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"Oh, you guys, that's awful," Annette said when Starsky finished explaining the crisis in their lives that had developed the past week.
Hutch was grilling burgers and hot dogs. Starsky had handed out drinks to their guests - Huggy, and the two middle-aged sisters from next door, Toni and Annette. All but Hutch were sitting in lawn chairs in a semi-circle next to the patio. The dogs moved from chair to chair, seeing who they could bribe into feeding or petting them by using a sad-eyed approach. Huggy shook his head. "Unbelievable." He snorted into his beer bottle. "And you're supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in this country."
Toni was munching on a handful of chips. "What are you planning to do?"
Starsky sighed. "There's a game tomorrow. I'm going to pass out a flyer inviting all the parents here Tuesday evening. I figure, for starters, that it'll be good for them to see that I live in an ordinary house just like anyone else. You know, that there's not whips and chains and things like that all over."
Annette looked at their cook. "Is Hutch going to be there for the meeting, too?"
Hutch looked up, while turning over a burger, causing a harsh sizzling noise. "I want to be."
Starsky sighed again, for he and Hutch had already been through this. "I don't want him there. I've got to stand up to them on my own. Can't have them thinking I'm some sort of woosie fairy who needs my big strong lover at my side."
"Yeah," Toni said, "but it might show how 'together' you are, if Hutch is there."
"That was my point," Hutch said quietly.
Starsky shifted. "If Hutch is there, then most of the mothers are going to be looking at him and wondering what he's doing wasting himself on someone like me. And in addition to that, they're all - mothers and fathers both - gonna be imagining Hutch and me together... doing things to each other. And they aren't going to listen to a damn word I say."
Huggy smiled wryly. "Yeah, on lonely nights, I always use the fantasy of you and Hutch together to get myself goin'."
Annette chuckled. "You're terrible."
"What are you planning to say exactly?" Toni wanted to know.
Starsky shrugged. "I haven't figured all that out yet."
Toni shook her head. "The world is so hypocritical, it's amazing. Maybe you ought to point out to them that if they automatically assume you might do something to their sons, then are they assuming that a heterosexual male coach will automatically molest their daughters?"
Hutch looked at Starsky. "She's got a point."
"Wait a minute," Annette said. "This isn't a heterosexual versus homosexual issue, is it? I saw a movie once where they pointed out that being a pedophile has nothing to do with one or the other. It's a different 'sexuality' altogether. A homosexual is no more likely to be a pedophile than a heterosexual. In fact, wasn't that coach in Pasadena a model citizen? A heterosexual and a family man and a good community member and all that?"
"Yeah," Huggy agreed.
Hutch was placing burgers and hot dogs onto a serving platter. "What gets me," he said, "is that Starsky shouldn't have to justify himself, and how we live, at all. No other coach in Little League is expected to do that. But he's going to stand up in front of those parents and prove to them that we live in a normal house, try to prove to them that there's nothing abnormal about the fact that we love each other, prove to them that his only interest in their sons is trying to help them better themselves." Having taken the last hot dog, Hutch slammed the grill cover shut with his spatula. "He shouldn't have to prove any of it."
There was silence as Hutch placed the platter on a small table with the tomatoes, onions, pickles, and other condiments. "Eat up."
As the guests got up to take a paper plate and get their food, Annette said, "You know, this problem with people having these wrong ideas about homosexuals is all circular."
Huggy cleared his throat. "Please keep in mind, Miss Annette, we all aren't college graduates."
There were a few chuckles, then Annette said, "I just mean that if most people's vision of the word 'homosexual' was a couple like Hutch and David, then they wouldn't have a problem with it."
Starsky asked, "So, what do you mean by circular?" He sat back down with his food and patted the chair beside him, hoping Hutch would sit down, too, rather than try to find reasons to keep playing the host and stay on his feet.
"If more people knew you and Hutch were homosexuals," Annette explained, "then more people would be calmer about the whole issue. But because of what people will think, you stay in the closet. And by staying in the closet, you're unintentionally perpetuating the situation, so it will continue to be necessary to stay in the closet. If everyone came out of the closet at once, then no one would ever have to stay in. The rest of society would just have to accept you, because there would be so many of you."
Hutch did sit down, biting into a burger.
Starsky thought about what Annette said. It did make him feel good to see how helpful their friends were trying to be. He was glad that they hadn't tried to call off the barbecue, though he certainly hadn't felt up to company. It was all he could do to drag himself through K-Mart earlier today to get all the supplies they needed. Though he and Hutch had gone to sleep in each other's arms last night, Starsky had felt all the more depressed when he woke up this morning.
Toni said, "Here's something you might think about. If your talk with the parents doesn't do much good, maybe you ought to offer to coach a Little League team for girls."
Starsky shifted uncomfortably, feeling his masculinity bristle.
"I mean," Toni went on, "if they're concerned that you're some faggot who wants to play with little boys, then how could they possibly object to you coaching girls? From their point of view, it should make you 'safer' than having a heterosexual man coach the girls."
Annette reminded, "But pedophilia doesn't have anything to do with hetero- or homosexuality."
"But most people don't know that," Toni insisted.
