What Best Friends Are For
Written by Valerie Wells
“Starsk?” The quiet voice behind him and the hand on his shoulder finally made him sit up and take a long, shuddering breath. He couldn’t see for the tears that still filled his eyes, but the vision would never, never leave his memory: Terry lying quiet and still, her eyes closed...forever this time.
“She’s...gone, Hutch,” he managed to choke out. His voice didn’t even sound like his own.
“Oh, God, buddy.” Silence for a moment, then, “I’m sorry.” Inadequate words, but the trembling voice behind him, the hand that gripped his shoulder and the other one that came to rest on his hair, said what words couldn’t. I’m here for you. I grieve with you. I loved her, too.
He watched while Hutch reached out with a shaking hand and gently touched Terry’s cheek, while his other hand stayed on Starsky’s shoulder, squeezing reassuringly.
“Hutch, I –” Helplessly, he felt the tears start again, and without a word, Hutch knelt beside Terry’s bed and wrapped his arms around his partner, holding on as tight as Starsky had held on to him on another occasion, when Gillian died.
“Let it go, Starsk,” Hutch said in a low voice. “I’m here.”
And Starsky, who had been trying so hard to be brave, as though Terry was still looking up at him with those clear, loving eyes and asking him to, gave in to the grief, and cried on Hutch’s strong shoulder.
It was Hutch who called for Dr. Quo. And it was Hutch who signed the papers, and Hutch who called the funeral home that Terry, in her anxiety to spare Starsky all the pain she could, had already made arrangements with. Through all of these necessary steps, Starsky watched through burning eyes as though it were all happening to someone else, unable to muster the will even to answer any questions.
Thankfully, Hutch was able to handle it all without him, and when it was all over, he came over to where Starsky was sitting. He sat down beside him with a heavy sigh and put a hand on his arm. “Can I give you a ride home, buddy?”
Starsky laid his head back against the wall and stared up at the antiseptic ceiling. “Home. Yeah. Sure. Why the hell not?”
Hutch stood and held out his hand, and Starsky, feeling years older, took the offered hand and stood. Hutch put an arm around his shoulders and gently steered him outside to the waiting Torino, loaded him into the passenger side and drove to Starsky’s apartment in silence, while Starsky stared out the window and tried not to cry anymore.
The late-afternoon sunlight shafted through the trees on the quiet street and in his mind, he heard her voice again. “I’ll be there, waiting for you.” “Best friends don’t have to promise.” “I love you, Dave.”
He put one hand over his mouth and forced the tears back. Not here. Not out here where everybody can see. Not any more.
Hutch parked the Torino, shut off the motor, and sat looking at Starsky for a moment before saying, “Come on, Starsk. Let’s go in.”
Starsky got out and preceded his partner up the stairs to his apartment. Hutch reached around him to unlock the door and push it open, and Starsky went in, sat down on the couch, and laid his head against the back of it, too exhausted to take another step. Hutch went into the kitchen, got a can of Coors out of the refrigerator, and brought it back. He opened it and handed it to Starsky. “Here. Drink this.”
Starsky shook his head, but Hutch kept holding it out.
“You don’t have anything stronger. It’ll help. Drink it.”
Starsky took the can and took a sip, but he didn’t want it, and his stomach protested so violently he was afraid for a moment he was going to be sick. Hutch sat down on the coffee table so he could face him.
“Look at me,” he said quietly.
With a long breath, Starsky obeyed. Hutch’s blue eyes were swimming with tears, but his voice was steady.
“Don’t try to be strong. Not here. Not with me. Let yourself grieve.”
“Hutch...” Starsky stopped, steadied his own voice with an effort, then went on, “Hutch, I don’t dare.”
“You think I don’t know how you feel?” Now Hutch’s voice shook, too. “Buddy, I’ve lived it. And I loved Terry, too. Almost as much as you did. You’ve gotta let yourself feel the pain, or it’ll hurt a hundred times more.”
“She said...she said she’d be waiting for me,” Starsky said. “She said she’d be here, with me, if I needed her. For her, I’ve got to be st...strong.”
Hutch sighed and ran his hand over his face. “Okay. Okay.” He patted Starsky’s knee and moved to a chair.
After several moments of silence, Starsky said, “Somebody’s gotta call Dobey. He’ll be wondering what happened to us.”
“I called him,” Hutch said. “Hours ago. Don’t worry about that.”
