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Christmas Surprises


Mary Kleinsmith


        "Boy, you sure are a grouch," David Starsky muttered. "Or should I have said 'grinch'. Just like that green guy on TV every year. How can you say you're not getting me anything for Christmas? C'mon, partner, where's your Christmas spirit?"

    "It's gone. Just like real Christmases."

    Starsky sighed exasperatedly, realizing he just wasn't getting through to his fair-haired partner. "But Christmas is a great time of the year! I just love all the music, the decorations. How can you not be excited! Well, whether you get me anything or not, I'm still gonna get you something."

    "Well, I'm not! And I don't expect you to get me anything, either!" Hutch exclaimed. "Now can we just let this subject drop and get back to duty?"

    "If you insist, Mr. Sunshine. Whatever you want." Starsky was resigned. His partner, over the last few years, had turned into the original Ebenezer Scrooge. And the worse part of it was that Starsky couldn't figure out why. Nothing significant had happened around Christmas time to "sour" Hutch on the holiday. Maybe it was simply a matter of too much commercialism. Nah! It can't be that!

    The remainder of the shift passed without another single word about Christmas uttered on either of their parts. Starsky dropped Hutch off at his apartment and followed the blond in. He couldn't help but notice how barren the place was of the traditional Christmas trappings. The only surrender to the season was a small nativity set which Hutch'd erected in one quiet corner of the apartment. "At least you still put this up," he said, smiling at his partner.

    "I had to; it was a gift from my parents the day I left home to move out here. Somehow I've always felt that if I didn't put it up, they'd know. And I could never let them down." He turned to finger the straw roof of the small cresch. "That seems like so long ago now. I'll bet they don't even miss me anymore."

    Starsky heard the sadness in his friends tone. Maybe that explains the problem! I think I've finally figured it out! "Look, partner. I better get going. You may not have any Christmas presents to get, but I've got a loadful of them, and only a week and a half to find 'em in. I'll see you first thing in the morning." And with a wave of his hand, he shut the door behind him. "I'm really gonna hafta scramble to get this done in time! Maybe we can bring a little Christmas Spirit out of ol' Scrooge after all!"


    Starsky wasn't able to clearly recall the dream the next morning, but he felt sure it was probably an aftereffect of watching two consecutive versions of "A Christmas Carol" on television the night before. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" just prior to the first couldn't have helped either. His perspective this morning was different, and he started to think about the Christmas presents he'd been harping about. Maybe the best presents are the ones that don't cost hardly nothin'. "That's it!" he suddenly exclaimed. "That's the perfect Christmas present for my own personal Scrooge."

    Some time later, it was in a somewhat better frame of mind that Hutch picked up Starsky at his place. Still no spirit for Christmas itself, but at least his mood seemed better. "Mornin', partner!" Hutch called out as he came through the door, uncharacteristically forgetting to knock first. Starsky jumped a mile from the couch he was seated on and quickly hung up the telephone receiver he'd been holding.

    "Oh.... ahhh...good morning!" Maybe if he didn't let on what he was up to on the telephone, Hutch would just leave it alone and not ask about the call. "Beautiful day, huh, partner!"

    "Yeah, just peachy." Hutch's tone was slightly sarcastic. "I hate the rain!"

    "Well, it is winter, pal. And despite what the song says, it does rain in Southern California! Hey, give me just a few minutes and I'll be ready to go." He stood up, tucking his T-shirt into his jeans and crossing to the coat rack where his holster hung. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hutch studying the frame on the coffee table. It was a warm photo, despite being almost completely filled with white snow that was browning at the edges due to the typical New York grime. Hutch smiled as Starsky's mother smiled back at him from her position standing beside the rather small snowman. Her frosty friend was flanked on the other side by Starsky's aunt, cousin, and his cousin's three small children. They all looked like they were having the time of their lives.

    "Ready, partner!"

    The words interrupted Hutch's contemplation, and he replaced the frame on the table. When did I pick it up in the first place? "Let's go before we're late."

    The sadness in Hutch's manner, brought on by the picture, shifted into crankiness once they were on the street and subject to all the holiday accouterments adorning the buildings. Starsky didn't let it get to him, though, remembering and anticipating the gift he was preparing for his best friend. Partner, you're not gonna know what hit you!


