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Between Love and Eternity . . .


Sandra F

Why did I have to choose this dress? It's too damned short and it's too green. Everyone else is in black. Hutch said he liked me in it, I guess that's why. God, I hate funerals. Yeah, all right, who does like them? But, you know, when it's for someone the same age as you, well, that brings things just a little too close to home. And what the hell is a humanist funeral anyway? The only other send-off I've ever been to in the whole of my 24 years was my Aunt Leila's and that was a full-blown, guilt-ridden incense and all Catholic affair. I'm not religious, thank God.

I wish they'd get on with it. Her parents, what are their names, John and Annie? They look so out of it. Sitting right at the front there, holding hands, their faces blank, eyes unseeing. What must it be like to lose a daughter to a madman? I guess the rest of those up front are family too. All except Dave. Poor Dave. He's so uncomfortable in that suit. He was shaking so much before we left that Hutch had to fix his tie for him. He looks so sad, so . . . alone perched on the end of that row.

No one is talking to him. But I've seen them looking, staring. He must know what they're thinking. "If she hadn't hooked up with him, a cop, she'd be here today." He looks so pale, so fragile, I guess. Never thought that'd be a word I'd use about ball-busting Dave Starsky. Don't really know anyone else here, except Captain Dobey and Huggy, and Hutch, of course.

Look at him, all blond and beautiful . . . and coiled up tighter than an angry rattler. Oh, he's sitting with me, but he's not here at all. He's four rows forward, a little to the left. His eyes haven't left his partner since we got in here.

No hymns, Hutch said. No prayers. Just some of Terry's favorite readings and a couple of, what did he call them, eulogies, I think. Wonder how you spell that? Spelling never was my strong point. "Christine, spelling is important. It gives people a measure of you." God, I can hear mama now. "Mama," I'd say, whenever my mom gave me a roasting for a poor test score at school, "you don't need to know how to spell s-m-i-l-e, you just need to now how to do it when you're a stewardess." And I'd grin.

Don't feel much like grinning now.

Here we go, Dave's getting up to speak. Jesus Hutch, you grip my hand any tighter it'll turn purple and drop off. Is it okay to have fingers crossed at a funeral? Whatever, mine are crossed right now for Dave.

"Uh, I guess there's quite a few of you here who don't know me, don't know who I am. My name is David Starsky. That probably puts most of you in the picture straight off. I guess if you don't know me, you know the name. Then you know why I'm here. Uh, I wasn't sure if I could do this today, if I wanted to, but John and Annie, they asked me if I 'd like to say . . . a few words, to explain what she meant to me . . . to all of us. I had a whole speech written, up here, in my head you know? But every time I tried to put somethin' down on paper it never came out right, uh, the words didn't seem . . . enough. I mean, how could they be? How could you put into words what you feel in your heart, in your soul, right? My grandmother once told me that that's why God invented music, to express in sound what couldn't be voiced. I used to think my grandmother knew everything. She may have been right about music, I don't think the bit about God makes much sense to me right now. I can't believe in a God who would take away someone like her . . . like Terry."

His voice is wavering. Damn it, Hutch, sit still, you're shifting around more than Little Bo-Peep on an anthill.

"We hadn't known each other too long, if you 're measuring time in hours and minutes, in days and weeks. But here, inside, I'd known her forever and I'd been waitin' all my life to meet her. She had this way of . . . seeing the real person, of cutting through the front we put on for everyone, of cutting right through all that and seeing what was underneath. The real person. She knew I was a cop right off. Not many women can deal with that . . . the hours, the uncertainty. She did. She made sure that when I was away from her, when I was late for a date, or had to cancel, which I often did, she made sure I wasn't worried about it. That I didn't carry that worry back on to the streets, where it might have distracted me. 'You got too much else to worry about out there, lover boy,' she told me once. I guess that's a joke now huh? She was worried about me. I never thought . . . never thought I needed to worry about her. Only in general terms, you know, they way you worry about your mom or your kid sister. I didn't want that old car of hers to break down late at night in some run-down neighborhood. I worried about her working too hard, fretting about those kids at school too much. I never thought . . . ."

Look at them all, just sitting there stony-faced while he's spilling his guts, dying a thousand deaths. Jeeze, Hutch is mad. Those blue eyes have turned the color of cold steel, always a sure sign that he's pissed. His jaw's got that set look about it, that "don't mess with me or prepare for the consequences" look. Only in this case it's "don't mess with my partner," I guess. Never mess, never come between, never threaten. I soon learned that.