"Yeah, Starsky," Huggy teased as he got up for seconds, "you could coach a whole team of little ballerinas running all over the soccer field."
Hutch wasn't laughing, but Starsky could sense his partner's relief at the humor. He carefully cleared his throat. "Uh, no offense, ladies, but I'm afraid that I find it kinda hard to take girls' sports very seriously."
Both mouths dropped opened as the sisters' faces filled with exasperation.
"Why you - " Annette took a pickle from her burger and threw it at him, "male chauvinist!"
"Yeah," Toni said, "I can't believe you're serious."
Huggy was laughing while he put onions on his burger. "You've done it now, my man."
Starsky was surprised at the sincere outrage. He shrugged sheepishly. "It's just... you know, it's not like those little girls can ever grow up and use sports in their lives."
Noises of disbelief greeted him.
Starsky turned to Hutch. "I think I'm offending our guests."
The blond chuckled softly. "I think you are, too."
Huggy walked behind the detectives on the way back to his chair. He took off his baseball cap and slapped Hutch on the head with it. "Hey, Blondie, your bald spot has grown since I last saw you."
The sisters laughed wickedly, as though the reminder of that common male flaw was some sort of vindication for the gender offense they'd suffered.
"Thanks a lot, Huggy," Hutch said sardonically.
"Any time." Their friend sat back down in his seat and fed The General a corner of cheese from his cheeseburger.
"David, this is just what we've been talking about." Toni was calmer but her voice was intense. "Prejudice. The prejudice that you're suffering at the hands of the parents. Pardon me, but you're just as guilty if you think girls' sports are pointless."
Starsky flinched. Then, "It's just that men and women have different needs in their lives. No matter how good a baseball player or a soccer player a girl might be, it's not like she can go on to make a living at it."
Annette blinked. As though speaking to a child, she said, "David, have you ever heard of something called women's liberation?"
Hutch laughed out loud. Then he stood up. "You're on your own, partner."
Starsky didn't mind that he was being abandoned. It felt damn good to hear Hutch laugh.
"Now you're double-teamed," Huggy noted, "'cause you're not getting any help from me, either." Huggy settled more comfortably in his seat, as though relishing the fireworks.
"Look," Starsky tried to sound convincing, "it's not that women don't deserve the strides they've made, but what are they supposed to get out of learning the stuff that sports teaches? Leadership and cooperation and teamwork and all of that?"
Both sisters were trying to speak at the same time, then Toni yielded to Annette, who said, "That's exactly why women haven't gotten further than they have. Because of chauvinistic attitudes that try to keep them in the kitchen. Women do need to know about leadership and teamwork and cooperation. Especially leadership, if they're going to survive in a man's world. And where are women supposed to learn that? The schools sure as hell aren't teaching it. Sports is the best way."
"Girls need praise and encouragement, too," Toni put in. "It means just as much - if not more - to little girls than to little boys to have an adult they like and respect tell them that they're doing a good job. Show them how to have enough confidence in themselves to swing a bat, or kick a ball. And you were talking about showing affection - girls probably need that more than anything. Because the only time girls get affection is when someone is focused on the fact that they're girls. They don't get loved just for being a person. They only get praise for being sex objects; but even then, it's a contradiction, because while men are admiring the fact that they're sex objects, their mothers are telling them what little tramps they are for being so attractive to men. On one hand, you're supposed to be desirable; but on the other, you're a tramp for being desirable."
Annette rolled her eyes. "Toni, don't get into all of this."
"All right, sorry," Toni said contritely.
Annette sighed. "Society's attitudes aren't David's fault."
Starsky wiped his forehead. "Phew. For a moment there, I was starting to feel like I was singularly responsible for women burning their bras."
Hutch was chuckling, too, while cleaning up the grill. He said, "There's store-bought cheesecake for dessert, if anybody's interested."
Toni was silent for a moment, then she leaned forward. "What I'm really trying to say is that you always hear about how somebody's childhood got screwed because of some stupid little innocent remark that their parents made to them that had all sorts of negative consequences for the child. But it works the other way, too. Sometimes just the smallest little thing can have the greatest, most positive impact on a child's life."
Starsky was thoughtful. Almost like what Hutch was saying last night about appreciating how much I showed I loved him while he was going through the most horrible pain of his life. I had no idea that it had meant so much.
Girlfriend put her front paws on Starsky's leg, wagging her tail hopefully.
"There's my little princess," Starsky said, lifting her up and placing her in his lap. "See?" he pointed out to everybody as he let her roll onto her back. "Girlfriend doesn't think I'm a chauvinist." He rubbed her bare tummy. "She knows I love her for herself."
"Yeah," Annette sighed, "sometimes it seems that people treat animals a lot kinder than they treat each other."
Starsky felt a hand pat his hair, and he looked up to see Hutch standing over him.
"You get bashed enough for one day?" the blond asked with sympathy.
"Yeah," Toni said apologetically, "I guess this conversation did get sort of intense." "Our fault," Hutch soothed, his arm wrapping affectionately around Starsky's neck as he squatted behind him. "I guess we're both a little edgy. We didn't have a fun night last night."