    The morning of Christmas Eve Day, the pair were patrolling in the Torino. It had been quiet so far that morning, the criminals and lowlifes of the streets apparently staying indoors in honor of the holiday.

    "Starsk," Hutch said suddenly, breaking the silence that had dropped since he had turned off the Christmas music on the radio. "Starsk, I have a confession to make."

    "What's that? You mean the 'white knight' did something wrong?!" Starsky exaggerated his astonishment while trying to keep from laughing.

    "I'm afraid so, buddy. It seems I'm less than perfect after all."

    "So? What is it?"

    Rather than answer, Hutch picked up the radio mike and called in that they would be out of contact on lunch for an hour. Starsky looked at him puzzled at this, to which Hutch responded, "I need to tell you about this in a special place, Starsk. So would you turn left at the next light, please?"

    Starsky did as he was asked, and continued to do so until he found himself approaching LAX. What're we doing here? He couldn't have found out, could he?

    "Just pull up in front of the airport, Starsk." Starsky performed the maneuver and then shoved the car into park, turning at once to his partner.

    "Hutch, what the heck is going on? And what's all this about a confession?"

    "Well, y'see partner, I'm afraid my confession is that I gave into the 'euphoric sentimentalism'. I got you a Christmas present. And I wanted to give it to you here."

    Right on schedule, a rarity in the airline trade, Hutch knew, they both turned to the row of doors just in time to see a dark-haired woman coming out. While no longer having the bloom of youth on her face, she was still a handsome older woman, whose strength was apparently on a par with her beauty, for she carried two rather large suitcases unassisted, with a third carry-on bag draped over her shoulder. She did not stagger under the weight, and Starsky was momentarily stunned to behold her.

    "Merry Christmas, partner!" Hutch said, smiling. The expression on his best friend's face was worth every penny it had taken to fly Rachel Starsky from one coast to the next. It took a few moments for Starsky to shake himself out of his shock, then he reached for the door handle to get out of the car. He pulled the handle three times before he realized that the door was locked, then pulled up the knob and finally jumped out, running for the woman.

    "Ma!!!!!" Starsky ran toward Rachel, and she dropped both suitcases on the ground to wrap her arms around her beloved son.

    "Oh, Dave! I've missed you so much!"

    "I've missed you too, Ma!" He bent to pick up the bags she'd dropped and walked with her toward the car. Hutch still sat in the passenger side, smiling with shining eyes at the reunion scene. "And here I thought you had no Christmas spirit. Buddy, this is the best Christmas present anyone's ever given me."

    Hutch didn't say, "I know how much you can miss your family" or "being separated at the holidays is really crummy". He just sat and graciously accepted Starsky's thanks.

    Starsky piled the suitcases in the Torino's trunk. "You can stay with me, Ma. You can take the bedroom, and I'll sleep on the couch! I hope you don't mind, but we're on lunch right now and we still hafta finish our shift. We'll drop you at my place so you can be gettin' settled in until we get off duty."

    They climbed in the front seat with Rachel sitting between the two officers. She leaned over to kiss Hutch on the cheek. "Thank you, Ken. This is a Christmas present for me, too. And I'll never be able to thank you enough." She laid a gentle hand on Starsky's cheek, then the other one on Hutch's. "Now I've got everything!" Both men blushed dark red at her motherly affection, and Hutch felt a small pang in his chest thinking about his own parents back in Minnesota.


    The shift flew by for Starsky, who eagerly anticipated getting home to his mother. But it finally came and they clocked out in mid-afternoon. The red Torino pulled up in front of the Venice apartment. "Sorry to just drop you off and run, partner. But I gotta check on Mom and make sure she's got everything she needs. Do you wanna come over to my place tonight, or should we come over here?"

    "Doesn't really matter to me, buddy. Whichever way you want is okay."

    Starsky thought for a moment. "If you don't mind playing 'host', I think Mom and I will come to your place. I mean, she'll be staying at my apartment the entire time she's here - thank you again, by the way - and I know she'll be bugging me to see where you live before too long. This'll satisfy her curiosity."

