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Part Three



Charlotte Frost

Part Four

    It's crazy what love can to you. I mean, I'd known Hutch for years. I'd known him intimately for years, considerin' our closeness an' all. But, hell, sitting across from him at the dining room table, you'd think that we'd just discovered each other. And, I guess, we had, in a manner of speaking. But only as far as the bedroom was concerned. Everything else shoulda still been the same.

    But it wasn't. I mean, Hutch sat there sipping at his soup with a spoon, and I was just so... so damn aware of him. I mean, more than usual. We'd always been real big on eye contact and being conscious of where each other was, physically, whenever we were in a room together. It makes it a helluva lot easier to get out of dangerous situations, being so tuned in to each other like that. But now we were supposed to be on vacation, and I seemed to know every little shift of his body, every little sigh, every little spot he itched and scratched at. Even the way he buttered his bread seemed to fascinate me.

    I think he was havin' the same problem, because he kept looking up at me. Our eyes would meet, then we would sorta grin at each other. I couldn't wait for the evening to be over so we could go up to his room. Though I knew, in reality, we could go up whenever we damn well pleased. It wasn't like anyone was going to stop us.

    The table was pretty quiet, and I realized a bit guiltily that Hutch and I weren't helping the situation, being so wrapped up in each other. So I cleared my throat and turned to Suzette, who was sitting next to Hutch. "How was your friend, Nancy?" We hadn't needed to pick Suzette up at the end of the day, because Nancy had dropped her off.

    "She's doing very well. In fact, she intends to move out to your area soon. She's sending out resumes for a position in television marketing."

    Mr. H. snorted from where he sat at the head of the table. He'd hardly said a word since we got back. "Nancy Lidderson always reached higher than her capabilities. Her family has a history of that. It's no wonder they live in the poor area of town. They've lost all their money doing things that didn't make any sense."

    Well, there didn't seem anything "poor" about the neighborhood when Hutch and I had dropped Suzette off. But I guess he meant relatively speaking....

    Hutch looked down the table at his father, his jaw firm. "It's a good thing Nancy doesn't have you around to discourage her."

    Mrs. H. was sitting next to me, and she screwed up her face at Hutch. "Kenneth," she scolded.

    Hutch reached for his water. "It's true, Mother. Everyone here knows it." He sipped from his glass, then said, "Father never did like to see people succeed at things."

    Now, I was feelin' a little nervous, wondering if tempers were gonna start to blow. But Mr. H. was calm when he replied, "That's right. There's nothing to celebrate when success is obtained by people who don't deserve it."

    "And I suppose," Hutch went on, mustache twitching, "you're the one who's going to play judge and jury regarding whether someone else 'deserves' it or not."

    "I have a right to my opinion."

    "Well," Suzette spoke up, but she was sorta of playing with her water glass and not meeting her father's eye, "Nancy is my friend, and I don't care what your opinion of her is."

    I had to nod at her, because I was proud of her for saying that.

    Mr. H. grunted. "You aren't telling me anything I don't already know. You've never listened to me. Neither of you ever have." He sounded, even to me, like a broken record. But I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. Sorry for the whole family. None of them were interested in fixing any of their communication problems.

    Hutch looked like he was preparing a retort to that, but then Mrs. H. suddenly reached for a dish and loudly said, "Would you like some more mashed potatoes, David?"

    It turned everyone's attention to me, like she was trying to remind them that there was a guest in the house and they should stick to being silent. I wasn't sure what I preferred -- the silence or the honest anger that wasn't ever going to solve anything. I finally decided to just be polite. "Yes, thank you."

    She dipped an overly-large helping onto my plate. I obediently attacked it with a spoon.

    Suzette looked at her brother, and her voice was a little lower, as though trying not to draw too much attention from their father. "Where did you two go today?" Her glance included me.

    "All the old haunts," Hutch smiled at her. He started naming then off. Then, "It brought back a lot of memories."