Hutch's cheek now rested against Starsky's. They had never been very demonstrative in front of their friends; but neither had they tried to avoid showing their love. Right now it felt awfully good to feel Hutch's support. Starsky let the weight of his cheek rest against Hutch. While one hand kept petting Girlfriend, Starsky reached up with the other and held Hutch's arm.
"Yeah," Annette put in, "I can imagine it hit pretty hard. It's hit us hard. You guys deserve better."
"Thanks," Hutch said softly.
Huggy pointed out, "Everyone has prejudices. I'd never trust anyone who claimed they didn't. But the important thing is to admit them to yourself, because only then can you take steps to make sure you don't hurt anybody because of them. So, when you talk to those parents, you need to help them recognize what they feel, and then show them that they don't have to act on it."
"Huggy," Starsky sighed, "it's downright scary when you get deep."
The others laughed.
With his chin resting on Starsky's shoulder, Hutch asked, "Does anyone want any more food before I feed the dogs?"
Toni got up. "One more hot dog."
"I'll wait for dessert," her sister said.
"Cheesecake sounds good to me, too," Huggy said.
Hutch straightened, squeezing Starsky's shoulder as he did. Then he went inside the house.
"What do you think's going to happen?" Annette asked.
Starsky shrugged. "I don't know. I just know that, if any of the parents are determined to make a stink, there's nothing I can do to stop them."
"Just wait until you talk to them," Huggy assured. "People develop a whole new attitude when they have to look into the face of someone they want to condemn. I bet most of them back down real fast."
"That's been the hardest thing," Starsky said. "Being accused - even if not formally -- without being able to confront my accusers. Hutch was saying that I should have the meeting next weekend, so more of the parents should be able to come, but I can't wait that long. This thing is driving me crazy." He paused, then softly, "It's hard on Hutch, too."
"At least," Toni pointed out, "one parent cared enough to warn you."
"And I suppose," Annette said, "it's possible that nothing will come of this at all. Sometimes people like to talk, but it never goes beyond that."
Starsky had already thought about that. "I doubt it would have stayed at that level. It's too early in the summer. Those parents see each other all the time. And... see me, touching their kids." He hated the fact that some part of him still questioned if he were wrong to have done that. Of course, regardless of how the meeting with the parents came out, he'd always be careful of his actions in the future.
That was the damage that had already been done.
* * *
Todd sat staring at the carpet. He was one of many parents in the home of Coach Starsky and Mr. Hutchinson. Only, Hutchinson wasn't home. Surely, that was intentional. "I know you're all wondering why this meeting has been called," Coach Starsky began. He was pacing in front of the parents, who were sitting in the chairs arranged around the living room. "I felt it was necessary."
There was a pause, but Todd couldn't bring himself to look up. He could sense the tension in the other parents, especially Mrs. Crandall, who sat in the back, wearing her tight frown.
"Please hear me out," Starsky continued, "and don't interrupt. I promise I'll answer questions when I'm finished." Todd heard him draw a deep, deep breath. "I know we've all heard about the Little League coach in Pasadena and how he was arrested for molesting his players. Stuff like that is any parent's nightmare. Nobody wants to know that something like that could happen to their child. But, unfortunately, it does happen.
"Because of the publicity in the case, it's only natural that some of you would start wondering if it could happen to your son. I know you don't want to believe it could ever happen, but the fact that it did happen in Pasadena makes you start feeling a little nervous and ready to look for signs."
Todd heard Starsky take another deep breath. The room was otherwise completely still.
"I want to help you understand your concern for your children and how you might view other people who are around your children."
Todd sensed increasing tension in the parents.
"If you've been wondering if that blond man you see at the games, and I, share this house, it's true. His name is Kenneth Hutchinson and he's my partner. We've been detectives with the LAPD for nine years. Before that, we were in blue together. Before that, we went to the Academy together. We've made many important arrests. Most recently, we solved the case of the murder of Javier Salas, the owner of Salas TV Shop on Second and Main. We're good cops. Our arrest records are available to the public, if you don't want to take my word for it. We've been single-handedly responsible for taking a lot of slime off the streets."
Todd furrowed his brow. He'd never made the connection before, but now he remembered seeing Coach Starsky's and Hutchinson's pictures in the paper a number of years ago. He was amazed, never realizing that Danny's team was being coached by a famous policeman.
"I know a lot of you have speculations about what Hutchinson and I are to each other. What we do in our private lives is nobody's business but our own. But, still, I can understand the ignorance and prejudice that could make good parents like you wonder if a seemingly nice guy like me could hurt your children in the worst possible way."
There was a sound of paper, and Todd finally looked up. Coach Starsky was handing something out to the parents. When Todd received his copy, he saw that it was some xeroxed papers, bound together with a fat staple.
"I'm hoping what I've handed out," Starsky said after returning to the center of the room, "will help you understand about pedophiles. It's a compilation of articles and statistics, almost all from the LAPD's child abuse division. There's a lot of information in here that you might find surprising. I'm not going to read it to you, because you can read it on your own time, but I do want to point out some of the more interesting facts. If you turn to page fifteen - " there was the noise of pages turning " - you can see where it talks about how a pedophile can be either a homosexual or a heterosexual; it's not like you can point to someone on the street and know that they're a pedophile. In fact, if you recall from the newspaper articles, everyone in Pasadena was shocked at what the coach was doing. He was one of the last people anyone would have suspected."