    Hutch nodded his agreement and headed up the stairs to his apartment. Once inside, he only stopped long enough to open the refrigerator, realizing he had nothing in the house he could offer his guests to eat that night. So he re-locked the door and ran to the grocery store, choosing a large ham from the meat case, a can of pineapple to serve with it, and two boxes of scalloped potato mix. Those things would be easy to make and wouldn't require much attention once they'd been put in the oven.

    Once he was home, he placed a bottle of wine in the refrigerator to chill, then thought again and added a second next to the first. Something in him craved hot chocolate, so he set a medium-size saucepan on the stove and set out the cocoa mix and marshmallows next to it. Why do I feel for cocoa? I've barely had it at all since leaving home. His apartment passed inspection for cleanliness, so he sat down with his favorite book and some jazz music to fill the time until Starsky returned.


    "Now, whatever you do, Ma, don't let on what's going on," Starsky whispered to his mother as they walked up to Hutch's building. "And if you're not sure, just follow my lead and go along with me." The dark-haired Christmas elf held his mother's elbow going up the stairs, as her hands and arms were occupied with a large platter of Christmas cookies she'd baked that afternoon.

    Starsky had been amazed at her accomplishment upon returning home. I didn't even know I had all that stuff in my kitchen! She had playfully slapped his hand when he'd swiped a cookie off the top of the pile, telling him that they were for the Christmas Eve celebration that night.

    Rachel's son rapped his knuckles on the wooden door, and Hutch jumped off the couch to graciously open the door. He didn't notice that Starsky carried no Christmas presents although his partner had been telling him for days that he'd gotten Hutch something great. "You'd really be doing me a favor, Ken," Rachel said to the host, " if you'd take this off my hands. They're getting awfully heavy!"

    "Ma! Why didn't you let me take them for you when I offered?"

    "It wouldn't be 'polite' not to deliver them myself!" She said it as if it made perfect sense, although it didn't to Starsky.

    Hutch set them in the center of the kitchen table and sneaked a peak under the aluminum foil. "You made so many! How will we ever eat this many cookies?"

    "Somehow, I think we'll manage, Ken." She exchanged amused glances with her son behind Hutch's back, but wiped the wicked smile off her face before he could turn around.

    "Take a seat, Ma," Starsky told his mother, motioning to the couch, and she did as he instructed. Starsky approached Hutch, busy checking the ham in the kitchen, and closed the distance until they could whisper. "Hutch, I'm afraid we've got a little bit of a problem."

    "What's that, Starsk?"

    "Well, I know we planned on pretty much staying in tonight, but Mom read in the newspaper about the "Living Christmas Tree" they're having and wants us to take her to see it."

    "I don't remember seeing an ad for that. But if she's got her heart set on it, I'm certainly not going to disappoint her. What time is it?"

    "It starts at 7:00."

    "Well, I can turn the oven on low to slow the cooking of the food. I wouldn't think it'd take more than an hour or an hour-and-a-half, and by the time we get home, everything'll be done."

    "That sounds good. How about if I drive, since I know where it is?"

    "You got it, partner." Hutch watched Rachel for a moment, intent on something his partner could not read in him. Or maybe Starsky did know. Hutch turned the oven down and Starsky gathered up his mother, announcing the good news that Hutch had agreed to come along.


    Starsky pulled up in front of the church, getting the last available parking place on the streets around the block. A sign over the auditorium entrance double doors announced, "LIVING CHRISTMAS TREE TONIGHT," and Starsky and his mother, arm in arm, headed for the crowded entrance. They were almost to the threshold when they both pulled up short. "Dave, it looks like we've lost someone," Rachel pointed out.

    They turned around to see Hutch, staring intently at a sign other than the one above the doors. "St. Paul's Lutheran Church." He could almost hear a voice in his head saying to him, "It's been a long time, Kenneth Hutchinson!" The minister back home had always called him Kenneth, and he momentarily remembered fondly the Sunday school classes with friends and the gospel sing-alongs they'd held. Even when he went home for visits he somehow managed to avoid going back to his boyhood church. He wasn't sure he could say why he'd stayed away. Yes, I do. With all the things I've seen since I moved out here, I just don't have the faith I used to have. How could God let such horrible things happen?

    "HEY, HUTCH! C'MON!" The other parishioners who were waiting for admittance looked at the yelling man in surprise. When Starsky saw Hutch begin to move toward him, he turned back to the crowd with a jolly, lopsided grin. The infringement on their peace was forgiven because of the man's warmth, and many returned his smile.

