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Let It Snow

Written by Valerie Wells

Hutch shivered a little as he hurried from the car to the door of Venice Place, and grinned a little also, because compared to Minnesota in December, California was downright balmy.

Guess it's all a matter of what you get used to, he thought, picturing what Granddad would have said if he heard his eldest grandson complaining of 50-degree temps with sunny skies two weeks before Christmas. Back home about now, it was more like 15 degrees. If that. And two feet of snow on the ground.

He preferred the weather here most of the time, but around Christmas and he'd suffer torture before he'd admit this to Starsky he did miss snow. That was the only time he missed it. He definitely did not miss digging his car out from under a snowdrift in freezing temperatures and plowing through those same drifts to get to work, or waking up to frozen water pipes or ice sculptures where there used to be trees. Not at all.

He picked up the pile of mail waiting inside his door and shuffled through it. Bills. Junk mail. A couple of Christmas cards from friends back home. And a letter.

Hutch almost never got letters. Once a month or so, he called his parents or they called him. They talked for 20 minutes or half an hour about what they were doing, how they all were, and that was it. His sister wrote occasionally and sent photos of her children, but this wasn't her handwriting. It did look vaguely familiar...

"Well, open it, dummy," Hutch scolded himself aloud, ripping the end off the envelope and pulling out two closely written sheets.

Dear Ken,

I'm writing to you instead of my stubborn son because I know he'll never agree to what I'm going to ask unless you help me talk him into it.

Hutch grinned again. He knew who the letter was from now.

I want the two of you to demand that captain of yours give you some time off to spend the holidays with your family as God intended instead of alone out there among strangers. I want you two to come here and spend Christmas and Hanukkah with a lonely old lady I know, I'm playing the "loneliness" card and I simply will not accept "no" for an answer. But it's up to you, Ken. You have to talk David into it. He won't come alone and leave you there, and I am too afraid of planes to come out to you. So will you do it?

Love,

Mom

The second sheet was directed to her "stubborn son" and said pretty much the same thing: Come home to New York for Christmas. Bring your partner. I insist.

It sounded good, Hutch had to admit it. For every one of the six years they'd been partners, he and Starsky had worked on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Every year. Hutch didn't really want to go home to the big, cold house in Minnesota for Christmas, not since Granddad had died, and Starsky, whose home and family were both much warmer and affectionate, wouldn't leave him alone, just as "Mom" had predicted. Of course, Starsky wouldn't come out and say that. He just said he didn't like the cold weather and he'd rather go home over Passover for the big family dinner, Hanukkah wasn't that big of a Jewish holiday anyway, and Ma never quite approved of celebrating Christmas, so he'd rather stay in California and visit home another time of year...

Well, this year was going to be different. Hutch was going to see to it. Personally.

"Mornin', Blondie," Starsky greeted him as he got into the Torino.

"Hi," Hutch answered, trying to juggle his orange juice and a piece of toast.

"Please don't drop none of that stuff on my seats," Starsky implored, starting the car up and moving down the street. "I just had it detailed."

"I'll do my best," Hutch answered, but considering the way Starsky drove, it wasn't going to be easy. Now he wondered how to bring up the subject of Mrs. Starsky's letter. He'd worried about it all evening and hadn't come up with anything.

Christmas carols were playing on the radio and Starsky was humming along, as he always did. He loved Christmas music, even the corniest ones.

"Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, do you know what I know?" Starsky sang, more or less in key. He poked Hutch in the ribs. "Sing, Goldilocks. Or are you gonna be a Scrooge again this year?"

There was his opening. "Actually, Starsk, I was kind of thinking " he paused.

"What? Wondering what to get me?" Starsky grinned at him. "I already got yours but don't go poking around my place looking for it, pal. I hid it somewhere else."

Hutch returned the grin a little weakly. "You think we could get Christmas off this year for a change?"

Starsky stared at him so long he almost ran off the road. "What? Why?"

"Well, uh..." Hutch finally sighed and gave up. He wasn't going to be able to be clever about this. Starsky knew him too well. Just lay it on the table, that was the only choice. "I was thinking maybe we could go East for Christmas."

"East? To Minnesota? Both of us?" Starsky demanded. "I can just see your folks' reaction to that."

"Not to Minnesota. To New York."

"To Ma's?"

"Yeah."

Starsky thought that over. "Well, Ma'd be tickled pink. She's always wanting me to go home for Hanukkah. And she'd love to have you, too. But, Hutch, there ain't gonna be no Christmas tree at Ma's."

"I think this year there might be," Hutch said. He pulled the letter out of his pocket and flushed. "I got this yesterday. From your mom."

Starsky frowned suspiciously. "Ma wrote to you?"

"Yeah. Inviting us for Christmas and Hanukkah. She said I had to talk you into it."

Starsky's frown deepened. "What's it say?"

Hutch cleared his throat and read Mrs.Starsky's letter to her son. He didn't think he ought to read the one she'd sent to him.

"Dear Davey,

I've written to Ken to invite both of you for the holidays. I will not accept no for an answer. In fact, I've also written to your Captain Dobey "

Starsky groaned. "Aw, shit, Ma."