    Something occurred to me just then. "But this wasn't the first time you've visited them since you moved to LA, right?"

    He nodded at me. Man, his eyes were so blue, so soft. "Yes, it is. When I've come back before, I never had time for that."

    Mrs. H. piped in, "That's because he only stayed long enough for whatever wedding or funeral there was, then left."

    "Gosh, I wonder why I left so quickly."

    I narrowed my eyes at Hutch then. He isn't very attractive when he gets sarcastic.

    He darted his eyes away from me, then looked at his mother. "I'm only spending the time now because I wanted Starsky to see where I'd grown up. But, when it gets down to it, there really isn't a lot to show, is there?" His voice was getting angry, and it was hard sitting across from him, listening to the hurt.

    Mrs. H. turned her attention back to her plate. Honest, I don't think she understood the point he was making.

    But I guess Mr. H. did. "Everyone makes their own bed, Kenneth. And once it's made, you have to sleep in it."

    Hutch grunted at his father. "Yes. Well, I've made mine. It took me a while to get all the pieces together, but it's mine and I'm proud of it." I swear, I could see his nostrils flaring.

    I hoped they weren't going to keep talking like this. I get lost real quick when people started using meta-whatevers. And it made me squirm, all the talk about beds. If the Hutchinsons only knew how much they were on my mind... and his....

    "Then why are you crying about there not being a lot to show?" Mr. H. demanded, staring at Hutch.

    Hutch's face turned red, like he was gonna boil over. "Because somewhere over the years, Daddy, it's dawned on me that one's family is supposed to be a place of support. A place where they can always turn to, even when, especially when, everything else in their life has fallen apart. I never felt that support here. Not when I was two, not when I was ten, not when I was fifteen, and certainly not now. The only thing that kept me going when I lived here was my dream of getting out. Finding my own life, a real life. Not a phony," he curled his lip at the ceiling, "exterior that hides all the hollowness within."

    Suzette had gotten real interested in her food, and my mouth had fallen open. Hutch looked like he wanted to hit something, and Mrs. H. just sort of stroked at her throat, like if she rubbed enough she could make all the tension go away. But Mr. H. was once again undaunted and it occurred to me that he'd heard it all before.

    "That exterior," he said firmly, "is the roof that protected your spoiled little life. My money kept you in food and clothing. Your mother," he indicated his wife, "cleaned your dirty little behind when you were a helpless, screaming infant. And all we got in return was your willful, stubborn rejection of everything we tried to give to you."

    Hutch was staring at his plate. I knew what he was gonna say. It was right there on the tip of his tongue. His teeth gnawed at his lip, he wanted to say it so bad.

    But he didn't. And I couldn't believe it. And I wanted to say it for him, but I was afraid I'd somehow mess it up, plus I didn't feel quite right arguing with his parents. It would make him seem weak in their eyes if I had to speak up for him.

    Suzette said it. She was still staring at her own plate, and her voice was small, but she said it very clearly. "None of those things mean anything, Father, when there's no love behind them."

    Everything was silent for a long time, like maybe five seconds.

    "Is that what you think?" Mr. H. asked. "The both of you? You're crying about not being loved after all your mother and I provided for you? If not giving your children every opportunity isn't love, then I guess I don't know the meaning of the word." He looked from them to his wife. "Elizabeth, pass the gravy, please."

    "Why yes, dear." She snatched it up, grateful as hell to have something to do.

    Hutch shook his head, then looked at Mr. H. as he dipped out a serving of gravy. He was breathing kinda hard, like the adrenaline pumping through his veins was gettin' difficult to control.

    And then Mr. H. met his eye. "Am I wrong, Kenneth, about the meaning of the word?" His tone was confident that he wasn't.

    Hutch continued to stare at him, and then he suddenly dropped his gaze, blinking rapidly. And then he straightened. "It doesn't matter," he replied in a small voice.

    Mr. H. grunted with disapproval. "I thought so."