    The seats they were able to get were good, and the children's chorus "tree" was beautiful. The young people sang Christmas carols - mostly religious with an occasional non-secular song thrown in - for a little over an hour. Hutch watched their shining faces, bright and warm, and he was filled with wonder at a world where something this good existed just a few miles from where his job showed him such horrors.

    As people headed for the exits, their chattering could be heard but particular words or comments were indistinguishable. Rachel took her place between the two men, an affectionate arm around each waist. The church's pastor stood nearby, shaking hands and offering warm wishes to everyone. Rachel and Starsky greeted him and wished him a Merry Christmas. When Hutch shook the congenial man's hand, there was an electricity there that shocked him; the minister smiled at his expression. "Merry Christmas, son. I live in the house next door if you ever want to talk about anything." The crowd was pushing from behind and before long he was out of the Reverend's reach. How could he tell, just by looking at me, that I need to talk about this with him. Maybe it's not too late to find some of what I've lost.

    The trio waited until they were outside to try to talk, and the first comment, as usual, came from Starsky. "Well, partner. You call this 'euphoric sentimentalism' and 'commercialism'?"

    "No, Starsk. I have to admit, that was really nice." He brought his arm around Starsky's mother's shoulders, squeezing a one-handed hug. "Thanks a lot for asking me to come along!"

    "Well, we couldn't have you staying home by yourself on Christmas Eve!"

    "Well, I don't know about you, partner," Starsky interjected, "but I'm really starving! Think that ham's ready back at your place?" He looked at his watch and seemed to nod in satisfaction that the time was right.

    "It should be just perfect now." They headed for the Torino, all once again climbing into the front seat. "We should've brought my car," Hutch said at the cramped space.

    "My car may be smaller, but at least it's not a rolling deathtrap. I wouldn't be any kind of son if I let my mother ride in a dangerous car!"

    "My car is not dangerous!" There was silence for a moment as both men looked defensively at each other. Simultaneously, Starsky and Hutch both broke into a grin. "C'mon, let's get home."


    As the car rolled up in front of the Venice apartment, the vehicle's occupants couldn't see the scurrying taking place within. Starsky climbed out from behind the wheel, looking to the drape-covered window one story up. Sure hope they got up there okay!

    The trio climbed the stairs, Hutch in the lead and Starsky and his mother, arm in arm, stepping up behind him. The key over the door let Hutch into the apartment, and as he stepped through the door he immediately noticed two things about his apartment. Firstly, all the plants from the greenhouse area had been brought inside and were spread around, complimenting the large Christmas tree someone had erected in one corner. The second was that all the food which had been in the oven when they left for the show, was laid out elaborately on the table. Ham, pineapple, and scalloped potatoes all sat smoking in the center, grouped around two large candlesticks that flickered with firelight. As he walked to the table, he noticed some items had been added to his menu: a large bowl of acorn squash, another bowl of unshelled nuts, and two mincemeat pies. He remembered warmly the mince pies his mom used to make.

    "Starsky, how did you arrange all this? However you did it, thank you. It's real, real nice."

    "What makes you think I did this, partner?" Starsky was having a hard time not letting on that he really hadn't had a part in the preparation of the tree or the food, although he had a good idea who did; the entirety of his gift to Hutch was waiting in the greenhouse. Rachel smiled warmly at Hutch as Starsky strolled casually toward the rear wall of the apartment. With the apartment lit solely by candlelight, the blond hadn't noticed that the wall, which usually presented him with the relaxing view of his indoor garden, was covered with two large sheets, tacked at the top to completely block the windows' view. Rachel snuck up behind her son and flicked the light switch, raising the illumination level inside the apartment so Hutch could see the obstructions.

    Starsky made a great show of it, approaching the sheets with great flourish. "I wanted to get you just the right present this year, partner. So this is what I've come up with!" He pulled down the sheets to reveal a dramatically altered greenhouse. The windows, Hutch realized, weren't giving him the view they should, as they were solidly fogged over, reducing the images inside to mere shadows.

    "What the hell did you do?" Hutch asked his partner cautiously.