Hutch laughed and went on, "to tell him he's kept you boys out there at Christmas often enough and I want my son home this year. He called me last night. He's really a dear, sweet man, Davey, and I don't think you should talk about him the way you do. But he said you had to request the time off yourself. So do it. That's an order, young man."

Starsky muttered something impolite, which Hutch chose to ignore.

"Tell Ken we can have a Christmas tree, too, and he can tell me how to decorate it. Rabbi Rosenstein's son married a Christian girl and they have a tree every year, so it must be all right. We'll have a wonderful time and you can explain to me why I don't yet have any grandchildren.

"Love,

Ma."

"Hutch, you don't understand," Starsky began, but Hutch cut him off.

"I understand perfectly, Starsk. Your mom is lonesome. She wants her little boy home for a visit. You know Nick won't be willing to kindle the Hanukkah lights and play dreidel with her. He'll be off doing his own thing, and she'll be all alone and "

Starsky glared at him. "You two are in cahoots."

"Aw, come on, buddy. I want to go."

"What the hell happened to Scrooge?" Starsky demanded. "And all that crap you always spout about 'euphoric sentimentalism'? Next thing you'll go whole hog the other way and show up in a Santa suit."

"No, I won't," Hutch said. "I just want to have a nice family holiday this year. You know damned well I can't get that at home. So I wanna share your mom and your home." He took a deep breath. "Please?"

Starsky glanced at him with indecision in his eyes, but the suspicion was gone. Finally he sighed. "Okay, Hutch. Don't beg. I don't have any Scooby snacks with me today."

Hutch chuckled.

Dobey was surprisingly accommodating about giving them a vacation week. Christmas was a busy time of year, mostly because there were a lot of suicides and domestic violence calls thanks to the holiday and the stress that came with it. But since they'd worked on the holiday so many years in a row, he said, they deserved one off.

"Who the hell was that and what has he done with the real Dobey?" Starsky demanded in a stage whisper as they left Dobey's office.

Hutch choked back a laugh. "I think your mom might've made a good impression on him."

"She musta taken up witchcraft as a hobby," Starsky said. "I can't imagine how she pulled it off otherwise."

A couple of weeks later, they were on a plane headed east.

Snow was lightly falling at JFK when the plane touched down, and Hutch stared out the window with delight. Snow was more than he'd dared hope for. You never knew in New York whether it would snow or just be cold and ugly and dreary in December.

It was definitely cold. Hutch shivered, even in the short tunnel between airplane and terminal, where they were protected from the wind. He'd worn his heaviest sweater and brought his ski jacket along, but he suspected that wasn't going to be enough. He was no longer accustomed to months of below-freezing temperatures.

Starsky didn't seem to mind. He was wearing his beloved and beat-up leather bomber jacket and walked along without even putting his hands in his pockets. A sort of twinkle had developed in his roguish blue eyes, which Hutch thought was a good sign. He wanted Starsky to enjoy his holiday.

They waited at the carousel for their baggage and then went in search of a cab. Like many New Yorkers, Starsky's mother didn't drive or even own a car, so they'd known she wouldn't be on hand to greet them.

The city streets were choked with traffic, far more traffic than either of them was used to anymore. Hutch tried not to watch as the cabbie wove in and out, changing lanes so closely to cars in front and behind that it seemed certain they'd have a fender bender before they got to the Starsky home in Brooklyn.

"I'm gettin' a bad case of claustrophobia," Starsky muttered to his partner.

"You and me both, buddy," Hutch agreed. "L.A.'s big, but at least it's spread out. This whole city's like rush hour on the freeway."

They left the worst of it behind at last, however, and finally pulled into the driveway of the small house where Starsky had grown up. They were getting their bags out of the trunk when Rachel Starsky came out of the front door and beamed at them both, wiping her hands on a dish towel.

"Right on time!" she called to them. "It's so wonderful to see you both!"

Starsky dropped his bag on the porch and gave his mother such a big hug that he lifted her off her feet. She laughed like a girl and patted his cheeks with both hands. Hutch bent to give her a gentlemanly kiss on the cheek, but she wasn't having that. She wrapped her arms around him, too, and gave him a warm hug.

"Supper's almost ready. You boys run upstairs and put your bags in your room and I'll set the table."

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a grin at "you boys" but nevertheless they obeyed.

The room that Starsky had shared with Nick when they were kids contained twin beds, freshly made up, and some of their boyhood things as well. Over Starsky's bed there was a Yankees pennant; over Nick's, a poster of Raquel Welch. Starsky's football trophy stood atop the bureau from the time his team had won the state tournament and his baseball glove lay next to it. A photo of both boys with their dad was on the small table between the beds.

Hutch picked that up and looked at it. Starsky had been about 10, Nick around 6 when the photo was taken. It couldn't have been more than a year before Michael Starsky's death. Nick was missing his front teeth. Starsky was wearing a Yankees ball cap, pushed back. All three were beaming.

"We look like Wally and the Beave with Ward in that photo," Starsky commented, swinging his suitcase onto his bed.

Hutch grinned. "You were a cute kid. What the hell happened?"

"You happened," Starsky shot back. "Keeping your ass in one piece is enough to ruin anybody's good looks."

"You sure do look like your dad," Hutch went on, turning the photo up to the light so he could see it better.

