No One Promised Tomorrow
Ken Hutchinson didn't expect to miss being a father. How could something that lasted for so short a time make such an indelible impact on his soul?
"I'm pregnant," Nancy whispered, hugging her algebra book to her chest as they walked to her college English course.
His mind still on the co-efficient of X if Y was the variable, Ken skidded to a halt so suddenly his Ked's left rubber on the pavement. "What?"
"I'm--" Nancy clenched her teeth, her face chalky. "Preg--" She dropped the book, dashing for the girls' room, one hand pressed against her mouth.
Ken stared after her. Should he follow her through the door with the stylized girl figure prominently displayed? Should he wait outside? Go tell their English prof that Nancy Nyborg would be late? He bent to pick up the algebra text, staring down at the open page with the Y variable equation. If he was X and Nancy Y, did that mean they'd multiplied?
He waited, glancing at his grandfather's pocket watch, the one he wore on a chain looped around his belt. Nancy returned in five minutes, her face a greenish gray, the usually hairspray stiff flip of her dark hair gone limp.
"Are you sick?" he asked anxiously. "Do you need to go to the infirmary, get something for your stomach?"
"Ken." Nancy sounded exhausted. She dropped down onto a bench, rubbing her flat belly. "There's nothing that I can take for being pregnant."
"Are you sure?" That was lame. Not that he knew how a girl knew, exactly. But she must have ways.
"Aunt Flo, as my mom always called it, was late." Nancy bit off each word, loathing dripping from every syllable. "Last month. This month, I started to puke--all the time."
Ken's own belly flipped over, nausea crawling up his gorge. "But Nancy, we're freshmen, for gosh sakes!"
"And we only did it one time?" she retorted sarcastically. "Surprise, you're going to be a daddy."
Right after the wedding, that is. And the recriminations from the Nyborgs, not to mention the disappointment in Kristen Hutchinson's eyes. Ken's father took the news surprisingly well.
"Runs in the family, I guess," he said wearily and shelled out the cash for the marriage license.
No daughter of Steen Nyborg was going to be an unwed mother, no siree. The wedding was planned and executed with lightning speed, before Nancy began to show.
He was a husband.
Not that Ken ever thought she looked fat--ever, not to the very last day of her pregnancy. She had a sweet curve on her lower belly that fit the palm of his hand perfectly. Once Nancy got past the morning sickness that lasted from dawn until midnight, she craved sunlight like a flower about to bloom.
She waited until the end of the winter semester to drop out of college, shortly after missing the ill-fated English class. Once the Christmas wedding was over, she spent her days lying the sun porch of her parents' home, looking out into the snow, waiting for spring.
Ken stretched out alongside her, inhaling the scent of her. There was something so miraculous, so special now. A new person about to arrive in the world, made from Kenneth Richard Hutchinson and Nancy Vanessa Nyborg Hutchinson. He spread his fingers over Nancy's loose blouse, still far too roomy for the tiny mound that was their child.
"I wish this was over," she groused, looking down the swell of her breasts to his hand. "I should have gone to the infirmary, like you told me."
"But you said there was nothing you could--" he interrupted himself, fear lodging in his chest. "You don't mean an abortion?" The idea was repellant, horrific, red gore spilling out across his fantasy family: he, Nancy and little--sometimes Ken Junior, sometimes Liesel after his maternal grandmother.
Nancy's face was twisted into a ghoulish grimace. "My friend Betty had one. She said it was no big thing." Her voice was harsh, angry.
"It's illegal," Ken stated flatly. "It's--"
"This is taking over my life, Ken," Nancy spat. "I have goals. don't want to be a mom."
He stared at her, at a loss for words, utterly unable to understand how they could be so completely at odds from one another. This was their child, conceived by their love.
Sure, he was scared about the future, which is exactly why he'd been thinking of changing majors from music to something sensible--possibly law. Or even taking the faster route and going to the police academy, getting a job in law enforcement. He needed to provide for his little family. He'd already decided that moving would be a good option--get them away from their parents, start new. Both he and Nancy had dreamed of going to California, where it was sunny all day long. Never rained, never snowed.
She'd like that--sun on her face, bringing back the color to her cheeks. They'd find an apartment next to the beach and be a family. Ken, Nancy and Ken junior.
As if their conversation had knocked over a domino, setting in motion what could not be undone, the future began that night.
