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Charlotte Frost


    There are certain things in life that are universal wrongs. They just are. And everybody knows it, so the reason those things are wrong don't hafta be explained. Like cold-blooded murder. Like having sex with your own kid. Like butting your nose in where it doesn't belong.

    See, there's no reason for people to get concerned about things that don't involve them. Especially when they don't know the facts. Especially when they don't know what they're talkin' about. Especially when, given all of that, they expect you to take them seriously.

    I lost a good friend because of it. Someone who was starting to become special. But some things just can't be forgiven. Some things can't even be considered for forgiveness. Some things are just downright wrong and nothing that's said can ever make 'em okay again.

    It was one gorgeous Sunday last May that the four of us were having such a great time. Hutch and Wendy, me and Laura. It was a great spring day, barely a breeze, and we were all out basking in the sun at Little Ridge Park. It wasn't too crowded, because most people were out at the beach, so we were able to have some privacy an' all.

    We started out tossing a Frisbee back and forth, but then Hutch wanted to relax, Wendy wasn't arguing, and I wanted to keep stretching my legs. So, Laura and I went for a walk.

    I gotta tell you something about Laura. I'd been seeing her a while. It wasn't anything like with Terry, but then, I don't expect anything to ever be like that again. But Laura was more than just a girl. I liked being with her. We'd started dating a coupla months back, and we were seeing each other at least once a week. She didn't have Terry's class, but then neither did I. But Laura was solid, levelheaded, didn't get moody like a lotta girls. She was easy-going, but secure in who she was. She didn't try to change to please me, and she didn't try to change me. There's not a lot of women you can say that about.

    So, we walked for a while, holding hands, and didn't really talk much. Sometimes, on walks, girls like to try to force you to say romantic things. But Laura was pretty good about just enjoyin' the day. She didn't worry a lot about if I wasn't talkin' to her did it mean I was ignoring her. She knew I wasn't. You can't say that about a lotta girls. Most girls who have a brain in their head like to try to complicate things that don't need complicatin'. Not Laura. She was the right balance between simplicity and seriousness.

    We did a full circle of the park -- took over half an hour -- and when we got back, Hutch and Wendy were making out on the blanket.

    Now, I gotta tell you something about the sight of them. Wendy is blonde like Hutch is. And I like blondes. Of course, I always feel funny sayin' that, because whenever I do, the person I'm speakin' to always looks at Hutch, like they're thinking of course, like me liking blondes and Hutch being blond has anything to do with each other. I mean, when I joined the police force, I didn't walk into my superiors' office and say, "Hey, I gotta have a blond for a partner." Like I could order Hutch out of a catalog or somethin'. The color of Hutch's hair doesn't having anything to do with how I feel about 'im. I mean, Hutch could be downright ugly and he would still be just as important to me. Hutch is... well, Hutch.

    But with women, I gotta admit, it's different. If that makes me a chauvinist, then I'm a chauvinist.

    Laura has brunette hair -- so dark it's almost black -- so that should tell you I'm not close-minded about these things. Once I get to know a girl, and like her, I sorta forget her hair color. But when I first meet her....

    Hutch prefers blondes, too. Of course, he goes from one to the other. If you gotta know the truth, I sort of feel sorry for him, because he can't stay with any of them for very long. But that's another subject altogether.

    So, Laura and me come back from our walk and there's Hutch and Wendy, still with their clothes on, except for their bare feet, but rubbing against each other and kissing as though they'd never been born with lungs that needed air. Wendy was on top, and Hutch's hand was all in her hair, and her hands were rubbing his shoulders....

    I gotta tell you somethin' about the two of them. With their lips locked together like that, you could hardly see their faces. All you could see was that blond hair. All over the place. The sun glinting off it....

    There's beauty and then there's beauty. So, as Laura and I came closer, I made sure I slowed down so it would take us longer to get to them. It's hard to turn away from a sight like that. It's like being given a special treat. Like they were doin' their own thing, but they were sharing the beauty of it with anyone who wanted to watch.

    Of course, if it'd gone much further, I would have taken Laura's hand and headed elsewhere. There's a certain point where beauty isn't so attractive anymore. I mean, some things were made to be experienced, not witnessed. I love doin' it, but watching someone else... well, there's not a lot to be said about watching a coupla bodies -- even gorgeous bodies -- goin' at it.