“I called Huggy, too.”
“How are we gonna tell the kids?” Starsky asked, his eyes beginning to fill again. “What the hell are we gonna tell Sally?”
Hutch swiftly moved to the couch and put an arm around his partner’s shoulders. “I’ll tell Sally, partner. You won’t have to do that.”
Starsky gratefully accepted the comfort of Hutch’s arm around him, but he choked back the tears. He wouldn’t cry. No more tears. Tears wouldn’t bring Terry back, and crying only made it hurt more. Tears made it real.
“Why don’t you go lie down for a while, Starsk? I can see you’re beat. I’ll try to find something edible in your fridge for supper for us.”
Starsky managed a weak smile. “Sorry I don’t have any bean sprouts or dessicated wheat germ.”
Hutch smiled back. “That’s okay. Must be something in here worth cooking. Go on, now. I’ll wake you up when it’s ready.”
Starsky went to his bedroom and lay down on top of the covers, staring up at the mirrored ceiling, but seeing only Terry’s face.
No. He would not cry. With a sigh, he rolled over so he couldn’t see the ceiling and buried his face in the pillow. He didn’t know anyone could be so tired.
And he didn’t hear Hutch come in an hour later to find him sleeping, with tears drying on his face, tears he didn’t even know he’d shed. Instead of waking him, Hutch tiptoed out, leaving him to find what peace he could in sleep.
Long hours later, he awoke. The apartment was deathly silent. There wasn’t even any sound of traffic from outside. Just the quiet hum of the clock radio on the bedside table. Starsky rolled over and rubbed his aching temples, then turned to look at the clock. Then his eyes caught sight of a photo of Terry there, shaking pom poms with Sally and the others, smiling, happy, alive...
And he heard her voice.
“Some dark night when you’re all alone, if you just close your eyes and you try to remember me, I’ll be there waiting...”
He sat bolt upright. “Terry?”
Nothing. The apartment was empty and still...and quiet as a tomb.
“If you just close your eyes and you try to remember me...”
He closed his eyes.
“When your world feels like it’s falling apart...”
He held his breath.
“What are best friends for?”
“I can’t do it, honey,” he whispered. “I just can’t...”
“I’m not afraid anymore...”
“But I am!” And just as the pain sliced through his heart, Hutch appeared in the doorway, his blond hair disheveled and catching the little light that stole through the parted curtain from the street.
“Starsk? You okay?”
Starsky looked up at him. And he couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t hold it back, he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t dying inside, he couldn’t be brave. But before the first tear even had time to form, Hutch was beside him, one arm around his shoulders, the other hand gripping his arm.
“Go on, buddy,” Hutch said quietly. “It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts, pal. Don’t hold it back.”
He couldn’t have done it in front of any other human being in the world.
Hutch took a deep, trembling breath and Starsky felt the wetness of Hutch’s tears, too, as his partner leaned his head against his.
Starsky woke up at dawn. He sneaked past Hutch, sleeping on the couch, and took his jacket off the hook. He’d go to the park. He’d feel nearer to Terry there. He couldn’t face sitting in this apartment with his memories another moment.
He didn’t know how long he’d sat on the picnic table, hearing, in his mind, the laughter of the kids, the shaking of the pom poms (“Hold that ball! Hold that ball!”) and remembering seeing Terry feeling behind her for the very table he was sitting on.
“Dave, I can’t see...”
He saw Hutch coming.
How’d he know where I was? Well, where the hell else would I be?
Hutch sat down with him, putting hand on his shoulder. “They got Prudholm.”
We made it again, partner. Came through without a scratch...at least, where it shows.
The action had helped, some. Handing Prudholm over, without giving him what he wanted – Starsky’s reputation and badge – had given him the satisfaction of knowing Terry’s death would not go unavenged.
And Hutch’s steady loyalty (This is ours. Okay, partner?) had reminded him, again, that he might have lost his lady but he still had a best friend.
But that was over now. And Dobey, trying to be kind, had insisted he take a bereavement leave. Cap, if you only knew...sittin’ around here with nothin’ to do is the last thing I need right now.
Dobey had refused to be moved, however, so here he sat. Alone. He knew Hutch’d come by the second he got off work and insist on ordering a pizza, or grilling some steaks, and then stand over him while he tried to choke a few bites down. And then, God bless him, Hutch would sit here with him all night if necessary, being quiet if he wanted to be quiet, and listening if he wanted to talk.