    Starsky gestured toward the door. "See for yourself, buddy." Hutch approached slowly and turned the knob to push the door open. There was more resistance than there normally would have been, but Hutch didn't truly understand it until he saw the cause: the door he was pushing was, in turn, pushing ten to twelve inches of light, fluffy snow out of the door's path. Stunned, Hutch took one, two, three steps into the greenhouse, feeling the chill in the air. He stood there amazed for a few moments, then bent down to touch the snow that was half way up to his knees.

    "I thought you deserved a real 'homey' Christmas this year," Starsky admitted fondly, "and for you, home means a white Christmas!"

    "But how did you..." Hutch stood straight again, gently holding a handful of snow and watching as it began to melt and drip off his hand.

    "I had a little help from some experts in movie magic." Both men's gazes went to one corner of the greenhouse which contained a small cooling unit that had brought the temperature of the room down below freezing level. Another corner was occupied by a snow-making machine. "Well, partner?...What do you think?"

    Hutch turned to his best friend, a broad smile suddenly creasing the features. Until that moment, Starsky didn't realize how absent that smile had been lately, and was thrilled to see it now. "Starsk, I love it! It's probably the best present I've ever gotten! Thank you!" Rachel, who had been allowing the pair a few moments alone, finally stepped out to join them.

    "But I'm not done yet. I still have one Christmas present left to give you." Starsky motioned to another corner, to a large snowman that had been built there.

    "A snowman, Starsk? Is this supposed to remind me of when I was a kid?"

    "Well, of course, Ken." The voice, Hutch realized, was not Starsky's. It was much too gentle, too feminine, too soft, and it had emanated from the snowman. How did he manage to make a snowman talk? More movie magic? His wondering ended, though, a fraction of a second later when, dressed in winter coats and boots, two figures rose from their hiding places behind Frosty. Hutch's knees became weak and he found himself ungracefully plopped in the snow as the sight of his parents sank in. Donald and Janice Hutchinson ran to their son.

    "Oh, honey, are you all right?" Janice asked, concerned. Hutch looked up from his unflattering position in the snow, aware that it was melting through every stitch of his clothing but only paying attention to the two faces bending over him. He smiled shyly, for a moment a small boy once again.

    "I'm fine, mom. You just surprised me."

    Donald Hutchinson, still in rugged good health despite his 60 or so years, grabbed his son by the arms and at once pulled him up and into a strong bear hug. "We've missed you, son!" he said into Hutch's ear, and Janice added her agreement, wrapping her arms around both her men.

    Starsky and his mother stood arm in arm, sentimentally watching the reunion. And as the old saying goes, there wasn't a dry eye in the place. After what seemed like an eternity, the family broke up its group hug with Hutch dragging an already wet sleeve across his eyes.

    "Did Kathy come too?" Hutch asked, referring to his sister.

    "I'm afraid she couldn't make it, so I had to settle for a stand in." Starsky motioned to the snowman again, where Huggy came out of his hiding place.

    "It was nice," Janice said, smiling at Huggy, " to finally meet one of your other friends. Now we've got a second place to go when we want to check up on you!"

    "Oh, Mom!" Hutch blushed, and his parents put their arms around their son again.

    The sentimental moment ended abruptly, though, when a snowball flew through the air, hitting Hutch directly on the side of the head. Starsky smiled guiltily and an energetic snowball war ensued, finally broken up by a calling voice.

    "Come on, everyone," Hutch's mom called, "let's eat before the food gets cold."

    "Starsk, how could you possibly have planned all of this?" Hutch asked, incredulous. "The snow, my parents, this dinner, the was too much!"

    "Hutch, I'm not responsible for the decorations or the dinner," Starsky admitted. "Your parents and Huggy must've done that, because I didn't know about it until you did!"

    "Okay, but how did you manage the snow? It's incredible!"

    Huggy smiled as he threw an arm around Starsky's shoulders. "It's amazing what you can do with a little help from Universal Studios and a cousin who works there, huh?"

    "In case that wasn't obvious enough for ya," Starsky told Hutch, "Huggy talked to his cousin at Universal and got them to rent me the equipment."

    Everyone went into the apartment and introductions were made between Hutch's parents and Starsky's mom. There seemed to be an instant rapport, almost like there had been between Starsky and Hutch themselves.