    But Laura and I weren't going to have to worry about it that day. Hutch swung Wendy over so he was on top, then looked up and saw us coming. He didn't seem annoyed or anything that they'd been interrupted. He can enjoy just sort of simmerin', like I can. I'm not sure the same can be said for Wendy. After Hutch sat up, she did, too, but when she pushed all that blonde hair away from her face, her mouth was kind of tight, like she was trying not to say something. And I knew she wouldn't. Remember what I said about girls who change themselves to please their men?

    But Hutch seemed all relaxed and happy and he looked up at us and said, "You two been walking this whole time?"

    His lips looked all kiss-swollen, and I smiled knowingly at him, while Laura said something like, "Yeah, this is a great day. There's ducks out on the lake and not too many people. It's great."

    Wendy was still keeping her mouth shut, and Hutch just sort of glanced at Laura like he was trying to be polite by acknowledging that she'd said something. I mean, I think he liked her all right. He was always polite to her, but he really didn't say much to me about her, and I always kinda had the feeling that he didn't respect her a whole lot. I'm not sure why, but it was never an issue. I know he was happy to see me dating someone steady, because he knew it made me happy.

    Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, going any place for recreational purposes always has one activity that everything else revolves around: food. So I saw no reason to be shy -- and anyways it was almost noon -- so I said, "When are we gonna eat?"

    "Anytime you want, birdbrain." Hutch sort of waved toward the parking lot in the distance. "Why don't you get the food?"

    I trotted off, pulling Laura with me, glad that we were finally going to be able to delve into the feast that we'd prepared earlier that morning. Well, really, it was Laura and Wendy who'd prepared it -- fried chicken and potato salad and sandwiches and cheesecake and all that. Actually, it was mostly Laura who prepared it. I don't think Wendy could cook very well. I don't know if Hutch ever dates anyone who knows how to cook very well. Which is okay, for him. He knows how.

    Looking back, I suppose I shoulda been payin' a little more attention. But I wasn't. When Laura and I reached the car, I gave her one end of the cooler, took the other, and we walked quickly back toward the blanket. If I'd been paying more attention to her instead of the food, I might have realized that she was kinda ticked. But, anyway, Laura may not have had Terry's class, but she had some class. She knows when it's okay to get angry and when it's okay not to. And being with friends, tryin' to have a good time, is not an okay time to get angry. So she didn't say anything.

    By the time we were sitting on the blanket, and laying everything out, Wendy didn't seem to be pouting anymore. She and Hutch were delving into the cooler as eagerly as I was. Before long, we had the food all spread out. So, we sat there and ate like pigs for the next twenty minutes. Then we all sorta plopped down. There wasn't enough room for all of us on the blanket, but I didn't mind stretching out on the grass, soaking up the sun. Laura eventually laid against my hip, snuggling against me like people do when they're in love. It made me feel real good, havin' her so close.

    Wendy and Hutch got a little silly and threw pickle relish at each other, but they settled down pretty quick. Then they shared a last sandwich -- trading off bites, looking into each other's eyes. I always wondered what Hutch thought about at romantic times like that. Surely he knew as well as I did that Wendy's time as his companion was limited. Like I said before, he just never hangs onto them for very long.

    We all sort of talked about nothing in particular while we waited for the food to digest, pointing out shapes in the clouds, talkin' about dreams of being rich and never having to work again; sort of kidded each other about this and that.

    I guess somewhere along the line Hutch called me "dirtball". To be honest, I don't remember him doin' it. But I guess I would have tried to pay attention if I'd known it was going to have such godawful consequences later on.

    Hutch and I went to the little boys' room while the girls cleaned up. Then we all played more Frisbee, then kicked a soccer ball around a while. We got serious about drinking beer after that. Then Hutch dozed off and Wendy laid on top of him and tried dozing, too. I kinda got the feeling she was waiting for him to wake up so they could finish what they'd started before lunch.

    I felt like I'd gotten what I wanted out of the day, and when I asked Laura if she was ready to leave, she nodded as though she'd been waiting for me to call it quits. Since the cooler was mine, we took the leftovers and left the last couple of beers with the two dozing blonds. (Except I don' t think Wendy was really asleep.)