Nancy woke up in pain, crying, clutching the small swell of her belly. By the time they arrived at the hospital, there was no doubt that little baby Hutchinson was determined to arrive on a dark, cold April night. Nancy was only six months along.
When the obstetrician came into the waiting room, Ken looked into his eyes and saw the stark truth without being told. There was no hope.
"I want to see her," he said firmly.
Dr. Linkletter looked momentarily startled. "Your wife is--" he began.
"I want to see my child," Ken said, truly surprised at how calm and measured he sounded. None of the anguish or dread that tore through his belly was reflected in his voice. He was resolute. This had to be. "My daughter." He knew instantly that the baby was a girl.
That wasn't done. No one held their dying child. Nancy was recovering from the miscarriage--she didn't need that sort of shock and stress. The nurses were unhappy to relinquish the infant to her grieving parents but Hutch did not let up.
Less than an hour after baby girl Hutchinson had been whisked off to a dark corner of the nursery to spend her brief life, she was bundled up and carried into the quiet room where Ken waited. Nancy slept, sedated from the anesthesia.
Ken had never felt more alone in his life, until a gray haired woman walked in carrying a pink blanket. It looked impossibly small, impossibly weightless.
"I'm Dorothy," the nurse introduced herself. "She won't live long." She glanced down at the bundle, her face softening into mother love. "She's beautiful."
He gasped when Dorothy placed the baby in his arms. She weighed just over a pound. A bit longer than one of his hands, head the size of lemon, yet he'd never seen anything more amazing in his life. He felt the beat of her miniscule heart, even through the blanket.
"Liesel," he whispered, everything else dropping away. He had a daughter.
He was a father.
A song came from his heart, the tune his love, the lyrics written in his subconscious, without planning or thought. "I missed you before I met you, I knew you before you came."
For a single hour, he held Liesel, talked to her, lived a life. She carved her place in his heart, tiny fingers fluttering when he set his forefinger in her palm.
If this was all there was, he had to accept that it was enough. He held onto his pain, keeping the memories safe of the one, single hour.
He and Nancy moved to California three months later, putting Minnesota and all that it represented behind them. New job, new friends, new life.
Ken Hutchinson didn't expect to love to another man. How could something that lasted for so short a time make such an indelible impact on his soul?
He and Starsky clicked from the first day of the police academy. A new friend was exactly what Hutch needed to distract him from the wreckage that his marriage had become.
At first, Nancy had welcomed everything California held and fell into modeling with enthusiasm. She began using her middle name, buying expensive clothes, staying out with her trendy colleagues. Just as quickly, she loathed the fact that Hutch was a studying to be a police officer. Arguments ensued, invectives thrown, barbed and intended to wound. The one subject never brought up--not once--was their daughter. Liesel lived only in her father's memory. If Nancy remembered the baby, she didn't mention her.
Ken escaped to Starsky's world. He'd never met anyone so--oddly, the word that always came was--free. Starsky was free to do what he wanted, and he wanted to share it all with his new buddy Hutch.
"C'mon, Hutch, come meet my old friend, John Blaine," Starsky had urged, blue eyes bright with promise of an exciting future. "He was practically a dad to me when I moved out west. And he's gonna mentor me after we graduate on Friday."
Blaine was a big, gruff man but kind. Hutch sat at the bar nursing a beer, laughing at the teasing banter between Starsky and his old friend.
He felt warm, accepted--loved--when Starsky threw an arm around Hutch's shoulder and clinked his beer stein to Hutch's.
"To the future!" Starsky toasted.
"Skol!" Hutch responded with the toast his grandfather had always used.
"What's next for you two?" Blaine asked with a smile, looking at them with a strangely knowing expression.
Hutch wondered what exactly did he know?
"Partners," Starsky said confidently. "Hutch n'me, cruising the city, fighting crime. Right?"
Hutch had been amazed, almost speechless, his heart pounding double time. That was all he wanted and more. "Sure," he agreed, staring into Starsky's deep blue eyes. If that moment could have lasted forever, he would have died happy.
Blaine begged off another beer. "Maggie's waiting for me--we're going to watch From Here to Eternity on the CBS movie of the week," he commented before leaving. "We both enjoy watching that Montgomery Clift."
"What about you, Hutch, Nancy waiting for you?" Starsky asked, breaking a pretzel in half.
