
Leaving his perch, he picked up the weighty package and reshaped the bow, then subverted his efforts by pressing the package to his chest. The idea of Hutch somewhere out on his own pierced him more deeply than Gunther’s bullets. The thought of never seeing Hutch again brought Starsky literally to his knees. He knelt under the Christmas tree, making sure he was hidden from the audience, and fought the tears stinging his eyes as he heard K.C. take the stage to perform the show finale.
One more act without Hutch and Starsky, too, would be a free agent.
K.C. finished a soulful torch song to hearty applause while Starsky hid in the shadows. After the clapping died down, she asked the audience to sing along to some popular Christmas carols to bring the show to a close.
Half-way through Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Starsky could hear the audience stir. Excited applause and whistles began to erupt, but from his position he couldn’t see the cause. He was too depressed to really care. Finally, Dobey’s loud excited laugh and Rosie’s girlish squeal broke through his dark thoughts.
He heard K.C. chuckle into the mic and say in her sassy cowgirl drawl, “Well, lookie what the cat done drug in!”
Starsky dropped Hutch’s present where it landed with a thud on the soft tree skirt. He slowly straightened from his cramped position as his heart hammered in his chest. He stepped from behind the tree and was nearly knocked over by a strapping Cal Dobey, wearing his Air Force uniform.
“Uncle Dave!” Cal pulled him into a tight squeeze but then quickly looked to Starsky’s ribs as he loosened his grip. “Sorry about that, Uncle Dave.” The tall, handsome young man switched to patting Starsky’s back, but Starsky brushed away the kid gloves treatment.
Although it wasn’t the man he wanted to see most at that moment, Cal was a sight for sore eyes, so Starsky swallowed his disappointment. This was a secret even he hadn’t been in on. “Cal! Buddy! I thought you were still overseas. What happened?”
“Huggy Bear Brown happened, Uncle Dave! He called my superior officer, told him some crazy story about a family emergency, and here I am. I would have been here sooner if not for the snow storm.”
Starsky backed away and took in Cal’s frozen appearance. “Did you say snow?”
“I sure did, Uncle Dave. Check it out.”
Cal laughed and strode to the heavy drapery covering the back wall of windows. He found the cords to open them and gave them a strong pull. The fabric drew away from the glass to reveal a landscape transformed into a winter wonderland.
Ohs, ahs, and applause bubbled up from around the room. Near his shoulder, Starsky heard K.C. draw in a breath at the magical scene. Then she turned back to Whimsy’s smiling face in the front row.
Starsky remembered their long, drawn out conversations in the cab all those years ago. How she said she always dreamed of love and family and Christmas magic. As Starsky saw K.C. look at Whimsy, Starsky realized that all her dreams were coming true. While he’d let his slip through his fingers.
K.C. adjusted her guitar strap and began to sing.
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.”*
Mae and June entered the stage from opposite sides and stood behind K.C. adding their harmonies to K.C.’s sweet alto. Mae waved a white-gloved hand to the Dobeys standing off stage left and Rosie clasped the hands of her father and brother and led them to the front. Both men had excellent singing voices and soon a soprano and two basses joined in the impromptu choir.
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.”*
Starsky stared at the drifting snow as he listened to the song—one of Hutch’s favorites. He wondered if Hutch was safe. If he was warm by a fire or wandering in the frigid night. Life on the road was hard but now Hutch was on his own, over-thinking things and getting them wrong the way he tended to do when left to his own devices.
Huggy walked on stage for the next stanza and encouraged the audience to participate with a flutter of his hand.
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.”*
Each verse grew more exquisite than the last as the crowd joined in, while Starsky only grew more despondent. He stumbled back off stage as his mind raced. Hutch could be such a dumb blond at times. What if Hutch needed him and Starsky wasn’t there? What if he was shaking in an alley somewhere or got trapped under a car? Ate from the wrong can of soup? Did Hutch think he didn’t care about him anymore? What if he just decided life was too hard and…
Starsky was so trapped in his thoughts, he barely noticed the chords of a second guitar combining with K.C.’s. But then he thought he heard a tenor, pure as mountain snow, add with the other voices.
Starsky held his breath and closed his eyes. Like the song’s composer, he was surely dreaming….
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.”*
The song came to an end and the performers took a bow to hearty applause. All except one. That one whispered a question in K.C.’s ear. K.C. slapped a Santa hat on his head and pointed to the big Christmas tree.
Hutch moved toward the tree as the ovation continued to grow in momentum, but then he froze. Starsky had stepped out from behind the tree and was staring at Hutch with an unreadable expression. Hutch wondered if he’d made a mistake by coming back. Maybe he’d misjudged how furious Starsky would be for walking out on the show. Perhaps Starsky didn’t feel the same as Hutch did after all.
