A CRACK IN THE ICE
Hutch was slouched in the chair beside Starsky's bed. He measured distances now in the time it took him to get back there. Twenty minutes from home, ten minutes from the station, five minutes from the coffee shop in the lobby, 30 seconds from the nurses' station.
They had two hours to kill before Starsky's next meds. Two hours wasn't that long, he had tried to convince Starsky one night. Two hours was a movie or dinner at a fancy restaurant. It was drinking a six pack. Two hours often passed by without them noticing. But not anymore. Especially not these two hours, the ones before midnight.
They had tried playing cards, playing checkers, even I Spy once, but mostly they just talked the time away. As long as Starsky could manage it. After that, Hutch could only hold his hand and watch the clock and wait for the painkillers that would let them both sleep.
Starsky had tried to describe it to him.
"When I get my shot, Hutch, it's like I'm floating on this huge piece of ice. Lots of room, two lawn chairs, couple beers, you and me just sitting there admiring the ocean go by. Then a piece falls off and floats away. But it's okay, we still have lots of space. But I look down and the beers have disappeared and then the lawn chairs. I hear this huge noise, like a crack, and half of the ice falls into the ocean right in front of us. Then it's not such a nice place anymore. After a couple hours it's just you and me freezing our asses off on the ice. And pieces keep falling off around us. You try to stay on it with me, but in the end, it's just me and the ice is gone and I'm drowning."
While they waited that night, they talked about nothing and everything. About old cases, old girlfriends, their childhoods.
"Starsk, did you ever want to be anything besides a cop?"
"I wanted to be a lion tamer once."
Hutch laughed. A wicked grin lit Starsky's face.
"I used to make Nick be the lion. Had him sitting up on chairs, jumping through hoops."
"How the hell did you get him to agree to that?"
"The whip helped."
"So what made you give up your lion-taming dreams?"
"The lion bit me in my pajamas. Though what he was doing in my pajamas, I'll never know," Starsky said in his best Groucho Marx voice, eyebrows wagging, imaginary cigar waving in front of his face.
Hutch was shattered into silence as he watched Starsky. He never knew when he would get one of these moments and when he did, he saved them. He saved them the way some people saved old ticket stubs or dried roses.
"Anything else?" Hutch asked.
"Sure. Bronco rider. Test pilot. Race car driver. But eventually I gave up on those too."
Starsky smiled and shrugged with his good shoulder, then gasped and swore under his breath. Hutch was up in a second, but Starsky waved him back with a muttered "I'm fine." Hutch pulled the chair a little closer to the bed, the metal scraping along the tile floor. He leaned forward and crossed his arms on the pale blue blanket. He laid his head down on his arms and closed his eyes and remembered. The way he did every time he closed his eyes. The day of the shooting, they had made love in the cool light of morning. In the beginning, when they had finally admitted to each other what they had barely been able to admit to themselves, they had fucked fast and hard, a tangle of limbs and sweat and seven years of foreplay under their belts. But that morning, almost two months later, before their world got shot all to hell, they had taken it slow and easy. Starsky had wondered aloud what Dobey would say if they called in lovesick. Hutch just laughed and pushed and prodded Starsky into the shower with the promise of marathon fuck-your-brains-out sex that night. "All the more reason to stay home and rest up," Starsky had protested.
Now he felt Starsky's hand on his shoulder and when he made a move to rise, there was a gentle pressure there that held him down. Starsky stroked his hair and it fell between his fingers like sand. Hutch sighed as Starsky brushed away the stray strands that had fallen across his forehead. He turned his head without lifting it and Starsky's fingers moved to trace the outline of his lips. With a small moan, Hutch caught a finger between his teeth and pulled it into his mouth, licking and sucking it slowly, then kissing it as Starsky finally pulled his hand away.
Starsky nudged him and he pulled himself up.
"What about you, Hutch? What did you want to be when you were a kid?"
"The usual kid stuff."
"Like you don't need to know. It's embarrassing." Hutch stared at his hands.
"C'mon. Tell me. How bad could it be?"
Hutch glanced up and Starsky gave him one of his best puppy dog looks. The one they both knew always worked.
"I wanted to be a priest," Hutch muttered to the wall behind Starsky's head.
"A what?" Starsky's voice rose at least an octave.
"You heard me. A priest, okay?"
"You're not even Catholic!" The expression on Starsky's face was a comic mixture of shock and horror. Hutch laughed and knew that giving up one of his best-kept secrets was worth it for that look alone.
"Yeah, I know that now."
"A priest, Hutch? You think you know someone and then. . ."
"Relax, Starsk, it's not like I said I wanted to be a serial killer. You didn't act this surprised the first time I kissed you, for chrissakes."
"Yeah, well, the kiss wasn't as big a surprise as this."
Hutch arched one eyebrow. They were definitely going to have that conversation later.
"But a priest, Hutch? Why?"