"Yeah," Starsky answered. "I s'pose. That's what Ma says, anyway. I don't see it myself. Other than the hair."

"The Starsky curls?" Hutch inquired wickedly.

"Very funny," Starsky said. "I meant the color, asshole."

"Boys! Supper's ready!" Rachel called from the kitchen.

"Suddenly I feel about 10 again," Starsky muttered, rolling his eyes.

Hutch grinned and whacked him on the ass as they started down the stairs.

The snow was falling more thickly than ever as they sat down to eat the roast beef Rachel had prepared. It had been a long time since either of them had eaten such a good meal, and they dug in without too much talking.

"Ma, that was terrific," Starsky said gratefully, putting his fork down at last and leaning back in his chair.

"Good. I'm glad you liked it," she said, smiling. "Now, when your food has settled a bit, we're going to go get a Christmas tree."

Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances.

"Don't look so startled, David," Rachel admonished him. "I know Ken is used to having a tree, so we're going to get one. I bought some decorations."

Hutch couldn't help laughing at the expression on Starsky's face. He was stunned.

They bundled up for the walk to the nearest Christmas tree lot a few blocks away and Rachel prowled around the trees, checking for freshness as expertly as if she'd bought a tree every year of her life. Hutch followed her and when she turned to him to indicate her choice and see if he approved, he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

"You know, you don't have to do this for me," he said in a low voice.

"I'm doing it for all of us," she said, eyes twinkling. "Don't think I don't know that boy of mine celebrates Christmas out there in California. I can celebrate Christmas, too. I even have a turkey in the freezer for Christmas Day. And I checked the TV listings for 'Scrooge.' It's on Christmas Eve night."

Hutch laughed out loud. "You are a schemer," he said admiringly.

"I'm a mother. It's part of the job description," she said, patting his arm. "Pick up the tree like a good boy and let's get home out of this cold weather. We have a lot of decorating to do."

"Yes, ma'am," Hutch said.

He and Starsky carried the tree between them and managed to get it set up in its stand once they got home. Rachel bustled around and came back with several sacks full of Christmas decorations and lights. Try as he might, Starsky couldn't help humming Christmas carols as the three of them strung lights and hung decorations on the tree. Every time he realized what he was doing, he stopped and looked guiltily at his mother, until she put her hands on her hips and scolded him for it.

"For heaven's sake, David Michael, quit worrying about that. Sing if you want to!"

"But what would Rabbi Rosenstein say?" Hutch put in wickedly.

Rachel laughed and hung a fat Santa Claus on the tree, stepping back with her head on one side to study the effect. "Oh, Saul's got a wonderful sense of humor. He wouldn't mind. Rabbi Meier, now..." she paused to adjust a candy cane, "...he would have had a fit."

"Who's Rabbi Meier?"

"He was the rabbi when I was a kid," Starsky answered for her. "He was the rabbi when I was bar mitzvahed. He did not have a sense of humor."

"He did, too," Rachel argued. "It was just very...dry."

"It was invisible," Starsky grumbled.

Rachel grinned at Hutch over her son's head. "David never got over the Rabbi's scolding when he mispronounced a word during his bar mitzvah. No one else thought it was so important. Boys do it all the time. But the Rabbi took it very seriously and I'm afraid he gave David quite a tongue-lashing."

"He threatened to take my bar mitzvah back," Starsky said. "I thought he would and I'd be disgraced forever."

"He couldn't 'take it back,' David," Rachel said, laughing. "He was just teasing you."

"He sounds like Pastor Beiderwieden," Hutch said.

"Who?" Starsky stopped in the act of arranging ornaments.

"Pastor Beiderwieden," Hutch said. "The pastor at my folks' church when I was a kid. He confirmed me sort of the same thing as a bar mitzvah, it means you're old enough to be considered a full member of the church and one of the kids dropped his wafer. Was the pastor ever pissed. I mean, angry." He flushed.

But Rachel didn't mind and laughed gaily. "Is that as bad as mispronouncing a word of the Torah?"

"Probably," Hutch answered. "You're definitely not supposed to drop the Communion wafer. That kid got a tongue-lashing, too."

"That kid wasn't named 'Kenny,' was he?" Starsky inquired, peering around the tree at his partner.

"No, it wasn't me," Hutch said. "His name was let's see Danny, I think. He had red hair. Poor kid was so nervous."

Rachel handed Hutch an angel tree-topper. "You're the tallest, dear. Put her right up there on the top."

"Okay, mom," Hutch said with a grin. Even he had to stand on tiptoe, but he got the angel placed and Rachel pronounced it straight.

She plugged the lights in, turned off the overhead light, and stepped back. Clapping her hands in delight, she said, "Oh, that's lovely! Isn't it lovely, boys?"

Starsky, arm around his mother's shoulders, nodded. "It's beautiful, ain't it, Hutch?"

For some reason the sight of the tree, with the snow falling outside the windows, brought a lump to Hutch's throat, so he merely nodded.

"Sing us some Christmas carols, Ken," Rachel said suddenly, reaching out to squeeze his hand. "The piano's all in tune."

"I only know religious Christmas songs, Rachel," Hutch said.

"That's all right. I'll get even when we light the menorah," she said wickedly.