Hutch opened his mouth to speak, but didn’t know what to say. He went to Starsky and straightened the Santa hat that Starsky’s springy curls kept trying to unseat. His partner’s sapphire eyes burned a hole in his heart.
“Mmm… Merry Christmas, Starsk.”
Starsky just kept looking at him.
Starsky had never seen anything as heart-wrenching as the expression on Hutch’s face. It spoke of regret and longing and… love. The magical kind. The kind most people misunderstood and even fewer people got to experience. The silly, red fake fur-trimmed hat with its bouncy pompom on Hutch’s blond head just added to the surreal sweetness of the sight.
Starsky stared as Hutch’s full lips quivered in anticipation. He could only wish that Hutch had come to the same conclusion as he had. Was it possible? But it was Christmas—the time when anything was possible. He watched as Hutch’s resolve crumbled and his soulful blue eyes began to fill with tears.
“Starsky. I… I’m sorry…”
Starsky reached up and cupped Hutch’s cheek. His mouth twitched when he felt Hutch nuzzle his palm. “I know, babe. I am, too. You wanna hear somethin’ crazy?”
Hutch nodded against Starsky’s hand.
“We’re in love with each other. Did you know that? Crazy, huh?”
Hutch closed his eyes and nodded again. He cleared his throat. “Craziest thing I ever heard.” He traced the rim of the Santa hat on Starsky’s head with his fingers and took hold of his pompom playfully. “And very true.”
Starsky smiled and pulled away, leaving Hutch momentarily confused.
“I got somethin’ for ya.” Starsky reached down and fumbled with the packages under the tree until he found the oddly shaped present and handed it to Hutch.
“What’s this?” Hutch pulled apart the candy cane embossed paper and sticky red bow. Inside was a handcrafted figure of a white knight on a splendid steed.
“See, Hutch, I figured at first that I knocked you off your white horsey with all the worry and heartache you’ve spent on me over the years. I figured a nice damsel in distress was what you needed to make you happy. But then when you up and left, I found I needed something, too. I need you to be my white knight again. I need you back on that steed where you belong. I need you to watch over me and love me just the way only you can do, and I’m finally man enough to admit it.”
Hutch’s head bowed over the figure as he slid his long fingers over the smooth form. He continued to nod. “You figured, huh?” he said softly.
“Hutch.” Starsky took the white knight statue from Hutch’s hands and placed it carefully under the tree. “Look at me, blondie.
“Will you stay with me?” Starsky asked, not caring that he was laying his heart bare. After all, Hutch had healed his heart once before.
The sounds of merry making floated away and they found themselves in their own private snow globe. Hutch raised his eyes, still nodding. Starsky took Hutch’s face in his hands and pulled him into a kiss. Like warm breath on a frosty window pane, their kiss melted the ice that had formed between them. When they pulled apart, the world had been transformed into a pristine wonderland. They clung to each other, never wanting to let go.
“I love you, David Starsky. Always have, always will.”
“I love you, Kenneth Hutchinson. Then, now, and forever.”
They had taken a vow neither would ever break, come what may. Together they had a home that was stronger than four walls. No matter their human frailties, they knew their love would live Christmas after Christmas.
Just then K.C. and Whimsy came up to them and K.C. cleared her throat. Starsky and Hutch reluctantly let go of each other and the girls giggled. “Come on you two Santa wannabes, Harold wants to cut the cake,” K.C. announced.
Hutch placed his arm around Starsky as they both walked off the stage, pompoms bouncing merrily.
“Hey, Hutch,” Starsky asked. “Where’d ya go anyway? I was worried.”
“I only made it as far as the cabin, babe. Did some soul searching and wood choppin’. There’s a massive woodpile there now.” He lifted his free hand and wiggled his fingers. “I’ve got blisters on my blisters.”
Starsky grabbed for Hutch’s hand and held it against his heart. “Yeah? What say we grab some snow shoes, blow this joint, and head over there. After cake, of course.”
“Of course,” Hutch said with a grin.
“Merry Christmas, Hutch.”
“Merry Christmas, Starsk.”
“By the way, I’m keepin’ the money ya gave me. You ain’t very responsible with your finances when you’re in love, blintz. Gotta keep two eyes on you from now on and never let you outta my sight. Hey! What say we spend next Christmas in Hawaii?”
Hutch chuckled and playfully planted a kiss on Starsky’s nose, then grabbed Starsky’s Santa hat and pulled it down over his eyes. “Sounds like a plan, gordo.”
Starsky righted his hat and began to croon.
“May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.”*
*Lyrics by Irving Berlin