    Suzette seemed a little disappointed in her brother, but she didn't say anything, either. And I think Hutch was disappointed in himself. But in those few seconds of thinking it through, he must have reached the same conclusion that I did. And he did the right thing, by backing down.

    See, I was wrong before. I thought that, maybe, if they all made an effort, maybe they could get through all the bad stuff from the past, and start actually acting like a family. But Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson just downright didn't have the tools. They had no idea what else was required of them. And that wasn't their fault. In fact, it was downright sad. Have I said yet that I pitied them?

    Hutch dabbed at his face with a napkin. "Excuse me." He got up from his chair, then looked at me. "You coming?"

    "Uh," I hesitated, because I really did want to come, but I also didn't want to be rude to these people. Plus, it might actually do Hutch some good to be alone a bit. And he seemed to realize that, for his face softened, like he was trying to tell me that I shouldn't feel pressured to say "Yes" just because he'd asked. "I think I'll stick around for dessert."

    He smiled at me. All warm, like nothing bad had happened the past few minutes. "Okay. See you later."

    Everyone listened to him go up the stairs. Then Mrs. H. smiled and stood. "Everyone ready for dessert?"

    "That'd be great," I said. The other two Hutchinsons mumbled something.

    She brought out Jell-O with bananas in it and whipped cream on top. She served everyone a plate. After the first bite, Mr. H. said to me, "I bet your family is proud of you, David." He said it like he approved.

    "Yes, they are," I told him. "They're real proud of Hutch, too. Love him like a son." I inwardly cringed, wishing I'd chosen a different word. "Love" was a real touchy subject right now.

    But he just grunted, involved in his dessert. "They can have him then."

    Shit. I shoulda seen that coming, but it hurt like hell nevertheless. And, the thing of it was, I didn't even have any desire to hurt him back. I mean, he had the two most wonderful children in the whole, wide world, and he didn't even know it. I couldn't hurt him any worse.

    But I couldn't just stay quiet. "They've already adopted him," I said casually. "You might even say they treat him like a prince. Because they know how well he takes care of me." Well, it was a bit of a romantic exaggeration, but Hutch always felt comfortable around my family. Through the corner of my eye, I could see Suzette watching me.

    Mrs. H. reached over and patted my hand. Her hand felt real cold. "We're glad you're taking care of Kenneth, too."

    Since you didn't? I wanted to ask her. But there was no point in it.

    I stuffed down my dessert as quickly as I could, because I suddenly had a real desire to be away from there. But once I'd excused myself from the table, I really didn't want to go up to Hutch yet, either. Because once I went into his room, there wouldn't be any comin' out until morning. And I needed some air.

    I went out to the back porch. It was kinda chilly, but the air felt good. I'd only been out there a couple of minutes before Suzette appeared.

    She was all shy again. "Is it all right if I join you?"

    "Sure," I said and indicated a chair. She sat it in, and I sat in the one beside her.

    "I hope," she said, "that Kenneth prepared you for our arguments."

    "Tell you the truth," I said, "I was expecting it to be worse. But you all don't say a whole lot to each other."

    She looked off to one side, and quietly said, "No, we never did."

    I smiled at her. "That was real big of you to stand up to your father like that. It took guts."

    "I have them to thank for my 'guts'," she said dryly, "because I otherwise couldn't had survived living here."

    Surely, it hadn't as bad as all that, but I didn't see any point in saying so.

    "You and Kenneth," she said softly, like she really wanted to say something but was almost afraid to, "you... you both seem to care about each other a lot." It was almost like her voice was full of wonder... and a million questions.

    I shrugged. "Yeah, we do. Though the word 'care' is only the beginning." I had to shake my head in amazement, thinking about it. "Hutch and me are really close." I nodded, confirming it to her and to myself. "What we have together is really special."

    "It must be something, having a friend like that."

    I turned to look at her. "Come on, Suzette, you have lots of friends."

    "But not like you and Kenneth."

