Comments on this story can be sent to Dana Austin Marsh.

"Mommy, David's ling-ger-ing!"

The high-pitched complaint paused Ruth's steps in her steady plodding along the beach. She turned, looking past her four-year-old son who was presently full of himself for remembering the big word, to her older boy. Where mother, father and brother had left a steady, relatively straight record of their passage across the sand, not so David. The inquisitiveness of his nature had lead his feet a meandering course, zigzagging from fascinating discovery to newly revealed wonder until he now trailed well behind his family.

David was, indeed, lingering. Just as he had during the six years he had been his parents' sole pride and joy and as he continued to do in the four years since his brother had arrived. David could never resist investigating whatever came across his path, nor could he seem to avoid the temptation to alter his course when something new beckoned.

"Make him come along, Mommy."

Ruth scooped her quarrelsome son up and sat him astride her hip, rocking absently as she watched the distant figure of her first born as he was again sidetracked by the unknown.


"Hush now, Nicky," Ruth soothed. "David is just lingering. He'll come along in his own sweet time."

"Mrs. Starsky. Can I get you some coffee or something?"

Memory receded from before Ruth Starsky's eyes, returning her to the utilitarian hospital and the still figure who lay beyond the glass. She smiled up at her son's improbable friend. "No thank you, Huggy. I'm fine."

The tall black man sank into the chair beside her, offering silent companionship for the vigil of hope she kept. Ruth's attention returned to the form behind the glass, her mind needing a moment to adjust from the memory of the vital, curious child to the reality of the cruelly wounded man.

For the thousandth time, her eyes traced the tubes and wires that sustained the fragile fruit of her womb back to their source, silently assuring herself that, despite the stillness, all was well.

Finally, her eyes fell upon what Ruth believed was her son's true source of strength, the lifeline upon which, even unaware, he depended. A large hand, strong and square-fingered, callused but clean, enfolded the smaller, now weaker hand of her son, the fingers entwined intricately to ensure that nothing could separate them.

Kenneth Hutchinson. Another of her son's improbable friends. And more. Once again reality faded before her eyes to be replaced by memory. Not of the first time Ruth had met the tall blond who was her David's partner, but of another time. A time she had sensed approaching and yet been totally unprepared for.

Ruth smiled as the faint flush colored her son's face and he squirmed in his seat at her kitchen table. Sinking into the chair at her own accustomed place, she patted his hand reassuringly where it rested on the table.

"It's all right, David. I don't think you're going to surprise me as much as you think," Ruth reassured him, hoping to ease the confession she felt sure was coming.

David's eyes, so much like those of the man she had loved and lost, met hers for a moment in startlement, then slid away.

"I don't think so, Ma," he mumbled.

"A mother can sense these things. Even with the width of a country between her and her child." Ruth patted the tense fingers once again. "You're in love, aren't you, David?"

He didn't really need to confirm it. It glowed out of him. Lit his eyes and leant a softness to the edge he had grown somewhere in the years. As she watched, the glow was banked, softness growing taut beneath the expectation of pain.

"It ain't what you think, Ma. I am in love, but . . . " A certain, familiar defiance entered the pleading features. "It's Hutch, Ma. I love Hutch, and he loves me."

To her everlasting shame, and for the first time in his life, Ruth had failed to understand and accept her son for the unique being that he was. Not an extension or replacement for herself and the man who had helped create him. Not the inheritor of all her unfulfilled dreams. Not one responsible to her for anything but the love he freely gave. He had left with his lover with only her unbelieving disappointment to carry with him. It had taken her many months to understand that David was once again lingering, taking his own path and discovering the possibilities that so many others would only overlook.

A soft smile settled around Ruth's lips as she saw her son's blue eyes open. They blinked in sleepy confusion as they had when he was a boy, until the tall man at his side leaned into his line of sight. The blue glowed then, filled with all the life of the vital soul within. A few moments of silent communication, then the thick lashes fell once again. Ruth watched as her son's chosen eased back into his seat, preparing to wait through the long hours for the next brief wakening and marveled that she had ever doubted his devotion. A gentle hand settled on her shoulder as tears of happiness filled her eyes.

"It's not as bad as it looks, Mrs. Starsky. Starsk is gonna be just fine," Huggy reassured her.

Smile struggling through her tears, Ruth could only agree. "Oh, I know that, Huggy. David is just lingering. He'll come along in his own sweet time."

The End