    Laura and I had a quiet ride back to the apartment. I yawned out loud a few times and was looking forward to a nap. Since she wasn't saying much I figured she felt the same way.

    When we were back at the apartment, she took charge of cleaning out the cooler. I sat on the couch and looked at the TV Guide to see if there was any sports event I wanted to watch, but nothing looked interestin'. I was waiting for her to get done in the kitchen so we could hit the sack, maybe sleep and then grab some late afternoon delight.

    But when Laura was done in the kitchen, she walked into the living room, drying her hands with a dishtowel. She had a look in her eye, and was standing all firm and important-like, and I knew I wasn't gonna like whatever she was gonna say. I had no idea what she was going to say, and if I'd been given a thousand guesses, I still wouldn't have gotten it right.

    Her tone was real short. "Why do you put up with him?"

    You gotta understand, I was a man ready for some serious napping. So I was kinda slow on the uptake. "Huh?"

    "Why do you let him treat you like that?"

    "Treat me like what?" Even as I asked, I wasn't real sure who 'he' was, even though, if I'd taken the time to think it through, it would have been obvious, considering there was only one other 'he' we'd seen all day.

    She was all flustered, like I wasn't takin' her serious enough. "My goodness, David, he treats you like dirt. He even called you 'dirtball'!"

    Like I said, Laura had a lot going for her. But she was still of the female persuasion. And sometimes when a woman gets her mind on something, she gets into a fixation where whatever she's thinkin' is the absolute, only thought that exists in the world. Women just can't think very clearly when they get like that, but they expect men to follow right along with their line of reasoning and automatically give it the same amount of importance.

    I tried to blink away the sleep in my brain, and I asked a stupid question to give myself a chance to figure out what she was talkin' about. "Who treats me like dirt?"

    "HUTCH!" Now she put a hand on her hip and she got all sarcastic. "You know, that partner of yours. Your beloved blood brother and all that shit. He walks all over you. How long are going to keep putting up with it?"

    A woman getting all bent out of shape over nothin' is one thing. Picking on a man's partner is something else altogether. It has its own set of rules. And the rules are that there aren't any rules. It just isn't done.

    I was wide awake now, kneeling on the sofa. "What the hell are you talking about?" I didn't realize how loud I'd spoken until she flinched.

    But she got over it fast and jutted her chin back out. "How can you be so blind?" she snarled, like I was stupid or something. Then she started counting on her fingers. "He calls you names, bosses you around, plays mean jokes on you." Her hands dropped. "When are you going to wake up and realize he's a jerk? When are you going to grow up and get rid of him?"

    There really is such a thing as "blind fury". I've experienced it before...almost always because Hutch was somehow threatened. I guess that was the case here, even though nothing Laura said could ever, ever hurt him. I'd make damn sure of that. But next thing I knew, I was standing almost right in front of her. I felt like I was breathing fire, though I wasn't yelling. My voice gets real low when I'm livid. "What the hell are you talking about, goddamnit? Hutch means more to me than anybody."

    I've got to hand it to her, she didn't let herself get too intimidated. She was flustered, but she stood her ground. "Why, David? If he means so godawful much, then why doesn't he treat you with some respect? Why can't you tell him to go stuff it, for once?"

    There weren't words to explain the answers to those questions. It'd take a whole book the size of War and Peace to explain about Hutch and me... or just to explain about Hutch.

    But what I couldn't forgive was that I was being expected to explain at all, that someone would see something "wrong" with the way we were together. She was taking something beautiful -- the most beautiful thing I'd ever known -- and trying to make it ugly.

    Like it was any of her damn business.

    It wasn't that I held it against her for not liking Hutch. I guess, all along, I'd known she didn't like him. But I'd never hold that against anyone, because people who feel that way have plenty of company. I mean, there's a line for people who don't like Hutch. His parents stand at the front of it.

    Laura seemed to think that since I wasn't sayin' anything that it was okay for her to keep talking. "Just this afternoon," she scoffed, "he called you 'birdbrain' and 'dirtball'. And he ordered you to go get the food. Why couldn't he have gotten off his own lazy ass and gotten the food? Or at least helped. And he seemed to think it was funny that there wasn't any room for you on the blanket." Now her eyes squinted. "You're ten times the man he is. It's stupid of you to let him treat you like that."