"Oh, I know what you 're all thinkin'. If Terry hadn't hooked up with him, she'd still be alive. Flashin' that sunshine smile, takin' on the cares of the world. Do you think I don't know that? Do you think there's a day goes by when I don't think it would have been better for her if I'd never come into her life? If I could go back, right now, I'd take her in my arms and say, 'Go find that right guy for you, Terry, because it ain't me. It's too dangerous, too unpredictable to be involved with a cop. Go find that lawyer your mom wanted for you. Go have your kids, your station wagon. Go have a happy life.' Because I would. I would do that for her. Because I loved her."

Oh God, no, he's crying. Silently. He's trying to hide it, but his shoulders give him away. In front of all these strangers. He swore he wouldn't. Look at him. He can't move, can't even lift his head to look them all in the eye. Terry's mom is trying to reach out to him. Dear God, the anguish on her face. Terry's dad is pulling her back. What is wrong with these people?

At last. I'm surprised he's reined himself in so long. Hutch is on his feet, stumbling past the other six people in our row, all long legs and clumsiness. He gets so klutzy when he's stressed. There's the arm round the shoulder. God, he's so strong, so gentle with him as well as with me. The lips are smiling slightly, only for Dave. I've seen various versions of that smile before and it's unique. Oh yes, it's a genuine, 100 per cent Hutchinson original designed only for Dave.

"My name is Ken Hutchinson. I'm David's partner. I, uh, I didn't want him to do this today. Not because I didn't think he could, but because I knew some of you didn't think he should."

That's Hutch all right. Cut through the crap, hit 'em between the eyes, even if it hurts.

"Guilt is a terrible thing It eats up—it destroys. It devours from within. I know because I've seen what it's done to my partner since Terry's death. Believe me, there's nothing you can heap on him that he hasn't already loaded on himself a thousand times, in a thousand different ways. If you've got any anger to direct, don't aim it at my partner. If he's guilty of anything, he's guilty of loving. And since when has that been a crime?"

Jeeze, it's so quiet. If that aged aunt's hat-pin falls to the floor right now it'll sound like a pistol crack at dawn. Dave's shoulders have sagged so far it's only Hutch's arm stopping him from buckling.

"Terry was a wonderful girl. She spent more time considering other people and their feelings than she did her own. That's loving."

He's paused again, gently squeezing Dave's shoulder. He's whispering something. Dave's looking at him. Oh those eyes. So much pain there.

"I guess that's really what she's left us all. Her love. She's entrusted that special gift to each and every one of us, and that includes my partner here. You know, on her death, Terry entrusted Dave to me. That's okay, that's a promise I can keep for her."

There's that smile again—a little forced maybe, a little strained, but for Dave alone.

"The question we all have to ask ourselves now is are we deserving of that love she's left us? I don't know if I am, but I know damn well this man is."

Jeeze, Hutch. Don't wrap anything up here. Tell it like it is, why don't you? That hatchet-faced aunt looks like she's about to go into a swoon, like those fancy women did in those old books. There's a lot of uncomfortable shifting going on in these seats. If I were you Hutch, I'd get out of here while the going's good. He's speaking softly to Dave now, leading him out of the room, arm still around his shoulder. Dave looks shattered, like if you touched him he'd break into a million pieces. Think I'll follow them out. Put on your best "welcome aboard" reassuring smile, Christine. That way, you might just get out of here alive. Damn it, this dress is too short. This ain't the time to be ogling my legs, grandpa.

There they are. Sitting on a seat, outside in the sunshine. Starsky leaning forward, elbows lodged on knees, head in hands. Hutch next to him, his right hand slowly rubbing Dave's back. They're not talking.

You know, I sat with Terry one night, not too long before she died. The guys were working and she didn't want to be alone. When I got to her apartment, she was sitting quietly, kind of sad, reading a book. Shakespeare, I think.

"Hey, Christine," she said, "I found this terrific quote. Listen. 'Between love and eternity there is only death.' Isn't that neat? Think that'll hold for Dave and . . . ."And then she stopped and looked away, her eyes filling with tears.

"For Dave and you?" I prompted.

Then she looked at me, with this kind of odd expression on her face; distant, a bit regretful.

"Yeah, me and Dave," she said softly. I thought she'd finished and I moved to get her a glass of water or something from the kitchen, but she went on. "I'm no fool, Christine," she said, raising her eyes to meet mine. "Eternity's a long time. And a big place. There's room for him, too."

I didn't understand what she meant then. I think I do now. Don't feel I can intrude on the grief that's being shared on that seat under that maple tree.

Two's company, three's a crowd. Felt like that a few times around these two. Only death, huh? Go ahead, God. Prove it.