Hutch laughed and went to the piano. He paused, hands poised over the keys, uncertain what to sing.

"Sing the one about the star," Starsky suggested.

"Starsk, they all have a star in them," Hutch said.

"You know," Starsky hummed a few lines and Hutch recognized "Do You Hear What I Hear." Obligingly he played it and Starsky sang, too, while Rachel sat in an easy chair and kept time with her hand on the arm.

"What a lovely voice you have, dear," she said to Hutch when they finished. "Sing another."

"Rachel, I feel really weird singing Christian songs in a Jewish home," he protested.

She grinned. "We'll teach you some of ours. I promise. Now behave yourself and do as you're told, young man."

"She smacks," Starsky warned him with an evil twinkle in his eyes. "You better obey her."

"I do not 'smack,'" Rachel said, giving him a playful whack on the arm even as she said it.

Hutch laughed and sang his own favorite, "What Child Is This," and followed it up with "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," because that one was Starsky's favorite.

Rachel seemed to enjoy them all immensely and even sang along, humming when she didn't know the words. Finally, however, it got late and Hutch stopped.

"I think we all need to get some sleep," he said, smiling as Rachel tried to suppress a yawn.

"You're right. Big day tomorrow," she said. "There's a latke party at the temple and I promised to help cook. And I also promised you would both be there."

"We will, Ma," Starsky said. "I wouldn't miss Mrs. Plummer's mandelbrot for anything."

"Mrs. Plummer's what?" Hutch asked.

"Almond bread," Starsky said. "You gotta taste it to believe it."

Rachel gave them both a kiss on the cheek and shooed them to bed. "I'll lock up and turn off the lights," she said. "Now scat."

They obeyed.

"Hey, buddy?" Hutch said once they were settled in bed with the lights off.

"Yeah?"

"Your mom's terrific."

"I know," Starsky said, and even in the dark, Hutch could hear the smile in his voice.

Hutch lay in silence for a long while, staring up at the ceiling in the dark, and finally said, "Starsk?"

"Hmmm?" Starsky's voice was thick with sleep.

"Thanks. For letting me share."

A soft chuckle, and Starsky said, "Sure, buddy. Anytime."

"One thing you gotta remember," Starsky said as they were walking to the synagogue the next day. Rachel had gone ahead early to help set up and cook, so they were alone.

"What's that?" Hutch asked. "I'm worried enough already, pal. I have visions of saying or doing something that will horrify all those nice Jewish ladies. It's bad enough I have all this blond hair."

Starsky laughed. "There is such a thing as a blond Jew, you dumb blintz. That's not what I was talking about."

"What were you talking about, then?"

"I was talking about all those nice Jewish ladies who will see two eligible young men that's me and you, dummy and start hearing wedding bells. We might have to spend this whole week dodging blind dates with " Starsky folded his hands and raised his voice an octave, " 'my beautiful niece who cooks like a dream and I can't imagine why she's still single.'" He dropped his hands and rolled his eyes. "I can. She looks like part of Mr. Ed. And I don't mean the front part."

Hutch chuckled. "We could invent steady girlfriends back in California."

"Huh-uh." Starsky shook his curly head decidedly. "Don't do that. Ma'll start demanding to know when the wedding is and when she can expect her first grandchild. Preferably nine months after the wedding."

"I ought to be safe," Hutch protested. "I'm not Jewish."

"That's a problem," Starsky admitted, "but they'll be certain they can convert you in time."

"Shall I be gay?" Hutch suggested wickedly.

"Please don't," Starsky said, pained. "Then they'll think I am, too, and that you're my boyfriend. It would ruin my reputation for having good taste."

"I'm studying for the priesthood," Hutch said.

"Thanks a lot, buddy," Starsky said with a groan. "Where does that leave me? I'd have to date all those nieces myself."

"Some of them might be nice."

"Yeah. Right. Sure." Starsky grabbed Hutch's arm to steer him toward the synagogue, which they'd almost passed without seeing it. "Been awhile since I been here," he said by way of explanation.

"You afraid the roof'll fall in when you cross the threshold?"

"It might." Starsky opened the door for his partner and shooed him in.

As it turned out, however, most of the "nice Jewish ladies" were so busy exclaiming over how tanned and tall and grown-up "little Davey Starsky" had become that they were too busy to try to fix him up with their daughters or nieces or next-door neighbors. Hutch didn't have to do much but smile a lot and eat. Rachel introduced them as "my two boys my son, David and his friend, Ken." One of the older ladies wanted to know why Hutch hadn't gone home for Christmas.

"My family isn't big on Christmas," Hutch said, hoping they'd leave it at that. The truth was, his family always had a huge celebration at Christmas, but it was an endless round of parties and cocktails and country-club events and he didn't enjoy that one bit. Never had. When his granddad was alive, there was always a real tree at the farm, and lying in bed on Christmas Eve waiting to hear reindeer hooves on the roof, and hanging stockings by a real fireplace and leaving out cookies and milk for Santa. In fact, Hutch was a little embarrassed to remember, even when he got too old to believe in Santa, he and his sister and Granddad had always left out cookies and hung up stockings anyway, all three of them pretending to believe for the sake of the others. His parents always waited until Christmas morning to spend the holiday at the farm, but Hutch and his sister were shipped off to the farm as soon as school let out. And both preferred it that way.