    I considered that. "No one that I know has a friendship like me and your brother. But that's no reason to discount the friendships you do have. Developing a relationship takes time, energy, and sacrifice. It doesn't happen just because you'd like it to. There has to be something about the chemistry between you. And that's something that just... well, just happens. You can't create it outta thin air."

    "I don't discount my friends," she said firmly, then she softened again. "It's just been... nice... watching the two of you together."

    I lost interest in the subject because I realized there was something I wanted to tell her real bad, before it was too late. "You know, Suzette, your brother is real fond of you."

    She kinda bowed her head. "I know."

    "You two oughtta stick together more, in my opinion. It's too bad you live on different coasts."

    "We've never needed to see each other a lot, to know we care."

    "That's nice," I said. "But it'd still be nice if you could see each other more. I'd love to have you come out to LA for a visit, when you can really enjoy it." The last time she'd come was when Hutch had been sick from the plague. I hadn't called any of his family until we were sure he was gonna pull through. I mean, that's just the way it worked out because there never was any time prior to that. His parents had made noises on the phone, wondering how he was. But they didn't come. Suzette stayed a coupla days. I didn't get to meet her because I was comatose from exhaustion.

    She was quiet a moment. Then, "Maybe I will."

    "Bring that husband of yours, too."

    She nodded. "I might do that."

    "I never had a sister. Is it okay if I adopt you?"

    She sorta giggled at my words. Then she shrugged. "Sure."

    I kissed her on the cheek. "Deal. Now we're siblings." I wished I could tell her that she was honest-to-God practically my sister-in-law. But I liked the idea of her just downright being "Sis" better. "Okay if I call you 'Sis'?"

    She giggled again, then shrugged.

    "You sure?"

    She nodded, but I got the feeling she thought it was really silly.

    I stood. "I'm going upstairs now and see how your brother's doing."

    She turned to me, suddenly years more mature. "Kenneth is okay. My family has arguments like that all the time."

    It was touching that she was so concerned about my concern. "Thanks," I said. "But I hope he won't mind a little company. See you 'round, Sis."

    I went back in the house, barely nodded to Mr. and Mrs. H, who had taken residence in the living room, and trotted up the stairs.

* * *

    When I opened the door, I found Hutch lying on top of his bed, his knees up, one leg crossed over the other. It looked like he'd been staring at the ceiling, except when I entered he was looking at me, of course. In other circumstances, it would have been sorta funny, the image he presented. I mean, he was 34 years old, and he looked like he was someone confined to their room for not doin' their chores, or somethin'.

    But, anyway, when he saw me he was all smiles. "Hey, there, buddy."

    "Hi ya," I said as I moved toward the bed.

    "Sorry you had to witness that. Not very pretty, huh?"

    I sat down on the bed, resting my back against the headboard. Then I put my hand on the top of his head. "For what it's worth, Hutch, from somewhat of an outsider's perspective, I think you did the right thing when you backed down from your father."

    He seemed sorta sadly amused. "You mean when Suzette spoke up instead?"

    "Uh-huh. Because your father wasn't going to get it, no matter what was said."

    He sighed real heavy. "Yeah, I think I realized that a long time ago. But after some time passes, I always feel like maybe I can get through to him."

    "But you know," I told him, "even if you could, it really wouldn't help, would it? I mean, it wouldn't take away all that emptiness when you two were kids."

    This time his sigh was real small. "Yeah, I've told myself that, too." Then he turned to look up at me, his hand brushing along my arm. "Was dessert good?"

    "It was okay. I spent a little time talkin' to Suzette afterwards."


    I smiled at him. "Yeah. I told her I was adopting her as my sister, since I didn't have one. Told her I was gonna call her 'Sis'."

    He chuckled, real light-like. "I bet she liked that."

    "It was hard to tell. She might have thought it was kinda silly, but, yeah, I think she liked it." We were a little quiet, then I asked, "Hutch, what is it about her? I mean, your parents ignore her even more than they do you. And, you know, she seems like such a sweet kid."