If I had to have a babysitter, buddy, I sure am glad it’s you.
Tonight, he wouldn’t let that happen. He was going to make an effort to take some of the load off his partner. And planning it would give him something to do, other than watching game shows and thinking about how empty he felt. He grabbed his jacket.
Steaks. Salad, in deference to Hutch’s health sensibilities. Plenty of beer. And Monopoly. Just the two of them, battling it out to the bitter end. When he got home with the groceries, he dug around under his bed and found the board, which had lain untouched for over two weeks. Terry had loved Monopoly and had taken real pleasure in beating him soundly every chance she got. He smiled fondly, remembering something about her for the first time without pain.
Is it okay, sweetheart? To think of you without pain? God, I’m not forgetting, am I?
No. He wasn’t. And Terry wouldn’t want him to spend the rest of his life feeling like he was dragging his heart around behind him. She’d want the memories to be sweet, as well.
He glanced at the clock. If he started now, the steaks would be just right as Hutch showed up. He grinned a little, imagining the surprise on his partner’s face when he walked in and found Starsky not only not sitting on the couch, staring into space or at the tube, but serving what Hutch would call “a real meal.”
You deserve a break, boy. You’ve been terrific, and all the while, you’ve been grieving for her, too, I know.
Hutch showed up right on time and let himself in, stopping cold in his tracks at the sight of Starsky, hair disheveled and an apron tied around his blue jeans, busily setting the table for supper. “Starsk? What are you doing?”
“Feeding you, for a change,” Starsky answered as cheerfully as he could manage. “Sit down, buddy. It’s all ready. And after, if ya want, we can have a Monopoly showdown. Winner take all.”
“Monopoly?” Hutch blinked his blue eyes, puzzled. “But, we haven’t played Monopoly since....”
“I know,” Starsky said hastily, cutting off what he was afraid Hutch had been about to say. He couldn’t have stood to hear the bleak words.
Both of them knew, though neither said it aloud, that tonight, at midnight, was the time Terry had set for them to open her last presents to them. Starsky had found them in her apartment, with a note, when he went to close it up after her death.
Her instructions had been very clear.
Take these home and put them away. At midnight, two weeks after I’m gone, I want you and Hutch to open them together. You have to be together. I’d ask you to promise, but best friends don’t have to promise.
No peeking, okay? Wait two weeks.
I love you.
He hadn’t even wanted to peek. Just seeing the note, in her handwriting, knowing that she had sat there, alone, wrapping up presents for him and Hutch, planning ahead, facing her own inevitable death – it had broken him completely. He’d sat there reading and re-reading the note, sitting on the carpet next to her bed, crying his eyes out, for hours. That had been one of the nights when poor Hutch hadn’t got a wink of sleep, having to sit up with a raving, cursing, sobbing madman who used to be Terry’s “best friend.”
And you never uttered one word of complaint, did you, Hutch? You’d have never let me go there alone, either, if I’d told you what I was plannin’ to do. You’d have insisted on goin’ along and helping me pack up her clothes and stuff...But that one thing was something I had to do by myself. It helped me say “goodbye.” And you understood that, too.
“Starsk? You’re awfully quiet,” Hutch said gently.
“Want to tell me about it?”
Starsky sighed, but it wasn’t the all-the-way-up-from-the-toes sigh he’d been giving for two weeks. This one was more weary than anything. “Just tired of feelin’ like hell, pal. Thanks for sticking with me.”
“Hey, what are best friends for?” Hutch asked, and immediately added, “I’m sorry, Starsk. That just slipped out.”
“No, it’s okay. You are my best friend.” Starsky smiled sadly.
To fill the time between supper and midnight, they drank an appalling amount of beer and played cutthroat Monopoly for hours. Hutch played like his heart wasn’t really in it, but still managed to rout Starsky, horse, foot and artillery. And the drunker they got, the sillier they got, until Hutch decided they should quit the force and try getting a spot on the Vancouver Lions football team.
But all mirth came to an abrupt end when the clock struck midnight.
“Dearest Hutch,” Hutch read from Terry’s note to him, “To you, I entrust Ollie and...Dave. Please love them both,” his voice broke and his eyes filled, “and don’t let either of them change.” He looked at Starsky, whose own eyes were filled with tears. And neither made any attempt to hide them.