By the time they were in high school, they were expected to participate in some of the parties and events, and Christmas lost some of its shine for Hutch. It had never been the same since. And after Granddad died, there wasn't even the prospect of Christmas Day at the farm to look forward to.

"So you're going to celebrate Hanukkah this year instead?" the nice old lady asked him.

Hutch shook himself out of his reverie and smiled at her. "Rachel and David are going to teach me how, I guess."

She smiled brightly and Hutch suspected the speech about the "lovely niece" was coming next, but Rachel saved him by appearing at his elbow and insisting he hadn't eaten enough.

"Rachel, I've eaten enough to sink a battleship," he protested, but she led him away, back to the food. There was certainly an abundance of it.

"I thought you'd been stuck with Mrs. Plummer long enough," Rachel said serenely. "A dear lady, but she could talk the legs off an iron pot."

Starsky, Hutch was amused to see, had been cornered by a different old lady, and she was chattering merrily about something, while Starsky tried hard to look interested. Hutch made his way to his partner's rescue.

"Hutch!" Starsky exclaimed gratefully. "Hutch, this is Mrs. Rosenstein. The rabbi's wife. My partner, Ken Hutchinson."

Hutch shook the lady's hand and gave her his most charming smile. "Nice to meet you."

"I was just telling David that you boys need to come to a little party we're having Saturday night," Mrs. Rosenstein said, hardly stopping to draw breath. "A kind of open house, very informal. People just dropping in and visiting, nothing fancy. So many of your childhood friends will be there, David, you have to come and bring your friend here." She beamed at Hutch. "Marcy will be there," she added.

Starsky flushed and cast an embarrassed look at Hutch.

"Marcy?" Hutch inquired with as innocent an expression as he could manage.

"David and Marcy were childhood sweethearts," Mrs. Rosenstein said. "It was so cute. They were only about 10 at the time, and a couple of years later David went out to California to live with Rose and Al."

"We were 12, not 10, and we were just kids, Mrs. Rosenstein," Starsky protested weakly.

"But I'm sure she'd love to see you," Mrs. Rosenstein went on. "Saul wasn't the rabbi then; he entered the seminary late in life. But we were living a few blocks from Rachel and Marcy lived across the street from us and Davey used to come by to see her and they'd sit on the porch swing and hold hands for just hours. They were sweet."

Starsky's flush deepened.

But the evening was finally over and they walked back with Rachel.

"I'm so glad you boys came," she said, walking along holding an arm of each of them. "I get awfully tired of bragging on my heroic son without having evidence to back up my claims."

Starsky grinned. "Heroic? Since when?"

"You are," she said. "Fighting crime out there, bringing in the bad guys, saving people's lives. Too far away for your mother to come to you if you're hurt," she added, a bit accusingly.

"I've got Hutch," Starsky said.

"I know, and I'm grateful," Rachel said, giving Hutch's arm a little squeeze. "But I worry so about you, Davey."

"I know."

"And you wouldn't tell me if you were hurt, would you?"

Starsky didn't have an answer for that. He gave Hutch a guilty look.

"I'd tell you," Hutch said. "If it was bad enough that you needed to know."

"Promise?"

"I promise," Hutch said.

"Good." She walked in silence for a short ways before changing the subject. "You don't have to go to the Rosensteins' party," she said. "That's Christmas Eve and I thought we'd just stay home and watch television. 'Scrooge,'" she added, winking at Hutch.

"Don't miss the party on my account," Hutch began, but she stopped him.

"We're going to have a nice time, just the three of us," she said. "You don't know any of those people, and I doubt if Davey wants to spend all evening being introduced to 'nice' girls. Christmas Eve is a family time, isn't it? So we'll stay home and be a family. Unless you'd rather not?"

"It sounds terrific, Ma," Starsky said.

The following night was the first night of Hanukkah, and Hutch watched and listened as Rachel set up the menorah, carefully placed one candle in the far right holder, and lit it with another candle. She sang a song in Hebrew that was lovely, even though Hutch didn't understand any of the words. Starsky sang with her, faltering a little over some parts. Then Rachel dug around in the piano bench and came up with a wrinkled and yellowed sheet of music.

She said to Hutch, "This is a traditional Hanukkah song. Can you play this?"

Hutch took it and set it on the music rack. He looked through the music, experimented a few moments, then began to play. Rachel sat beside him and sang it, turning the pages for him, while Starsky stood behind them, a hand on a shoulder of each.

"Now, Davey," Rachel said, turning to look up at her son, "play The Dreidel Song."

"Ma, I haven't played that in years," Starsky objected.

"But you remember it. I know you do," she said.

Hutch stood aside and made a great show of waving his partner to the piano bench. Starsky sat down, looking extremely uncomfortable, and cracked his knuckles. But then he played a lively, lilting melody that made Hutch's toe tap involuntarily, and as far as Hutch could tell, Starsky didn't hit a single sour note. When he finished, Rachel clapped her hands delightedly.

"I knew you remembered it," she said, a satisfied smile on her face. She kissed her son's cheek and slid off the piano bench. "Now we eat," she said, including Hutch with a glance. "And then we have presents."