Starsky drew another breath. "Now look on page seventeen. Here's a list of warning signs that you need to talk to your kids about. And don't think you'll be putting ideas in their heads. Eight or nine years old is not too early to talk to your kids about sex. Trust me, they already know far more about sex than most of you want to believe. And they need information to protect themselves." He shook his own copy of the handout. "Talk to them about this stuff, about what happened in Pasadena. Explain to them that they should never let anyone else touch their private parts. Make sure they understand that they should never feel too ashamed to tell an adult they trust if something ever does happen to them. And then ask them outright if anyone - including me - has ever touched them in an inappropriate manner. If they say anyone has, you need to report it to the police immediately." He flipped toward the back of the handout. "The last page has a list of important phone numbers, including that of the child abuse division of the LAPD."
Todd noticed that some of the parents were leafing through the handout; others letting it rest in their laps. He stole a glance at the faces of some of the parents who had been the most vocal against Starsky during the games, and he noticed their expressions were hard and tense.
"If you're concerned," Coach Starsky's voice now wasn't quite as strong, "that I might do something to your kids, then asking your sons about it should put your suspicions to rest. Ask them what they think of me. Tell them why you're asking. Let them decide if I'm worthy of being their coach."
A pause. Then, "If, despite everything I've said, you're still not comfortable with the idea of me coaching your sons, then ask yourself this: Would you be okay about me coaching your daughters?" Another pause. "I think the answer to that is no. Because I don't think the problem is that you really think I'd do anything to harm your sons. I think the problem is that you've made assumptions about my private life, and it makes you uncomfortable, and therefore you'd just as soon not have me involved with your children at all, sons or daughters. I don't think any of you object to what I do when I coach; you object to what you think I am." His voice grew heavier. "And that is the worst, and the most hurtful, form of prejudice. Because there's nothing I can say to enlighten you, when you've already made up your minds and closed them off."
Todd felt his stomach tighten. He would never have the courage to stand up in front of a group of people, especially those he knew to be hostile toward him, and say things like this.
The coach's voice was calmer now. "If any one of you still want to take your concerns to the Little League office, there's nothing I can do about it. If some of you want to take it to the press, there's nothing I can do about that, either. But just know that, if you do it'll cause a lot of hurt and pain." He shook his head. "Neither Detective Hutchinson or I deserve that."
Todd stood up. "He's right," he said, facing the parents who looked up at him in surprise. He felt his voice tremble. "I don't know how many of you know my son, Danny. But, I'm ashamed to admit, I haven't been the father to him that I should have been. But he's become a different person this summer, thanks to Coach Starsky. He's enjoying playing like he never has before, he has confidence in himself, he believes in himself. I never thought I'd see him like that. And it's all because Coach Starsky took the time and patience to bring out his potential." Todd shook his head. "You can't ever convince me that Danny's association with Coach Starsky is anything less than one hundred percent positive. I don't want Danny to lose such a great coach." Todd sat back down, feeling a flush come over him from having the nerve to stand up like that.
Finally, there was a softening of Coach Starsky's face, even a slight smile. "Thank you for that," he said simply. Then he scanned the sea of faces. "What about the rest of you? Do any of you have any questions about the handout or anything else I've said?"
A woman on the couch raised her hand part-way.
"Mrs. Stanford," Starsky acknowledged.
"Well," she hesitated, "I don't think any of the parents have thought you've actually done anything to their children." Her tone indicated that perhaps Starsky had gone overboard in defending himself.
He appeared thoughtful. Then, "Look, maybe that's true. But what you don't seem to understand is how much it hurts," he put his hand to his chest, "to know that anyone would even have the slightest passing thought that I might do something like that, just because the coach in Pasadena did." He indicated the handout. "Also, this is a good as place as any to dispense important information about pedophilia - information that you and your children need to know."
Todd relaxed, now that everything was out in the open. But he cringed when Mrs. Crandall's sharp voice spoke up.
"Even if you aren't a pedophile, you still might be a homosexual. We can't have somebody like that coaching in this community."
Feeling sympathy for the hardship his brother had endured all his life, Todd stood up and faced Mrs. Crandall. "Yes, he 'might be' a homosexual. I might be. You might be." He took satisfaction in the way her eyes widened at the last. "But we'll never know. And that's as it should - "
"Maybe we should ask him," she interrupted boldly.
"Then we'd better get every other Little League coach in this room and ask them the same thing." Todd paused, feeling the tension building in the room, along with his own anger. "There's no reason why Coach Starsky should be treated any differently than any of the other coaches. If we ask him, then we ask all of them. And what would be the point? Mrs. Crandall, does your husband get asked about your sex life at his job?"
She bristled, obviously considering sex with her husband to be a sensitive subject.
"Yes, he's right," another father said, as Todd sat down. "I and my wife have been hearing this talk about Coach Starsky the past couple of weeks. Frankly, I'm embarrassed that it's come to this." Apologetically, he said to the coach, "I only came because I wasn't sure what the meeting was about. If I'd known this was the subject, I would have stayed home. You're a good man - a good coach and a great policeman to the community - and I'm sorry you've been put through this."