"No." He made himself sound casual, as if the dissolution of his marriage was no big thing. Starsky could see right through him, he already knew that. "She's working late--with the holidays, she's in demand to model the latest fashions."
"You want to crash at my place? Pretend we're studying for that last test?" Starsky asked, holding out half the pretzel.
Hutch took the offering, crunching it with his teeth at exactly the same time as Starsky took a bite. He was wasted. He should not have had that last beer. He should not have been looking at Starsky's groin.
Starsky should not have been hard.
They barely made it inside Starsky's tiny studio apartment. Starsky latched onto Hutch's mouth, inserting his palms into Hutch's pants. Hutch batted his arms away, forcing Starsky against the wall. He loved that Starsky submitted, unexpectedly docile as Hutch wrestled to unfasten Starsky's belt buckle and zipper.
With a snarl, Starsky yanked his jeans down to his knees and yowled when Hutch took him in his mouth. Ken Hutchinson had never done anything so instinctive, so primal in his life. But it was as if he'd been given the knowledge beforehand--every move was practiced and smooth. He knew exactly what to do to take Starsky down.
This was what he'd waited for all of his life. This was exquisite, perfection--who knew? Who knew he needed a man? Not just any man. He needed, he loved, David Starsky.
When it was over, Starsky melted into his arms, as warm and satiated as a big cat. They collapsed onto the mattress on the floor of his barely furnished room where Starsky lazily drew Hutch's manhood out of his pants.
Hutch hissed at the initial contact, so sensitized that Starsky's touch hurt, intoxicating his befogged brain. Nancy Vanessa never had him this ready so easily! Starsky ran his hands over Hutch's groin, whispering something Hutch couldn't quite make out, and then squeezed, twice. Hutch went off like a rocket, pain and pleasure twisting through his core, leaving him gasping for air.
It wasn't that they never spoke of that day again. More, Hutch always felt, that both recognized that they couldn't go on that way. They had their lives ahead of them, their careers to think about.
Making out with another man simply wasn't allowed.
He and Starsky graduated, survived their first year as cops and became partners. If he was happy in his career, his home life was a different matter.
Hutch had a hard time remembering to call his wife Vanessa, but he made the effort because it was important to her. Marriage was sacred, a special bond. Thing was, Vanessa wasn't the woman he'd married. Felt like he'd come home one night to a different person in his bed, a women he wasn't so sure he even liked.
He and Van tried to make their marriage work, eventually admitting defeat on both sides. A tie, no one won. Divorce in Southern California was viewed as normal, acceptable, a community property state. The little Hutch had was divided in half, and Vanessa got the apartment. He got a beat-up car. No one, least of all Starsky, faulted his failure as a husband.
Starsky raised a beer to him, his blue eyes deep pools that drowned all of Hutch's injured pride and gave him confidence. "This is our year, Hutch, we're gonna get those gold badges, become detectives. Put the past behind."
His heart swelling, Hutch raised his beer. "Detectives!"
He realized he'd became Starsky's Hutch, a different person from the Ken Hutchinson he had been in Duluth. And it felt good. It felt right.
If they never spoke about that one night of passion, it was not forgotten, only preserved in amber, a sacred memory.
Designated Zebra Three, Starsky and Hutch dove into their roles as investigative detectives. Cruising their patch of Bay City with his best friend, Hutch was on top of the world. Everything was going his way. He assumed they'd be shoulder to shoulder forever.
With Van out of his life, he began to see Liesel everywhere. He'd always privately counted her birthdays, catalogued her life in his mind's eye. What she'd look like at age two, or at Disneyland for her seventh birthday, front teeth missing.
Now he caught glimpses of her in the little girls he met as a cop--the frightened babies wailing in the night neglected by their drug addict mothers. The desperate clasp around his neck by a toddler rescued from her kidnapper.
Molly/Pete sobbing in his bedroom, mourning her dead father. That night, he couldn't fight the tears. He felt that tiny heart beating against his hand once more.
He needed to rebuild his life, find a proper mate, a woman who would complete him.
Starsky was truly a part of him--that would never change--but it didn't mean he couldn't get married again.