    His eyes lowered. Then he looked away, toward the wall. I knew right then that I'd struck a nerve, and in a way I was glad -- I mean, that there was some kind of explanation for all her shy frailness. But then he swallowed real hard and didn't say nothin', so maybe he wasn't gonna tell me. And then I got a feeling of dread, that there was something real bad that happened and I wasn't gonna like it.

    I didn't like seeing the struggle that was goin' on inside him, so I patted his arm. "Hey, it's okay if you don't wanna tell me."

    It's always struck me funny how reverse psychology works -- though that's not what I was trying to do -- because he started to tell me. But first he had to draw a real deep breath. Then, he said, "She was molested when she was seven." His voice was kinda shaky.

    "Molested?" I said, whispering. I felt real bad for her right away, but to tell you the truth, I wasn't real sure what Hutch meant. I mean, people use that word to mean all sorts of things. "What happened?"

    He was still looking away. And his voice was choked. "Our uncle -- my father's brother -- got to her. That's why she can't have children."

    It took a moment for the second sentence to register. "You mean he raped her?" Aw, shit, who could do that? Especially to a helpless little seven-year-old?

    He nodded, and his voice was real small. "Uh-huh."

    I slid down in the bed, then took him in my arms. "Hey," I tried to get him to look at me, and finally had to take his chin and turn it toward me. His eyes were all watery. "What happened, huh? Can you tell me what happened?" I mean, I was feelin' all outraged and everything, but I was more concerned about Hutch right then.

    He turned toward me, pressed his cheek against my chest. But he was looking down at the bed. "Our aunt and uncle were visiting from Florida." His brows came together, like he was tryin' real hard to remember. "I don't know exactly how it came about. Except, for a few days, I know I was uncomfortable with how he looked at her. And then the last night they were here," he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, "I remember hearing her crying -- almost screaming. I kept listening for our parents to get up and go to her -- do something -- but it became apparent that they weren't. And then I knew that whatever was going on, they were going to allow it by not interfering. So, I got up." He took another deep, shaky breath. "I was real scared, Starsk."

    "How old were you?" I asked gently.

    "Thirteen. I wasn't sure what was going on, but I knew whatever it was it was something awful. But I couldn't stand hearing her suffer anymore. I was already mad as hell at myself for letting it go on while I waited for someone else to act." I could tell, by the way he said it, that he still hadn't forgiven himself. I squeezed his shoulder and waited for the rest. "I went down to her room, and as I got closer, I could hear her crying, 'Stop it', pleading with him. I pushed open the door, and there was my uncle's bare ass, bent over her. I attacked him, took him by surprise, threw him off." He took a breath, waited a moment. "If I'd had a weapon, I would have killed him, Starsk. But I just kept hitting him and hitting him. He was so caught off guard that he didn't even try to fight back. He just crawled out of the room." Hutch closed his eyes then, and it was another moment before he could go on. "She was bleeding and crying. I tried to comfort her -- put my arms around her -- but I knew she needed a doctor. I kept wondering why my parents didn't get up, with all the commotion. Oh, God, Starsk, I didn't want to leave her alone, but I ran downstairs and called the ambulance. When I got back to her, she seemed in shock. She wasn't crying anymore, she was just staring into space. That scared me more than anything."

    Hutch was breathing real hard, like he must have been back then. My insides were goin' crazy, trying to understand what it must have been like, but tryin' not to think about it too much because it made me feel like I wanted to get back at everyone who was responsible. So hard to believe, it all happening in this same house, with these same people.

    I found Hutch's hand, then squeezed it. Then I just held it.

