“I just don’t know how any guy could do that.”
Hutch sighed, both at the question and at the hopeless circularity of their conversation. His living room was seeing too much of both, these days. “Not like we haven’t seen it before. Any situation gets real, and the selfish scumbags scram. No difference here, to them.”
“Yeah, I know. But man, Hutch, it’s not just some deal gone bad, it’s a baby. It’s their baby, with the woman they love.”
Hutch snorted. “You’re not that naïve.”
“Okay, so sometimes it’s just a woman they made love to. Or maybe pretended to love. But you heard Rita, she said she and that Ernie guy were crazy about each other. She thought they’d be together forever, and then…”
“Yeah.” There wasn’t much else to say.
“S’not what a man’s supposed to do. Even if you don’t want the baby, or you’re not ready, or whatever, it’s your mess. You gotta work it out. You can’t just walk away just because you’re the one who can.”
“You sound like you’ve given it a lot of thought.” Hutch was quiet. Not a question, exactly, but an open invitation to talk.
Starsky shrugged, and fiddled with the rim of his beer bottle, not looking at Hutch. Something there, then. “Had to, once.”
“You got a girl pregnant?” Hutch raised his eyebrows. “Who?” And, too late, oh, please don’t let it be…
Starsky shook his head. “You don’t know her. It was forever ago. Cindy – that was her name. And we were both kids, you know, too young to know anything about anything. ‘Cept we knew we didn’t wanna get married. But we didn’t know what else to do, either. We were real scared. And her family… I think her father woulda killed me sooner than letting me marry her. In the end…” He shrugged again. “Turned out she wasn’t pregnant after all.”
“Yeah. Always been extra careful since.”
Hutch said nothing.
“What about you?” Starsky gestured at him with the bottom of his bottle. “You ever have a scare?”
Hutch sighed, and rubbed at the condensation-damp label on his own bottle. It wasn’t his favorite topic. “Not a scare. Vanessa said she was… but she was just playing me.”
“Yeah.” The label came off in Hutch’s hand. He looked at it for a moment, then wadded it into a ball and threw it in the general direction of the trash can. “Still, it’s a lot worse for Rita.”
“Nah.” Starsky took a swig. “She’s gonna be fine. She’s a real plucky lady. And she’s got her cousin helping her out.”
“Another plucky lady.” Hutch hoped that would be enough. Life had a way of always crushing the people least deserving.
“You gotta wonder, though. “Starsky ran a finger around the rim of his bottle. “What it’d be like. I don’t think I know what I’d do if it was me in her position.”
“Well,” Hutch smirked, “luckily for all of us, you can’t get pregnant.”
“Yeah, but what if? Can you imagine?”
“You pregnant?” Hutch raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
“No, you pregnant. Y’know, like Rita.”
“Pregnant, dumped, and deserted by everyone?”
“Rita’s not deserted by everyone.”
“Sure, but if it’s me we’re talking about, I would be. There certainly wouldn’t be any friendly cousins hanging around to help me. If my family disowned me – and they would – it’d be everyone. No exceptions.”
“Yeesh. That’s rough.”
Hutch shrugged his shoulders. “That’s my family.” He was used to shrugging it off. Them off. He took another sip of his too-quickly warming beer. “I’d be alone. And if I’m a cop in this scenario, I’m also out of a job. Too dangerous, too much of a liability. I’d have to find something else, probably with even worse hours and less pay.”
“You wouldn’t…” Starsky didn’t finish the question. Didn’t have to.
“Get rid of it? I wouldn’t have the money to get it done right, and I wouldn’t be stupid enough to risk anything else.”
“Not much of a choice.” Not much of a thought to linger on.
“It wouldn’t just be family I’d lose, either. Friends, too. The casual ones first, of course, anyone who wouldn’t want to be roped into having to help. Especially once I lost my job for good.”
“You’re better off without people like that anyway.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. Even fair-weather friends are better than no friends at all. And that’s where I’d end up. Because no matter how well-intentioned my other friends might be, either my situation will get to be too much to handle, or it’ll change me too much as a person. Sooner or later I’d end up on my own.”