    "It's so nice to finally meet you," Rachel told them both. "Dave's been writing and calling me about Ken for so long, it's almost like we're all one big extended family!"

    "We've heard a lot about Dave, too. And even some about you from time to time. And, of course, we talked on the phone with him. He's such a sweet boy!" Janice patted Starsky's cheek affectionately.

    "You don't know him very well," Hutch commented, smiling devilishly, as they all sat down at the table.


    They wished the meal could go on forever, delicious mouthfuls coordinated with discussion. Huggy excused himself before dessert, explaining that he had other friends he wanted to visit. All the family called good-byes as he left the apartment, then went back to their meal. Finally, Starsky sat back, stuffed to full capacity and the last to finish. "I think we've eaten just about as much of this as we can," Hutch commented. Rachel and Janice simultaneously stood and began reaching for the partially full serving dishes.

    "Don't you dare!" Hutch threatened, and both women froze. "This is my home and you both are here at Starsky's and my requests. We'll do the dishes. Why don't the three of you take your cocoa and go into the living room? Enjoy yourselves, and we'll be in as soon as we're done."

    "If you insist, dear," Rachel agreed, looking at her son and seeing his agreeing nod. "Shall we?" She motioned toward the couch and chairs in the center of the apartment. The three parents adjourned, laughing as they talked.

    Hutch retrieved some Tupperware from a cupboard and began packing up the leftovers, while Starsky, in up to his elbows with his sleeves pushed up even further, washed the dishes. When the food was put away and in the refrigerator, Hutch took a dishtowel from a drawer and began to dry as Starsky washed.

    While the "boys" cleaned up the kitchen, their parents were having an entertaining time in the living room. They discussed everything, mostly about their sons. Topics began at birth and spanned everything, moving from diapers to toddling to toilet training to kindergarten.

    Just as the officers were completing kitchen duty, someone in the livingroom must have said something particularly funny because all three of the couch's occupants laughed loudly. Starsky took the towel from Hutch's hands to dry his own, and both men stood side by side to watch their parents. Hutch draped an affectionate arm over his partner's shoulders. "Aren't they incredible?! They came all this way, just to be with us on Christmas!"

    "And it sure didn't take much coaxing, at least on my part."

    "Mine, either. When I called your mother, she was so excited! I think she told half the neighborhood while I was still on the line!"

    "Yeah, they sure are amazing!"

    They headed for the living room with Janice, Rachel, and Donald still laughing heartily. "What's so funny, guys?" Starsky asked.

    "Oh, just another story from your childhood," Rachel replied, smiling as only mothers can while they're embarrassing their sons.

    "Oh, no! You're not boring them with those old stories, are you?"

    "I assure you," Janice broke in, "the story was most certainly not boring!"

    Starsky and Hutch sat down in overstuffed chairs at opposite ends of the coffee table. Hutch thought how thorough Starsky had been. There was usually only one chair in his living room, but the brunet had brought in a second, realizing they'd need extra space. Wonder why I didn't notice the extra chair when I first got home?

    The pair continued to listen to their parents exchange stories, picking up pretty much where they'd left off. They had covered a lot of territory. Dates and dented fenders and high school sports stories were exchanged, usually causing the subject of the story to blush uncontrollably.

    Starsky listened for some time, only occasionally interrupting to deny a certain fact or to kid Hutch about one he was trying to deny. Then, as he watched the people gathered there, he suddenly snapped his fingers as he had an idea. "That's it!" He jumped up and ran out the apartment door, leaving the four remaining people to stare at each other in confusion.

    "Now what is that boy up to?" Starsky's mother questioned. But the puzzlement wasn't to last long, as Starsky ran back in the apartment a moment later, this time carrying a square black case.

    "Starsk, what's going on?" Hutch asked his partner for the umpteenth time that evening.

    "I just figured it was the perfect time for a 'family' photo. I mean, Mom, your always telling me how Hutch is like my brother, right? Well, don't you think it's right to have a picture taken together?"

    "Dave," Hutch's mom said, "you're absolutely right. And so is your mother about the two of you."

    Starsky set up the camera and Rachel and Janice checked their makeup and hair. "You both look beautiful," Hutch's dad said, covering each woman's mirror with his hands. The three sat straight on the couch and Hutch took his place standing behind the sofa.