    "I ran into my parents' room," he went on softly. "I was screaming at them that Suzette needed help. They looked like I had just woken them up, but..." he shook his head, "there was no way they couldn't have not heard what was going on. And then they acted like I was over-reacting, and they were kind of upset that I'd called the ambulance, when she could just be driven to the hospital. They didn't want to draw attention from the neighbors. And you know," he sort of snorted, shaking his head, "in all of that going on, nothing was ever mentioned about what had actually happened. I didn't say anything about my uncle, and they didn't ask. That told me more than anything that they knew what had happened. No one even knocked on his bedroom door, to ask him about it, or to tell him what was going on. Everyone just..." he shook his head in disbelief, "ignored it."

    "Where was your aunt in all this?" I asked in a whisper, squeezing again.

    "Oh, she was asleep," he said. "She always took all these drugs that knocked her out for the night. So, I'm sure she really did sleep through it all."

    I was trying real hard to stay calm. "Then what happened?"

    Hutch shrugged. His voice was real soft. "The ambulance came and took her to the hospital. My parents followed behind in the car, and I went with them. They took her home after a day or two, but no one ever talked about what happened."

    "Oh, Jesus, Hutch. I bet no one said anything to your uncle, either."

    He shook his head again. "I'm not sure. But we never him saw again. The next day, he and my aunt quietly packed their bags and went back to Florida."

    I really didn't know what to say to all this. It's hard enough when things like this happen in the present, but so many years ago.... "I guess Suzette was a mess after that, huh?"

    "Yeah." Then he looked up at me, his eyes still moist. "She's come a long ways, Starsk. For a long time, she wouldn't talk to hardly anyone. I think she started getting help in high school -- you know, when she could do it confidentially and our parents didn't have to know. She's had a lot of therapy since."

    I know I shouldn't have been surprised, but it all made me so angry. "You mean they didn't do anything for her after it happened?"

    Hutch laughed, real sorry and bitter-like. "Good Lord, of course not. They couldn't have anyone -- not even a psychiatrist -- know what happened." He was silent a sec... well, more than a sec. Then he swallowed like his throat was all swollen. Real soft, he said, "They blamed her, you know."

    That did it. My voice practically screeched. "How could they? She was seven years old!"

    He looked at me. "I know. But they just tuned her out after that. Treated her like... like something ugly." He took a deep, shuddering breath, and sort of looked away.

    I laid my hand on the center of his chest. Gently, I said, "No wonder you're so protective of her. You must have been all she had for a long time."

    He shook his head. "I didn't help, Starsk. I didn't do anything for her, except she knew that I knew and that I didn't blame her. But in the realm of what she needed, it really wasn't anything."

    Hutch didn't say anything more after that. And looking at him, seeing this man who has been my partner for so long, through thick and thin, it made me realize, more than ever, how easily human beings are able to hide things. Because, you know, I'd always known that still waters run deep, that Hutch had lots of still waters, but I never woulda guessed anything like this from his past. But it did explain a lot about Suzette's fragility. And about her strength. Even I could see that she'd come a long ways from having endured something like that.

    And it really did say a lot about the kind of people their parents were. And I wondered how I'd ever be able to look them in the face again without making accusations. And now the word 'pity' seemed to only be the beginning of how I felt about them.

    And knowing the uncle never had to stand trial -- or even questioning -- for his crime. It just didn't make a whole lotta sense. But I also knew that getting all bent out of shape about it wasn't gonna help anything. It was over and past. Hutch survived and so did Suzette.

    And plus I didn't want to think about it real hard because it was all so horrible.

    Hutch suddenly squeezed his eyes shut, and his chest heaved just as a gasp came out of his mouth... like it was strangled because he was tryin' to hold it in. I stroked his cheek, leaned closer to him. "Hey," I beckoned softly, "don't hold it in. I'm right here. Right here."

    He drew another deep breath, like he was trying to make himself relax, and his eyelids weren't pinched anymore, though they were still closed. "Starsk," he said in a small voice.

    I could feel his body trembling. It sort of scared me, because it made me wonder what was coming next. I pressed him closer against me. "What, buddy? What?"