Starsky nodded with a wry, grateful smile.
"Wait a minute," another woman said. She was sitting next to Mrs. Crandall. "I'm not going to apologize for being concerned about my son. Perverts exist everywhere, and they could have good jobs and seem like decent upstanding people. But you never know what people are really like, what'll they do." She looked at Starsky directly. "I can't prove anything. But I think you get a little too close to the boys. Always touching them. Besides which," she stood, "if my ex-husband ever got wind of any of this, there's no telling what he'd do. He hates 'faggots', as he calls them, and he'd never stand for Bruce being on a team coached by one. I'm leaving." She dropped her handout to her chair and turned toward the door.
Starsky stood squarely between her and the door. Looking her in the eye, he challenged, "So I'm guilty until proven innocent?"
She looked him up and down. "I don't know who's guilty and who's innocent. I just know I don't want to be involved, because I'm afraid of what Bruce's father will do. In fact, I'm having Bruce transferred to another team, just to be safe." She moved past him to the door.
After the door slammed shut, Starsky turned to face the parents. "Anyone else?"
Todd wanted to cringe from the embarrassment radiating from the ones remaining in the room. He knew some wanted to answer the challenge, but they might not have the courage to get up and walk out.
"My son Tommy likes you," Mrs. Ellison blurted, as though explaining why she didn't walk out, too. "He talks about you all the time. If I tried to get the Little League office to transfer him, I don't think he'd ever forgive me."
When there was silence, attention turned to Mrs. Crandall, as the other parents were waiting to see what she would say. She shifted in her chair, twisted her mouth. Then she said, "I'll keep my son on the team, but I'm going to keep an eye on the coach."
"Why?" Todd wondered out loud. "Coach Starsky has done nothing wrong. All he's done is be a good influence on our sons. Why should he be under any special scrutiny? The villain in this whole situation is the coach in Pasadena. What the coach there did isn't Mr. Starsky's fault."
"Mrs. Crandall can keep an eye on me," Starsky cut in easily. "If scrutinizing me closer will put her mind at ease... well, I'm sure I'll pass her inspection favorably." He now seemed a touch amused.
The other parents visibly relaxed. "I'm sure you will, too," said the other father who had spoken up before.
Everyone else was silent.
Starsky clapped his hands once. "That's it then. Thanks very much for coming. And for listening. And please do read over that handout. There's a lot of information there."
The gathering dispersed quickly, as the parents were also anxious for it to end. Todd stood up more slowly, trying to hang back without being obvious. He was relieved when the last parent was out the door.
Coach Starsky turned from the door to face him. "Mr. Runyan, thanks for coming. And thanks for the heads-up about all of this."
Todd nodded. "I hope this is the end of it. It's hard to know what someone like Mrs. Crandall might do. She's really been the big instigator in all of this, getting everybody else worked up."
A weary sigh. "Yeah, I can see that now. But hopefully the things I said had an impact." He brightened suddenly. "Hey, Danny's turned out to be quite a little hitter, hasn't he?"
Todd felt the pride flush through him. Danny had hit a double in the second inning on Sunday, and then followed it up with a single in the eighth. Between those tries at bat, he'd been walked a number of times, for the other team's pitcher was pretty lousy. But, for the first time, Danny hadn't struck out during a game. "Yes," he said simply, making his way to the door. "Thanks for all you've done for him."
"And thanks for all you've done for me."
Todd shrugged, feeling self-conscious.
"I mean it," Starsky insisted. "Standing up in the meeting tonight took guts. I really appreciate it."
"Yeah, well, goodnight." Awkwardly, Todd held out his hand. Starsky shook it, and then Todd walked out the door, anxious to be alone with his thoughts.
Never before had anyone ever told him that he had "guts".
* * *
Hutch was grateful that he was managing to negotiate the sidewalk in a fairly straight line as he made the last few steps home. He'd crossed the line of inebriation after downing beer after beer at Huggy's while waiting for time to pass. Starsky knew where he was, and Hutch assumed his partner would have called if the meeting had been disastrous. Still... it was impossible not to worry. And though he completely understood Starsky's reasons for wanting to talk to the parents alone, he still hadn't liked it. He had wanted to be there. He couldn't remember the last time either of them had faced a crisis alone. Maybe there hadn't been a last time.
He groggily bent to pet an excited General as he walked into the house. As usual, Girlfriend barely acknowledged him, since she had eyes only for her master, who was in the kitchen, applying paint to the spot on the wall that he'd bombarded with dishes less than a week before.
"Does this mean," Hutch greeted hopefully, "that the meeting went well?" Surely, touching up the spot was some sort of closure.
But Starsky merely shrugged. He was still bent over the spot with a brush and hadn't looked up. "Hard to say with absolute certainty."
Hutch sat heavily in a chair, feeling the effects of the booze. "How did it go?"
Starsky set the can on the counter and opened the refrigerator. "Actually, it went pretty well." He pulled out a beer. "Want one?"
Hutch waved a hand. "Already had too much."