He began to serial date. There were a few women that slipped into his heart, only to leave him, one attacked by a maniac, the other murdered. Starsky's romances almost paralleled his own, death taking their sweetest ladies. It was easier to keep things light, not let them into his deepest places. Sometimes he and Starsky even passed the same women back and forth between them. As long as the women didn't care, why should they?
Then there was Kira. She upset the careful balance. What made him sleep with Starsky's woman? He hadn't gone to her house with the intention to rip Starsky's heart out of his chest, but it happened. The pain in Starsky's eyes nearly opened a hole in his own cardiac muscle--right before Starsky slugged him in the gut.
He deserved the sucker punch. Took it like a man. And ached for the damage he'd caused. Starsky closed off to him.
Why had he slept with Starsky's woman? When had they stopped seeing what was important? He would never have slept with Terry. Starsky never took Abby nor Gillian to his bed. A few years back, he'd have instinctively known Starsky's heart.
Kira made him examine all that had come before. Kira--Hutch wanted to hate her, but she'd led him back to something he thought he'd lost.
After the detritus in the dance hall, as the smoke cleared and Kira covered Webster's body with hers, Hutch sought Starsky's eyes. Felt a shock run down his belly to his cock. Starsky looked directly at him, pain, betrayal and desire warring on his face.
Desire for whom?
Webster was carted off to Cabrillo State. Shell-shocked, Hutch wrote out his version of the investigation and resulting bombing, without a hint of the personal explosion occurring behind scenes in the bland words. He passed the paper over to Starsky, his fingers brushing lightly over Starsky's knuckles.
Starsky winced and shame flushed through Hutch's belly. Once Starsky had cried out in passion when Hutch gripped his cock. How had they come to this awful impasse? The night dragged on as they passed the same sheets of paper back and forth, rewriting each others words, describing the scene precisely, giving Kira her due.
The blonde detective in question sat across the room, writing her own report privately as if divorcing herself from either of them.
Hutch tapped the completed forms into a neat stack and felt Starsky's relief like it was his own.
"We gotta talk," Starsky said, expression blank but their silent communication working again.
Hutch rejoiced at the connection. He'd never spent so long without Starsky in his head.
Starsky had never--would never--leave his heart.
They talked all night, and came to decisions and resolutions. No more poaching--that was out of the question. They were a unit unto each other.
They cleared the air and found each other for the first time in months. There was nothing sexual--not yet. Not even when they dressed identically, which could have been all sorts of kinky. Was donning the same shirts, the same leather jackets, to meet Kira at Huggy's, mutual armor or some kind of unconscious sign of their unstated relationship?
No, they just talked, continuing after the necessary interruption to eradicate Kira. Seemed like they couldn't stop talking. No subject was too trivial, as long as they were close enough to touch, to breathe each other's air.
In the Torino, Starsky sprawled over the leather seats, fingers gracing the bare space just above Hutch's collar, expounding on the merits of Godzilla vs. Mothra. Hutch didn't care which monster won the battle, as long as he could hang with Starsky and argue the point. It was fun. It was peace.
They watched the moon rise over Bay City, holding hands.
It was time, Hutch thought, staring up at the stars he rarely got to see down at sea level under a layer of smog and light pollution. Nancy Vanessa was dead. He'd never told Starsky about Liesel. She was his last secret--there would never be any others between them.
"Nancy and I had a baby," he blurted out suddenly, before his own internal barricades could stop him.
Starsky stared at him, the whites visible all the way around his blue irises, even in the dark. "When?"
"April 14th, 1964. She would have been fifteen four weeks ago," Hutch said quietly. Probably the first time he'd ever spoken Liesel's birthday out loud. His heart rate accelerated, almost matching the rapid beat he could still sense in his palm. "Liesel. She was so small. I could hold her in one hand."
Starsky folded his hand into Hutch's, holding that faint memory of Liesel between them. "Belated happy birthday to Liesel."
"You're the only person I've ever told," Hutch blinked back tears that threatened. He could not be weak, not now. "Van wanted it forgotten. I thought when she died last year, I'd lost any connection to either of them."
"You always got me, pal. I'll keep your daughter alive, too."
Hutch couldn't face the love shimmering in Starsky's eyes with his heart stuffed so full. He turned to the moon shining in the dark sky above the car and whispered, "thank you."