    He tried to force a smile, and it created a funny expression because he couldn't really pull it off and plus his eyes were still closed. But he breathed real deep and said, real quiet, "I've never told anyone before."

    I guess I had assumed that. I mean, what happened to Suzette isn't the kind of thing you can tell your friends about, and you certainly can't tell other family members.

    But it suddenly dawned on me what Hutch meant. He had kept it inside all these years. And now he had given voice to his secret, so he was free of it. He smiled a little and opened his eyes. They weren't watery anymore. Just bright.

    I hugged him closer against me. He reached up and ran a finger along my lips, and his voice was so light and airy. "I'm glad you're here."

    "So'm I," I said, gathering him even closer.

    And we sorta lay like that for a long time, mainly just holding each other. I mean, I ran my finger along his mustache every now and then, but it was just an "I'm here" kind of thing... not meant to get him going or anything. And it was real pleasing to know that we could still be like that for each other. That the new element in our lives wasn't going to change the way we were together all that much.

    He sort of closed his eyes, and I think he actually dozed a bit, and maybe I did a little, too. Eventually, he said, "Do you want to get the light?"

    I guess he asked me because I was closest to the door. So I got up and went to the light switch. Right before I turned it off, he turned on the lamp beside the bed.

    I turned around, and he was looking at me -- well, almost bashful-like -- and he was sitting up a little and starting to unbutton his shirt. It was almost like he was trying to make sure that I was thinking the same things he was, and he just wanted to be sure. So, I wanted to assure him and, standing beside the bed, I started to unbutton my shirt, too.

    And it struck me as real funny that we'd be just a tad shy undressing in front of each other. I mean, Hutch and I have dressed and undressed in front of each other a million times. We've dressed and undressed each other quite a few times, too. I mean, it's real hard getting into a shirt by yourself when your arm is in a sling, or trying to pull the zipper up on your pants, or even getting your pants on when your leg is in a cast. And that's just the injuries. That doesn't even count all the little things you do to help each other when one of ya is weak as a kitten from illness.

    But I guess we were a little shy because we knew that by taking off our clothes, it meant that before the night was over we were going to make each other feel real good, physically. And, actually, I'm not sure why that would make one shy, but it seems like it always does.

    And it was kinda funny, too, that I don't think we really knew what we were gonna do; I mean, since we'd agreed to save the serious stuff for when we got back to LA. I mean, "just fooling around" can mean a lot of different things. But I guess we both knew it was going to be pleasant enough that it was worth bein' shy about.

    And we'd only gotten our shirts off when Hutch reached over and turned off the lamp. He tried to look nonchalant about it, but I could tell that he wasn't. He was nervous. And that seemed strange, too. And I wondered if maybe it was because we were both looking forward to pleasing each other sexually, and sex was the very thing that had hurt Suzette so much, so maybe we both thought we should feel a little guilty about the pleasure we sought.

    Or maybe not.

    See, once I got rid of my pants and crawled into bed beside him, it was just like last night in that there wasn't any room for anybody else. It was just me and him... and all the warmth there could ever be in the world. And we did things to each other without our mouths ever going lower than each other's chest, and with our hands never rubbing harder than simply firm. And it was the best loving I'd ever known.

    The next day, it was me who changed the reservations. And we were in LA before dusk.

* * *

    See, I'd gone out there to learn more about Hutch. And in some ways I did. But I guess what I learned most was about myself. Mainly that there really is no substitute for love, and everything I'd always wanted in my life I'd had for the past eight years. And I also learned that you can't change people who don't want to be changed, and that everyone has their own private hells, and maybe overcoming them -- or learning to accept them -- is what really makes life worthwhile. And when you have the courage to change your life, the way Hutch and Suzette did, you have something that no one else can ever take away: a certain sense of self, a certain inner knowledge that's the best tool you can have for proceeding with the journey of your life.

    And sharing that journey is the best thing of all.

    And I'm glad Hutch chose me as the one to share it with.

The End

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