Hutch looked at Starsky uncertainly. They'd both bought Christmas presents for Rachel, but Starsky had never mentioned Hanukkah presents, not the first night. Hutch thought you exchanged Hanukkah presents the last night of the holiday...

Rachel went to the kitchen to put dinner on the table and Hutch hissed at Starsky, "What presents?"

Starsky shrugged unconcernedly. "Hanukkah presents are mostly silly trinkets. And mostly for the kids. Stuff like Hot Wheels cars or candy coins. Don't worry about it. Since there ain't no kids here," he grinned wickedly, "I think that makes you and me the kids."

But Hutch did worry about it, all through dinner, so he was greatly relieved when, after they'd finished eating, Rachel gave each of them a decorated cookie with their names in frosting on top. And Starsky, God bless him, disappeared for a moment and returned with a bouquet of fresh flowers he must've bought earlier in the day when Hutch had gone for his usual run. He gave it to his mother, said it was "from me and Hutch," and started clearing the table.

Rachel beamed at Hutch, apparently well satisfied. "I really can't decide which is better," she confided with a twinkle in her eyes. "Nice surprises every night for eight days or one grand wallow in tissue paper on Christmas morning."

Hutch grinned back. "I kind of like doing both."

"You know, I do, too," she said with a girlish giggle. She left the room to get a vase and came back to arrange the flowers, humming a Christmas carol as she did so.

"Rachel Starsky, you are an amazing woman," Hutch said.

"Thank you," she said with a little curtsy. "I do my best."

It had snowed on and off for a couple of days, and Hutch woke from a bad dream in the middle of the night to look outside and see that finally, the accumulation was enough to cover the yards and really look like Christmas. He sat up and just looked out the window, enjoying the sight. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve. It couldn't be more perfect unless Granddad could be here, too. But Starsky and his mom made darned good substitutes.

"Whatcha starin' at, Blintz?" a soft voice asked behind him.

Before he thought, Hutch said, "The snow. I miss snow at Christmas. But there's enough now for making a snowman."

The bed shifted and Hutch suddenly realized how he must've sounded. But Starsky curled up beside him, knees up and his arms wrapped around them, and looked through the window, too.

"Wanna build one?" his partner asked, very seriously.

"What? Now?"

That impish grin appeared as if on command. "Why not now? How often do we get a chance to do somethin' silly? Come on!" Starsky scrambled off the bed and began pulling on his jeans and a sweatshirt.

"Starsk, you got to be kidding!" Hutch turned around and stared. "It's the middle of the night."

"I know that," Starsky said, reaching for his boots. "At least, this way, none of the kids around here'll be up to make fun of us. It'll just be there in the mornin'."

Hutch was tempted, really tempted. And Starsky apparently meant to do it. In a moment, Hutch made up his mind, got out of bed, and began pulling on his clothes. Starsky froze in amazement.

"You're really gonna do it?"

"Yeah," Hutch said, grinning. "Let's go play in the snow, buddy."

It was so cold it took their breath away, but just as Hutch was bending to start rolling up the first big ball, a snowball thwacked him in the middle of the back.

"Gotcha!" Starsky crowed in triumph, darting behind a tree and making another snowball.

"You scum!" Hutch hissed back, laughing and trying to be quiet at the same time. He made himself a couple of snowballs, too, having to duck as another of Starsky's flew by him and barely missed his head. He threw back as fast as he could form them and found a great deal of satisfaction in hitting his partner squarely in the backside, leaving a large wet spot on the seat of Starsky's jeans.

"Hey!" Starsky protested. "That's not fair!"

"Whatsa matter? Hurt your brains?" Hutch taunted, throwing another, which Starsky dodged.

They continued until both were breathless with laughter and exertion.

"You ready to make that snowman now?" Starsky asked at last.

"Let's do it, pal." Hutch started to bend, but gave Starsky a suspicious look. "You're not gonna dump snow down my back again, are you?"

Starsky shook his head, snow having settled on his curls until it almost looked like a hat. "Nope. Gonna help you."

"I'll bet," Hutch muttered, but Starsky was as good as his word, and in half an hour they had a respectable snowman built in the front yard. Starsky rooted around in the house for an old hat and a carrot for a nose, while Hutch found a couple of dark colored rocks to use for eyes. When they were done, Starsky tossed an arm around Hutch's neck.

"Not bad for a coupla California cops, huh?"

"Not bad at all," Hutch agreed, admiring their work.

"But now I'm freezin'," Starsky complained. "Let's go make hot chocolate."

"What if we wake your mom?"

"We'll give her some, too," Starsky said, plowing toward the house.

Rachel had beat them to the punch. When they came into the kitchen, she was standing at the stove, stirring something in a saucepan. She gave them an impish grin of her own as they stopped in the doorway. "My, oh, my," she said with an innocent air. "Have I got blackmail material now."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Starsky demanded.

"I took pictures," she said, peeking over her shoulder at him. "Two grown men, having a snowball fight in the yard on Christmas Eve. What would your captain say?"

"Ma, you didn't."

"Davey, I did," she said, patting her bathrobe pocket. "Polaroids. And don't try to get them away from me, either, young man."