Starsky studied him a moment. "Oh." He took a bottle for himself, then grabbed a can of peanuts from the cupboard. He sat down opposite Hutch and started munching them. "I guess it went okay, all things considered. It seemed like everyone was actually listening to me." He reminded, "They wouldn't have been that attentive if you were there."
Hutch didn't bother arguing, especially since it was a moot point now. He took a handful of peanuts, thinking it might help absorb the alcohol in his system.
"One of the parents walked out."
"Really?" Hutch asked, feeling hurt on his partner's behalf.
"Yeah. Said she was pulling her son off the team because she was afraid of what her ex-husband would say about the whole thing... you know, that the coach might be a faggot."
Hutch felt pain slice through him. "Ah, buddy...," he said sorrowfully.
But Starsky merely shrugged. "It's okay. Really it is. And, you know, considering the way group psychology works, some of the others could have then gotten up the courage to walk out behind her, but they didn't."
"Did you hand out the stuff?" Hutch wondered, anxious to change the subject. They'd put a lot of effort into getting all the copies from the child abuse division in time for the meeting.
"Yeah. I hope they read it, and talk to their kids about it."
"Was Danny's father there?"
"Yeah," Starsky replied. "He even stood up and told everyone how good I'd been for his son. And also got onto Mrs. Crandall's case when she was sayin' I should be asked outright if I was a homosexual or not. Todd speaking up like that really helped."
Hutch nodded, glad that Todd Runyan had shown up, even if he hadn't been a parent whom the meeting had been directed at.
"You know," Starsky said, looking weary, "it really is a good thing you weren't there. 'Cause you woulda made a scene when that parent walked out."
Hutch thought about that, then snorted. "Yeah, I guess I would have."
"Woulda ruined everything."
Hutch took another handful of nuts. "Thanks, partner. I love you, too."
Starsky grinned. After taking a big swig of beer, he said, "You know what I've been thinkin' about?"
Hutch shook his head.
"What a hypocrite I am."
Hutch blinked, straightening in his chair. "What do you mean?"
"I was standing up in front of those parents and talking to them about prejudice. But when I think about what Toni and Annette were saying on Saturday... well, like they said, I'm just as guilty of being narrow-minded."
Hutch wasn't sure he had the energy to battle this tonight, so he merely shrugged. "We're all narrow-minded in our own way."
Starsky was thoughtful for a long time, slowly sipping his beer. Then he said, "If I had a daughter, I wouldn't want her to be limited. I mean, I'd want her to have strong self-esteem and self-confidence and all of that. And not just because she was Daddy's girl. I'd want her to have all the tools and qualities for success for her own sake. " Long pause. "And if she played softball or soccer or something, I wouldn't want her coaches thinking of it as a joke. I'd want them to encourage her, and help her take pride in herself and her accomplishments."
"Starsk," Hutch asked, batting his eyes innocently, "is there an illegitimate young lady out there that you haven't told me about?"
Starsky thew a peanut at him.
"Ouch," Hutch flinched when it hit his nose. His reactions were far too slow to defend himself.
"Big baby," Starsky accused. He picked up a couple more and threw them.
Hutch tried to dodge them, but Starsky kept throwing larger quantities. The dogs got excited and started sniffing at the peanuts landing on the floor.
Still trying to duck the oncoming bullets, Hutch grabbed the can and tossed the remaining contents at Starsky's chest.
"Now look what you did," Starsky complained, staring at the little nuts scattered all over his shirt.
Hutch grinned. "You look good enough to eat." He wondered why he was trying to start something that he wasn't going to be able to finish.
Starsky brushed at his shirt, making the peanuts fall into his lap. "You're drunk."
Hutch shrugged. "Doesn't mean you don't look good."
"And you shouldn't have driven home in your condition." The voice was scolding, but Starsky was still brushing at his clothes.
"That's what Huggy said."
Starsky looked up. "Huh?"
Inebriation didn't keep Hutch from noticing how worn out his partner looked. "Huggy brought me home."
"Oh. He shoulda come in and said hello."
Hutch slowly shook his head. "I think he thought it best if we were alone together for awhile."
Starsky sighed, finally giving his partner his full attention. "Guess that means we gotta stop by there and pick up your car tomorrow."
"Well, I may look good enough to eat, but you're too loaded to do anything, and I'm too tired to do anything. So why don't we just put ourselves to bed?" He paused a moment, watching the dogs vacuum the floor. "They'd better not throw up from eating those."
"Hey, boy," Hutch whispered enticingly to The General, who wagged his rear at the attention from his master, "Uncle Starsky says don't throw up."
"Yeah," Starsky complained, standing up and stretching, "like he listens to anything Uncle Starsky says."
Hutch decided bed sounded like a good idea. He stood, as well, realizing his legs felt a bit wobbly, and wondering if being technically middle-aged meant he couldn't hold as much liquor as he used to.
Starsky's arms were around his waist, then his lips were kissed Hutch. "You smell like a brewery." One of his arms was pulled around Starsky's neck and, though he was capable of walking under his own power, he allowed himself to be partially carried through the house, sensing that Starsky needed to take care of him.
Without judgment, Starsky asked, "How come you felt like you had to get plastered, anyway?"
"Nothing else to do," Hutch said simply, "but... wait."