    "Can you get everyone in, son?"

    "No problem, Mom. Everybody ready?" Starsky prepared to turn on the timer and rush to his place, also behind the sofa.

    "WAIT!" Rachel suddenly shouted, louder than she had intended, and Starsky yanked his hand back from the camera as if burned.

    "What'sa matter, Mom?"

    "There's something missing from this photo. But I can correct it. Just give me a second." Starsky's mom rose and walked to the tree, under which she'd laid her large handbag. From its interior she pulled a flat, rectangular object and carried it back to the couch with her. It was a hand-carved picture frame, and as Starsky checked his focus again now that she was back in the picture, she turned the frame around on her lap. The amateur photographer suddenly forgot all about the camera, his attention grabbed and riveted on the sixth person now added to their family photograph.

    "Aw, Mom. You're perfect!" He came from behind the camera to gently kiss his mother on the cheek, then laid a reverent hand on the face in the picture. "Merry Christmas, Dad."

    Starsky was frozen for a moment, and Hutch knew him well enough to know when to bring him out of it. "Hey, partner. Are we gonna take this picture or not?"

    Starsky's attention returned to the here and now. "You got it, buddy!" He ran to the camera, set the timer, and raced back to his place. "Everybody smile!" And everyone, of course, did.

    The flash blinded them all, but nobody seemed to mind. The camera was put back in its case - this was one picture Starsky was certain he didn't want lost. Starsky and Hutch sat in their chairs again as the conversation once again flowed between the out-of-state guests.

    "Ken," Janice addressed her son, "can I ask a favor of you for Christmas?" She blanched, believing she was about to get an argument.

    "Sure, Mom! I'll give you anything you want!"

    "Would you go to Christmas services tomorrow morning with us?" Donald asked. "It really would mean a lot to us."

    "For the first time in a long time, I think I'd enjoy that," Hutch admitted. Starsky's gift of pure love and spending the wondrous evening with people he loved had accomplished what he'd been unable to by himself: rejuvenated his faith in the world in general and humans in particular. Not everyone was selfish, greedy, and hurtful like those they so often encountered in their jobs. There were still those who were kind, gentle, and loving.

    Janice smiled warmly at her son. "Thank you." The magic of the holiday season were in full force here, she realized. She turned to Starsky and Rachel. "I know that you're not Lutheran, but you're welcome to come along too. I checked the phone book and called them. They have a service at noon, so we don't even have to worry about getting up early."

    Mother and son looked at each other, and Rachel nodded her head. "We'd love to," Starsky answered Hutch's mother. "Thank you for inviting us."

    They continued to talk into the wee hours of the morning, enjoying the company and not paying attention to the clock.

    "Oh, my gosh!" Donald exclaimed, finally noticing the time. "It's four a.m.! The three parents stopped the conversation and realized that it had been some time since they'd heard a comment from their sons. A closer examination, though, revealed that both men, looking like little boys, were asleep in their chairs.

    "Oh, how sweet! Do you think we should wake them, Janice?" Rachel questioned.

    "No, let them sleep," Janice answered. She walked to the closet and found two woolen blankets, and each mother covered her sleeping child and kissed him on the forehead. Then they looked into each other's eyes and switched places, also kissing their son's partner.

    Starsky's mom thought for a second. "How about this for an idea? Did you two come here directly from the airport?" Hutch's parents both nodded yes. "Are your bags here?"

    "Sure, they're over there," Donald pointed.

    "Perfect. You two, go get some sleep in your son's room, and I'll sleep on the couch. That way we'll all be together again on Christmas morning."

    "No," Janice said, "we couldn't leave you to sleep on the couch!"

    "Oh, don't worry! There're lots more blankets in the closet, and believe me, with Dave as a son, I've had to sleep in a lot less comfortable places!"

    "What do you mean by that?" Donald asked, smiling.

    "I'll tell you that story sometime!" Rachel shooed the couple, with their luggage, into Hutch's room and shut the door. Out of her bottomless handbag she retrieved a floor-length flannel nightgown and stepped quietly into the bathroom to change her clothes.

    Gentle peace blanketed the apartment as the last of the group fell soundly asleep, each knowing that this would be a Christmas they'd never forget.

The End