Starsky looked at Hutch for support, but he was laughing too hard to help. "I'm sorry, buddy," Hutch said when he could speak. "But that's the chance we took."

"I didn't see no flashbulb goin' off," Starsky said, still suspicious.

"You wouldn't have seen fireworks, son," she returned, still serenely stirring the hot chocolate. "You were too busy dodging Ken's ammo." She cocked a saucy eye at Hutch. "Nice shot at his rump, by the way."

Starsky sank into a chair, laughing. "Ma, you're too much."

"Just doing my job." She poured chocolate into three mugs and set two of them in front of "her boys." Then she produced the photographs. Sure enough, there were the two of them, heaving snowballs at each other as if they were less than half their real age. But even in the dim light cast by the streetlamps, both were flushed and laughing and looked more relaxed than they had for a long time.

Starsky reached out to take them and look more closely, but Rachel held them out of reach. "You have to promise to be good."

He grinned. "I promise, Ma. I just wanna see."

She relinquished them and he did only look, a smile on his face and in his eyes, before handing them to Hutch to examine.

"Tomorrow I want you to pose next to your snowman," Rachel said solemnly, but with dancing eyes.

"Ma!"

"I mean it, Davey. It may be a long time before I have another chance like this."

Starsky looked helplessly at Hutch.

"I don't mind," Hutch said in answer to the look, trying to hide his twitching mouth and failing utterly.

"I give up," Starsky said. "Ma, you musta bewitched him. This guy is the original Grinch. He turns green every Christmas and ties antlers to a dog's head. Honest, he does. What the hell has come over him?"

Rachel patted Hutch's hand affectionately. "You really should be kinder to him, David. He's a good boy."

Starsky snorted. "I could tell you some stories "

"I could tell a couple, too," Hutch interjected warningly.

Starsky stopped. "On the other hand," he said, putting on his best puppy-dog face, "maybe the middle of the night ain't such a good time for stories. I'm goin' back to bed. Comin', Hutch?" He kissed his mother and waited expectantly.

"Yeah. You wore me out," Hutch said, whacking his partner on the back. "Come on, Davey. I'll tuck you in."

"Asshole," Starsky muttered.

Rachel's laughter followed them up the stairs.

Everyone slept late because they'd been up so late. When Starsky finally stirred, Hutch had only been awake about ten minutes himself. But he'd lain on his back, enjoying the smell of coffee wafting up from the kitchen and something that smelled a little like cinnamon rolls.

"Ma made kugel for breakfast," Starsky said around a wide yawn.

"She made what?"

"Sweet kugel. It's like mandelbrot, buddy. You gotta taste it to believe it."

They spent the day quietly after posing for pictures with the snowman, each of them with an arm around "Frosty," as Starsky had dubbed him. Hutch did some last minute Christmas/Hanukkah shopping and Starsky watched "It's A Wonderful Life" with his mother. Late in the afternoon, Hutch called home, at Rachel's insistence.

"It'll cost too much," Hutch protested.

"It's Christmas," she said firmly. "Call your mother. I insist."

"They won't notice whether I call or not," Hutch said under his breath, but she heard him anyway.

"Yes, they will," she said. "It would break my heart if Davey didn't call me on such an important holiday. You don't have to get all mushy about it. But call your mom and dad and wish them a merry Christmas." She handed him the phone. "Do as I say, Ken. Please."

He took the phone. He'd mailed their Christmas presents before leaving California and he supposed theirs to him were waiting in Venice or more probably, Huggy had them. He'd offered to pick up mail and newspapers and water the plants at Starsky and Hutch's homes while they were gone.

It rang several times. Finally, his mother's breathless voice said "Hello?"

"Hi, Mom. Merry Christmas."

"Kenny! Where on earth have you been? We've been trying to call you all day."

"I'm not home," he said. "I'm visiting friends for the holiday."

"Oh, good, dear. It's nice you can have some fun for a change."

"Yeah."

Rachel was giving him that look he'd already come to recognize, that no-nonsense, "do as I say" look. So he made a little more effort.

"What are you all doing today?" he asked, a little more brightly.

"Kristy's in a Christmas pageant at church tonight, and we're all going," his mother said.

"Is she there? I'd like to talk to her." Hutch did miss his niece.

"No, but I'll tell her you called. She'll be here tomorrow. We'll call you back. Where are you?"

"I'm " Hutch hesitated. What would his mother think of his being at Starsky's mom's? Well, what did he care? "I'm in New York. With Starsky and his mom."

There was a brief silence, then his mother said, "You are? But why, Ken? Why didn't you come home if you had that much time off?"

He shot a "help me" look at Starsky, but before Starsky could react, he thought of something that would be true, but wouldn't hurt his mom's feelings. "Rachel's all alone, Mom. You've got Karen and Steve and Kristy and Dad. So we came here."

Another brief silence, then his mom's voice, softer now, "That's sweet of you, hon. Tell them I said Happy Hanukkah, will you? What's the number? We'll call you tomorrow and you can talk to your sister and Kristy then."

He gave it to her, feeling without quite understanding that some sort of bridge had been built between them.

"We got the box," his mother went on, still with that note of warmth in her voice. "We haven't opened it yet, of course. We'll do that tomorrow. Did you get yours?"