"Well," Starsky sighed as they staggered down the hall, the dogs following, "your waiting's over. And everything is fine. So, you don't have to worry any more."
When they reached the darkened bedroom, Starsky dropped him to the mattress. Hutch lay there, unbuttoning his shirt. He managed to remove his clothing, leaving his underwear. When he was finished, he watched his partner complete his own undressing, and wondered at the fuzziness he was feeling.
Starsky plopped onto his side of the bed, hugging the pillow. "Mmm, feels good," he sighed gratefully. "'Night, boys and girls," he told the dogs. The General had curled up in his basket, and Girlfriend had her usual spot on the hardwood floor, next to Starsky's side of the bed.
Hutch stretched alongside Starsky, needing to be close.
His partner apparently didn't get the message. He kissed Hutch quickly, then turned his head away. "Goodnight."
Hutch got up on an elbow. "I'm so proud of you," he said, the words coming from the very bottom of his heart.
That got his partner's attention. Slowly, Starsky turned over. "Proud? Why?"
Hutch's throat felt thick. "For not letting this come between us and destroying us. For standing up to those kids' parents. For thinking about what Toni and Annette said and being willing to change your mind."
Starsky's hand reached up and stroked gently along his cheek. "You always get mushy when you're drunk."
Hutch didn't know if that were true or not. He just knew that there was something he badly needed to get off his chest. "I - I...," he hesitated, not sure how to put his feelings into words. "I... I think... I think I'm a little bit... in love with you."
"Just a little bit?" Starsky's tone sounded very pleased. Very tender.
"I...," Hutch wondered why he was having so much trouble. The booze was supposed to loosen his tongue, not strangle it. He lowered his face closer to Starsky's, noting the outline of the eyes, nose, mouth, and cheeks in the darkness. The eyelids and forehead. The chin and ears, head full of thick, curly hair. "I... I... I think... I think I want to fall in love with you all over again. I want to be in love again. I need to be in love again." He whispered softly, "Can't help it."
Starsky's arms wrapped around his back. "Well, as long as I'm the person you fall in love with, I don't see a problem."
Hutch bent and kissed wetly along Starsky's lips. When he pulled back, he wondered, "How can other people stand not having you?" He felt pain for the neglect of all the other billions in the world.
Starsky pulled Hutch's head down to his furred chest. "Because they can't miss what they've never had, that's why." He sounded so sure of himself.
Hutch lay there as a strong, masculine hand stroked along the back of his head. He knew it felt his growing bald spot with each stroke. He was resigned to the fact that he'd probably lose all his hair by sixty-five, if not before. Some men were defensive about what nature was doing to them. Hutch felt that his eventual baldness was... accepted. He'd be loved, regardless. His still-handsome sweetheart wouldn't leave him for someone younger and more attractive. "I love you," he whispered.
A hand paused along the back of his neck. And then there was lots of shifting around. Pillows moving, mattress creaking. When it ended, his upper body was lying at an upward slope, and both arms were around him.
"You need to go to sleep," a gentle voice directed. "I'm gonna be right here holding you. And in the morning, we'll be late for work, so you can show me how much in love with me you are."
He wanted to show Starsky right now, but his liquor-laden bloodstream wouldn't cooperate. So he settled more heavily against the strong chest and closed his eyes.
After a few moments a pair of fingers tilted his chin upwards. "You know what, Hutch?"
"I'm absolutely crazy about you." And then a hot breath was against Hutch's mouth, hungry lips finding his.
"Mmm," Hutch approved, glad that Starsky hadn't been able to resist.
"Mmm, yourself," Starsky said with affection. Lips now trailed up Hutch's face, into his hair. Then a kiss of finality was left on the top of his head. "Go to sleep, you beautiful thing, you."
As Starsky's arms tightened around him, Hutch let himself drift. He wondered why this incident with the Little League parents had ever seemed like much of a crisis. He and Starsky were together. And they were in love.
Nothing could touch that. Ever.
* * *
Hutch had just put the last of the groceries away when Starsky walked in carrying a big, bulky bag that said Dairy Queen on the side. Tucked beneath his other arm was a baseball cap and the notebook he used for coaching.
"What's all this?" Hutch asked as Starsky dropped the bag onto the kitchen table, and the other items into a chair. His partner reached down to pet Girlfriend, as she was jumping up at him and wagging her tail frantically. "Obviously," Hutch said in reference to the ice cream, "you must have won."
"Not just that," Starsky said happily. "Little Danny Runyan hit a home run, bases loaded. And, you know, I've always told my players that if anyone hits a home run, everybody on the team gets treated to a banana split." He started pulling contents out of the bag and transferring it to the freezer. "Only, I forgot that a banana split is an awfully big treat for an eight-year-old stomach, so there's lots of leftovers."
Hutch blinked, watching as container after container was put in into the already-crowded freezer. "You really aren't thinking we're going to eat all those."
Starsky shrugged. "If we don't, we can give some to the dogs." He sat down and petted Girlfriend, now that she had jumped into his lap. "Any beer?"
Hutch pulled out a couple and handed him one. "Yeah, I just got back from the store." He, too, sat down, The General settling at his feet. "So, was Danny's dad there?"