Later at Hutch's place, he and Starsky played Monopoly badly, neither caring who won, reveling in the chance to be together, without boundaries or limits. The need for sleep finally won out at four o'clock in the morning and they left the metal shoe, the tiny Scottie dog and all the confetti colored money lying on the kitchen floor for the comfort of the bed. Neither spoke. They didn't have to, they were so in-tune, they only needed touch and proximity.
Hutch stretched out alongside Starsky, inhaling the scent of him. Starsky dozed, arms wrapped around Hutch. There would be time for so much more, very soon.
At six am, the swell of dawn brought Hutch out of bed even though he'd only been asleep two hours.
"Nothing on the front burner this week," Starsky muttered sleepily. "Where you going? The squad room's being painted, ain't no rush."
"It's routine, Starsk." Or it had been, once, over a year ago. Hutch pumped his knees up and down, miming jogging. He should have been exhausted after two nights talking. Instead, he was energized. He'd been neglecting his exercise lately. Best day to start the rest of his life. "C'mon, you come, too."
"We barely slept! You're crazy." Starsky thumped his pillow, flipping the comforter over himself. "I know a bunch of stuff more fun to do at six am, and none of them is jogging."
They hadn't yet made love. Not since 1968.
Hutch forced himself not to imagine what other stuff could be done in bed at sunrise and jogged out the door. "Coffee maker is on!" he called over his shoulder. "I'll be back in fifteen minutes and the shower had better be free."
The whole morning felt new, inviting. He ran with the wind in his hair, the nylon of his shorts stropping his cock. All possibilities were in front of him. Starsky and he were together, and it was terrific, as Starsky would say.
Until the shooting. There would always be before the shooting and after. A fixed point in history, unchanging and unchangeable.
As if suffering from trauma himself, Hutch couldn't quite remember the fateful fifteen seconds. He recalled the sounds more than anything; Starsky laughing, teasing him about the stupid bet. The agonizing screech of metal grinding into metal, rapid-fire gunshots echoing in his ears. No sound from Starsky, nothing but gunshots that he would hear in his nightmares.
The rest of the day was a blur. Where did time go? Was there a physics equation he could tackle that would explain the conundrum? Minutes passed like hours and hours dissolved, suddenly passing far more quickly than Einstein ever predicted.
When the surgeon came out of Starsky's room, Hutch looked into his eyes and saw the stark truth without being told.
"I want to see him," he said firmly.
Grave damage. Blood loss.
Fear lodged in his chest.
Say your good-byes. No one told him that out loud. Even the doctor wasn't quite that cavalier. Dobey, Huggy, none of them expected Starsky to pull through.
For a short time, Hutch nearly lost his faith, but he carried a nugget of hope buried deep inside. That one night when he'd held Starsky's cock and known that this was the best that it could be.
He'd never expected to love Starsky so completely.
He sat by the bed, examining each and every piece of equipment keeping Starsky alive. Had been sitting here, on and off, for days. As if his life began and ended in this one room, waiting for the denouement. Starsky was suspended between this world and the next, drifting on pain and morphine. He surfaced a handful of times, mouthed hello, his smile staying on after he went back to sleep, like the Cheshire Cat's.
The doctors were not yet optimistic, but Starsky gained a week. Hutch went to San Francisco and enacted his revenge. He did not kill the monster, although a part of him--most of him wanted to. Gunther was in jail, awaiting trial. That had to be good news.
Hutch sat by the bed, his hands cupped, right on top of left, feeling the beat of a heart, rapid as a hummingbird's wings. His Liesel, the baby girl he hadn't held in fifteen years. Yet he could feel her life, her strength, the flutter of her tiny fingers around his forefinger and the warm of her miniature palm. Her brief life had sustained him for so long. Could she give that power to Starsky? He took his partner's hand, folding Liesel's fighting spirit into Starsky.
He'd been a father. A husband. And a lover of his male partner. This would last for the rest of his life. He wasn't going to just accept anymore; would not settle for less.
Liesel's song came back to him, the words fitting into his brain as if he'd written them down so long ago. "I missed you before I met you, I knew you before you came." Loving Starsky completed the lyrics, and he sang softly, for only one person's ears. "You completed the man I became, And I will always hold you in my heart. But no one promised tomorrow, So we live for today, Dreaming of a future together."
"I love you, David Starsky," he whispered, squeezing Starsky's hand, sending hope and desire.
Starsky squeezed back.
He loved his Hutch.