"It's probably waiting for me at home," Hutch said. "A friend's picking up my mail. It hadn't arrived when I left. So," he added with a genuine smile, "I'll get to have another Christmas when I get back."

His mother laughed gently. "You'll have to call as soon as you open it, and tell us what you think of Kristy's gift. She picked it out all by herself, and she was quite proud of herself, too."

"I will," he said, and meant it.

"Oh, darling, I'm so sorry, but we have to get ready to go to church," his mother said. "I didn't realize how late it was getting. We'll call you back tomorrow, all right?"

"All right, Mom." He hesitated, then added, "I love you."

"I love you, too, sweetheart. Talk to you tomorrow. Good night."

He hung up slowly, feeling distinctly homesick suddenly. Maybe some of the distance he imagined between his family and himself really was just imagination.

Starsky was looking at him very steadily, as always, reading his mind. Rachel quietly got up and left the room, with a smile at Hutch.

"You okay, buddy?"

Hutch nodded. "Yeah. I'm just I don't know."

"Missin' your folks?"

"I guess."

"Nothin' wrong with that, babe," Starsky said softly. "Anything I can do to help?"

"No." Hutch shook his head and smiled. "But thanks for asking."

Supper was simple Rachel said she was saving her strength for the turkey the next day. And they spent the evening watching television in the light of the Christmas tree.

At nine, Rachel casually mentioned that the Methodist church a few blocks away had a candlelight service at ten.

Starsky glanced at Hutch, remembering last Christmas Eve. They'd gone to church together after their shift ended, at Starsky's insistence. Hutch had balked, but let himself be talked into it because Starsky pretended he was homesick for his aunt and uncle, whom he had lived with during his teen-age years and who had taken him to church. Hutch had soon figured out that his partner recognized that it was really Hutch who needed the ritual of Christmas Eve service that year.

"Wanna go, buddy?"

"We'll miss 'Scrooge,'" Hutch said, striving for a light note.

Rachel laughed. "No, you won't, dear. It's on at eleven-thirty. You might miss the first few minutes, but that's all. I'll have popcorn waiting when you come back."

Hutch looked at Starsky.

"I'll go with ya," Starsky said, pretending great reluctance. "It's the least I can do for my best friend."

"Get your coat," Hutch said.

The service was, if anything, more beautiful than the one they'd attended the year before. And when a little girl, just Kristy's age, sang "Away in a Manger" in an uncertain but sweet soprano voice, that was the moment when it really became Christmas for Hutch.

As promised, Rachel had popcorn and hot chocolate waiting when they got back, and they all watched "Scrooge" together.

"Ain't gonna have nightmares about The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, are ya, Hutch?" Starsky teased during that part of the movie.

"Nope," Hutch said, tossing a kernel of popcorn at him. "You're the one who's so into horror movies. You're gonna dream he's an ax murderer or something and wake me up with your screams."

"I'm just afraid Santa Claus won't realize we're not at home," Starsky said with studied gravity. "I forgot to send him a forwarding address."

"Santa Claus!" Rachel said suddenly, rising and heading upstairs.

"Where's she goin'?" Starsky demanded.

"How should I know?" Hutch said. "She's your mom."

Rachel came back in a few minutes with red stockings laid over her arm. "I almost forgot these," she said, tossing one into each of their laps. "We have to hang up our stockings."

Starsky burst into laughter. "Ma, we're a little too big for "

"Hush, David Michael," she said sternly. "Or Santa Claus will leave a lump of coal in yours."

"He will, anyway," Hutch said. "If he really does know who's been naughty and who's been nice, 'Davey' will get a whole truckload of coal."

"If Santa knows what a bad boy 'Kenny' has been " Starsky began with mock indignation, but his mother tweaked his ear and he broke off with a surprised grunt.

"Hang up your stocking, David," she said. "And here's one for Nick, too."

"Nick?" Starsky stared at her. "Is he comin'?"

"Just for dinner," she said. "He comes over for Sunday dinner every week. And he'll be here for the last night of Hanukkah. He might as well have a stocking, too. And you haven't seen him at all while you've been here."

Hutch fixed Starsky with the same look Rachel had given him earlier. Come on. Make an effort.

Starsky returned the look. "Okay. I won't put any coal in Nick's stocking," he said, giving his mother a grin.

After Ebenezer Scrooge had become "as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as that good old city ever knew", Rachel rose and turned off the television. "Better get to bed, boys," she said, her eyes twinkling. "Santa won't come while you're awake. Isn't that right, Ken?"

He smiled. "Right, Rachel. Come on, Starsk."

But late in the night Hutch woke, and couldn't go back to sleep. He lay looking out the window for a while, listening to Starsky's quiet snoring, but finally had to give up. He slid out of bed silently and picked up his robe, padding downstairs barefoot to sit on the couch, plug in the tree, and watch the twinkling lights. He'd often done so as a child at Granddad's, but then he'd been trying to catch Santa Claus coming down the chimney. Tonight, he wasn't sure how he felt.

He was homesick, a little. Missing his granddad. Missing his parents and sister.

But he was happy, too, being in this little house so full of love, with his best buddy and surrogate mom sleeping safely upstairs.

The End

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