"Yeah, he's always there now," Starsky replied after taking a long swallow. "And he was excited as hell. 'Course," he shrugged with a grin, "it really shouldn't have been a home run. But those little squirts on the other team had lots of errors and couldn't get to the ball as fast they should have."
Hutch laughed, imagining little boys trying their hardest to scramble after a live ball. "Guess what else happened today?" Starsky said after taking another swig.
"One of the Little League guys stopped by and was asking me if I wanted to coach football this fall."
Hutch smiled, feeling a cloud of emotion well up. It had been six weeks since the meeting with the parents, and nothing more had ever been said about Coach Starsky being a potential child molester, or about him being in a homosexual relationship. Surely, the parents talked amongst each other. And surely, some of them had even talked to their sons. But any snickers or disapproval never went beyond simple talk. "So, what did you say?"
"I said if they needed any coaches for any of the girls' teams, I'd be more interested in that."
Hutch chuckled with affection.
"He said they needed more indoor volleyball coaches for the girls, so that's probably what I'm going to end up doing."
Hutch felt that strong pride again. But he needed to ask, "Buddy, you sure this is really what you want to do? You aren't just trying to prove some point, are you?"
Starsky was introspective for a long moment. Then he said, "I've thought about it a lot. And, you know, what I really enjoy most of all about all of this is teaching. Teaching kids about themselves and about life. How to have confidence in themselves and be able to work together as a team. I'm good at it. And I don't see why I should ignore fifty percent of the population; you know, not let them have the benefit of my skills. Toni and Annette were right. Girls need that stuff, too. And more than ever now, since more doors are opening for them. I'd like to do my part in helping them walk through those doors successfully. I'll do boys' baseball again next summer."
The mushiness he'd felt in recent weeks flushed through Hutch again. He wondered if there was any chance of going to bed early. "You make me horny when you get all righteous and just."
Starsky grinned at him, scolding, "You're always horny these days."
"So? You have a problem with us violating each other on a daily basis?" Daily wasn't quite accurate, but it sounded good.
Starsky shifted in his chair in a manner which, Hutch knew, meant he was getting a hard-on. "All right, you beautiful blond thing. Go get showered up and lie on the bed, and when I've finished my beer and had something to eat and taken my own shower, I'll come in and violate you."
Hutch grinned and whispered, "Promise?"
He could tell that Starsky was trying not to laugh. "Promise."
By the time Hutch was in the shower, he heard the microwave going. That meant Starsky was just heating something up to scarf down. He was glad that Starsky wasn't going to take too long. When he came out of the bathroom, he toweled himself dry, then got on the bed. He lay in the center with his legs spread and worked his growing length with his hand, bringing it to full erection. When he heard Starsky coming down the hall, he stretched his arms out from his body, so he lay completely spread-eagle on the bed; his thick, long penis bobbing in the air.
Starsky halted in the doorway. "Oh, my God," he drawled, "look at that."
Hutch grinned at him, stomach heaving with the need to take in more air.
Starsky ran his tongue along his lips. "Mmmm-mmm." He stepped into the room and started to undress. Then he warned, "You'd better not play with yourself while I'm in the shower."
Hutch watched Starsky hop on one foot while pulling off his shoe. "No promises, so you'd better not be long," he warned in return.
Starsky growled and pulled off the rest of his clothes in an incredibly economical motion. He stepped to the bed and bent so that his face was a half-inch from Hutch's. "When I get out of that shower, I'm gonna devour you, from head to toe. My tongue is going to taste every inch of you."
Hutch drew a deep breath. Starsky had done that to him once before. A long time ago. Had licked every inch of his body. It had been incredibly loving and beautiful. And had taken a long time. Which was why he wouldn't be able to enjoy it now without help. "Suck me first," he pleaded.
Starsky shook his head. "Uh-uh. Because if I suck you, you'll fall sleep, and licking you all over won't be any fun."
"No, I won't," Hutch protested, realizing that was probably why Starsky hadn't done it since that first time. He just now remembered the falling asleep part. Starsky had licked his front side from head to toe, and then finished by sucking him. He'd then turned him over and started on the bottom of his feet. Hutch had fallen asleep while that tongue worked up the backs of his legs.
"Yes, you will," Starsky insisted, amused. "This time, I'm going to start with your back side first, and then turn you over and do the front. Sucking you is going to be the very last thing that happens."
Hutch released a heavy sigh, not sure if he was going to be able to survive the evening.
Starsky kissed him and headed into the bathroom.
Hutch craned his neck to look at his needy cock. When he slumped back to the bed, it occurred to him that he might get fucked while Starsky was working on his backside. That was a relief. He'd come then. And then he'd get all hard again while Starsky was bathing his front side, and then he'd get blown for the grand finale, and it would be all right when he fell asleep afterwards.
Mmm, he decided, relishing the thought of what was to come. A byproduct of what had been. All their many years together. So many ups and downs; but the ups far, far outweighing the downs.
"Love him so much," he whispered out loud.
He realized he was still spread-eagled on his back, so he rolled over onto his stomach, stretching his limbs out again. All ready to fulfill Starsky's desires.
Now. And forever.