“That’s a real doom and gloom picture you’re painting there.”
Hutch shrugged. “That’s what it’d be like, if I was in Rita’s position. You asked. I’m just being realistic.”
“Yeah?” Starsky gave him a dry look. “Then don’t you think you’re forgetting something?”
Hutch glanced over, and away again. He wiped at the thick drops of condensation on his now bare bottle. “Who says I’d even know you if I was— if I could get pregnant, huh?” He had to swallow. “And even if I did, at the end of the day I’d still be unmarried, pregnant, and unemployed.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
“No, I wouldn’t?”
“No you wouldn’t,” Starsky repeated slowly, like an obvious fact Hutch just wasn’t getting. “‘Cause I’d marry you, dummy.”
“You’d— what?” Hutch chocked, and nearly spit out a mouthful of tepid beer. “Who ever said you were the father?” His heart skipped several beats trying to catch up with his breathing.
“No one. But if you got knocked up and ditched, ‘course I’d step up.” Starsky said it like there was nothing else even worth considering. That was…
“That’s pretty presumptuous of you,” Hutch raised a deliberate eyebrow, and bit down on anything else. “You ever consider that maybe I don’t want to marry you?”
“‘M not talking about anything romantic,” Starsky shrugged, “just practical. You’re pregnant. You need a husband. Your baby needs a father.”
“It’s not the fifties anymore, Starsky. Plenty of single mothers get by just fine.”
“Plenty of single mothers aren’t cops. You said it yourself, it’s be real tough. You really telling me you’d rather go it alone than with me?”
“Something clenched hard in Hutch’s chest. “Are you seriously telling me you’d be that eager to raise somebody else’s baby?”
Starsky looked close to rolling his eyes. “Hutch. It’s not someone else’s baby, it’s your baby.” He broke into a slow grin. “Which makes it half mine, anyway.”
Hutch had had the foresight to avoid choking this time, but there was nothing he could do about the splutter. “Just how d’you figure that?”
Starsky was still grinning, broadly. It suited him entirely too much, Hutch thought. Dangerous. “Well, who d’you expect is going to be teaching little Davey all the important things in life? How to dance, how to talk to girls?” What a real car looks like?
“Little Davey?” He was pushing it, Hutch thought. Because he knows I want him to.
“What, you’re not going to name your firstborn after your best friend in the whole world?” Starsky smirked. “And that way he’ll know he’ll always have his old namesake around to watch out for him. And to teach him all the things you won’t.”
Hutch took a long breath. “And what if the father did stick around? Would you still want to— try to be all that for my kid?”
Starsky looked at him seriously. “Would you marry someone who wouldn’t let me?”
I’d rather just marry you right away. Whadda you say, Starsk, wanna get hitched and knock me up?
Hutch snorted, and didn’t answer. He drained his bottle, and dropped it into Starsky’s waiting hand.
Starsky took both to the kitchen, and dug through the fridge for new ones. Hutch watched his bent-over form for a moment, then closed his eyes and tried not to think about anything.
He reopened them again, unfocused, at the cool glass feeling of another bottle being pressed into his hand, and the bouncing jolt of Starsky dropping onto the couch next to him. He lifted the bottle mechanically to take a fortifying draft. But instead of the bitter tang of beer, his mouth was filled with a sickening syrupy-sweetness.
“Starsky!” he spluttered, trying not to spit the stuff out on his carpet. “What—“
Starsky was unsuccessfully trying to hide a laugh behind his own, actual beer.
“Give me that!” Hutch made a grab for it, but Starsky held the bottle out of reach.
“Nuh uh. Alcohol’s bad for babies, Hutch, you oughta know that.”
Hutch closed his eyes and counted to five. “I’m not actually pregnant, Starsky.”
“You never know,” Starsky grinned unrepentantly. “Can’t be too careful. We gotta take care of you, Blintz.” He tapped a warm hand on Hutch’s stomach, and let it rest there. “After all, that’s my baby in there.”
Hutch thought about smacking him over the head, and took another careful sip of root beer. There were worse things, he supposed. This, he thought, he could learn to live with.