"Starsk, can you stop looking at me like I sprouted wings or something?" He rose stiffly from the chair and crossed the room to stand by the window.
"I was a kid. I saw Going My Way one Christmas. I guess I was about ten."
"Going My Way? "The movie? With Bing Crosby as the priest? The one where he sang?"
"Bing Crosby sang in every movie, Starsk."
"I remember, he sang that Irish lullaby for the old priest? Tura-lura- something." He sang an off-key rendition of what he remembered. Hutch watched Starsky's reflection in the window.
"Yeah, that one."
"And he brought the old priest's mother over from Ireland. And then he sang again. My god, Hutch! You wanted to be a singing priest? You're making this up, right?"
He turned back from the window to stare at him. Starsky was smiling like a kid who just found a twenty dollar bill.
"Starsk! Do you want to hear this or not?" Hutch answered with mock exasperation.
"You bet, Father. Spill it."
Hutch started pacing as he talked, his footsteps echoing in the quiet room.
"I was a religious little kid. In my family, you sort of had to be. It helped. But our church was so plain. So serious. Long lists of what you should and shouldn't do. Fire and brimstone, all that. What would happen if you broke the rules. And we didn't have crucifixes or Latin or candles. We definitely didn't burn incense. We didn't do any of the fun stuff Catholics seemed to. I loved the idea of confession too. That telling someone your sins and saying sorry was enough to wash them away. You'd get a clean slate each time no matter what you did. And I believed in God. Even if he did sound a lot like my father."
He stopped for a second, caught somewhere in the memory of hot summer Sundays, hard pews, the trickle of sweat rolling down his back under his long-sleeved Sunday shirt, his only prayer a fervent wish for the sermon to be over.
"I don't know where to go for forgiveness now, Starsk."
Hutch started pacing again.
"Anyway, I saw Going My Way. I wanted that. Religion that made people feel good, not scared. So I decided to become a priest."
"How long did this calling of yours last?"
"Till Bobby Duggan explained celibacy to me. He was the only Catholic kid at school."
"Can I send Bobby Duggan a thank you card?" Starsky laughed.
Then he saw Starsky close his eyes, hold his arm to his chest and lean forward in the bed. Hutch heard the distant crack of ice. But he knew not to ask. Not yet. Not with more than an hour to go. So he waited and pretended everything was fine. Glanced at the clock. Saw Starsky glance at it too. Fuck. An hour and a half.
"What about now, Hutch?"
"What about what?"
"What about religion? You still believe in God?"
"I believe in Bing Crosby."
They were quiet for a while. Hutch pretended he wasn't looking at his watch. Starsky pretended not to notice.
They both watched the clock now, no more pretense of casual sideways glances. No more pretending that Starsky's pain wasn't the only thing there was. Watching the clock was allowed in the last hour. One night, Hutch had taken the clock down, put away his watch, but not knowing made it worse somehow.
Hutch sat on the edge of the too narrow bed. Starsky had loudly declared, "Battle stations, men!" at the stroke of eleven but Hutch had seen the fear that simmered below the bravado. Now he held Starsky's hand tightly in his, while the other stroked and soothed and whispered a promise that it would soon be over. Hutch's mother called those piecrust promises, easily made, easily broken.
"Hutch?" Starsky's voice was rough, his breathing ragged.
"Yeah, Starsk?" Hutch struggled for calm. He was sinking under the weight of his own helplessness.
"Hutch, if we lived in New York, it would be midnight already. Think maybe we could move there?"
"First thing in the morning, buddy. We'll join the NYPD. Go to Yankees games. What do you say?"
They were both silent for a minute.
"I need you to keep talking. Ask me something. Anything."
"Marry me." He had been aiming for flip, but he knew in a second he had fallen short. What he heard in his own voice, what he was sure Starsky heard, was too much need and too little comfort.
"Priests can't get married." A ghost of a smile slipped across Starsky's face.
"Okay then, best and worst."
They filled ten minutes with best movies and best books and worst girlfriends.
"C'mon Starsk. Stay with me. Best year?"
"This year." Starsky's answers were short now, his words rode out on each painful exhalation of breath and tumbled incomplete and abandoned into the air between them.
"You are so fucking predictable, Starsk. You always say that. You know, I don't think you could even pick him out of a lineup. Name one movie he was in. Go on. I dare you. If you can name one, I'll never make fun of him again."
There was only silence.
"You're a sore loser, Starsky. Worst actor?"
"You…now. Hutch?" His voice was a barely a whisper. "How long?"
"Half an hour, Starsk. We can do half an hour, right?"
He leaned down and took Starsky's face between his hands and kissed him gently. First on his forehead, then he brushed his lips against one eyelid, then the other. Between kisses he murmured, "I'm here, Starsk, I'm still here." His mouth moved across his cheeks and he kissed away his tears. He pressed his lips against Starsky's mouth. Starsky moaned and parted his lips and he breathed him in.
Hutch held him tightly as the ice fell away around them.