    Next thing I knew I was shouting, out of control. "Treat me like WHAT? Have you ever taken a bullet? Have you ever watched your life slip away, hour by hour? Have you ever puked your guts out because you saw somebody's face after it's been blown away at point-blank range? Have you ever cried your eyes out because you lost someone special and important to you? Have you ever...."

    I stopped then. She was shrinking back, shaking her head, like she didn't understand what the things I was sayin' had to do with anything.

    I took a deep breath, trying to explain, though I knew, for us, it wasn't gonna matter. I softened my voice, but it was gruff at the back of my throat. "Then you don't know, do you? You don't know what it's like to be hurt, afraid, and bleeding, and having the most tender hands in the world, the softest voice, the kindest manner, keeping you patched up, comforted, alive, until you can get help. You don't know what it's like when every heartbeat takes away another second of your life, and you're counting down the hours until the end, and you've got one solid person, holding you close, sharing the fear, sharing the pain, and doing the impossible -- finding the solution -- so you can stay alive. You don't know what it's like to have your stomach turn inside out, and have someone there holding your head, holding you close, while you vomit all over the sidewalk. You don't know what's it like to have someone hold you and hold you, and cry with you, when you've had your heart ripped out of your chest because you've lost someone precious to you. You don't know what it's like to be walking down a dark alley, hunting a murderer, scared out of your wits, and knowing that there's a solid wall of trust at your back." My throat was closing up, for I still had something more to say. And it came from such a deep place that my voice trembled as I said it. "You don't know nothin' about Hutch and me. And you ain't gonna ever know."

    She seemed meek then, vulnerable, as though she realized she stepped upon a sacred place where she didn't belong.

    I knew she was going to apologize, and I couldn’t stand it. I spun around, turning my back. "Get out."

    "What?" I could feel the shock. She sounded so frail.

    I admit, for an instant, I wanted to take it all back, pretend we'd never had this argument.

    "David, I'm sorry." I felt her hand on my back.

    I spun around again. "GET OUT!"

    She flinched, shook her head in disbelief. Then laughed nervously. "Come on, I'm sorry. Hey...." She reached for my face.

    But everything we'd had these past weeks was ugly now. Soiled beyond repair. I pointed to the door. "GO!"

    "All right," she said angrily, throwing her head up, like it was her idea. She grabbed her things and left, wearing a pitiful frown.

    Of course, it was hell getting through the rest of the day. She called later in the evening, tryin' to act like everything was normal, and I told her I'd have her stuff sitting out on the porch the following day. Then she got mad and told me I was an asshole and a bastard. Considering some of the things she called Hutch, I figured I was in pretty good company.

    See, you just don't go poking your nose where it doesn't belong. In a way, I guess, I could sorta see what she meant... I mean, how it would seem to someone else the way Hutch and me relate to each other. Sure, Hutch calls me names and gets sort of bossy and always has to have the last word. But that's just Hutch being Hutch, behaving the way he needs to behave to get through this thing called life. I don't know why I should have to explain to Laura or anyone else that I let Hutch do all of that because... well, hell, because it's what he needs. What kind of partner would I be if I didn't give 'im what he needs?

    The next day, I was still feeling pretty wrung out about what had happened, so I was kinda quiet during our patrol. After a time, Hutch asked me, "What's wrong?"

    I shrugged and kept staring out the window. "Laura and I had a big fight."

    Through the corner of my eye, I could see that gentle smile of his. "Hey, but the making up will be fun, huh?"

    I really didn't want to talk about it, so I made sure my voice was firm. "There ain't gonna be any making up."

    His mouth sort of dropped open, and I knew he thought of a whole bunch of questions right then. But he was a real pal and didn't ask.

    After a long silence, he sort of sighed and touched my arm. "I'm sorry, buddy. You really liked her."

    "Yeah. I did."

    He glanced at me once more. "You sure there won't be any patching it up?"

    "No. There won't be any patching it up."

    He was looking out the window, too. Gently, he said, "Some things are just unforgivable, huh?"

    I felt myself smile. "You got that right."

    And then we talked about the weather.


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