Chapter nine


Then a woman said, Speak of Joy and Sorrow.

And He answered:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your

laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,

the more joy you can contain.

And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.

And He said:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell

that encloses your understanding.

--FromThe Prophet,

by Kahlil Gibran

Author's note: Thank you so much for coming along on this journey and sharing in friendship and love.


After a few minutes of just sitting and taking in the view, I breathed easier and some of the pain in my side ebbed away. Deciding I needed to eat, I pulled my sandwich out of the backpack, hitched back on my elbows and enjoyed a relaxing lunch.

The ducks playfully chased each other around the lake. Their quack-wack-wack, water spraying everywhere, and the flapping of wings echoed all around. Eventually they settled back to lazily drifting upon the water.

Trading my canteen of water for Hutch's sketchpad and pencils. I leaned back against a large piece of graying driftwood, opened Hutch's pad to a blank page and used my bent knees as an easel.

I shifted my mind into neutral, letting the images come as they may.

As I sketched, I thought about being in that hospital bed with tubes protruding out of every orifice, toying with life and death. The doctors had all said I should have died. They called me a miracle, a marvel a by the seat-of-my-pants phenomenon.

I disagreed. It was none of those things. It was Hutch. I didn't think that partner of mine even realized the effect he had on my life. Hell, if it weren't for him I wouldn't be here today. It wasn't the thrusts to my chest from a stubborn doctor that brought me back -- it was my best friend.

Hutch filled my lungs with life. I gave him soul credit for taking my dying heart into his hands and squeezing until the damn thing decided to beat on its own again.

There is no science behind true friendship and love.

Something suddenly swooped down and landed on my sketchpad, causing me to pull out of my reverie and stop drawing. The something that had used the sketchpad for a airstrip was a dragonfly. Its brightly colored blue wings were outstretched, as it crept along a stark dark line I had drawn, before lifting off, hovering in mid-air a second, then flying away.

I didn't know how long I'd been drawing, nor did I realize my artwork was complete. Examining my doodle, I had to smile. When it comes to pictures, I'm better with a camera. Still, this wasn't half bad.

A noise in the not-so-far-off distance briefly caught my attention. I twisted around. "Ooooh!" I hissed cupping a hand to my side. After listening for a long moment and seeing nothing but trees and hearing nothing but an endless chatter, I turned my attention back to my drawing. "Damn rats!"

"Starsky!" The unexpected voice of my partner made me jerk around.

"Hutch!" Wincing, I cursed the fire surging through my side.

"Who'd you think --" Hutch stumbled around a bush, completely out of breath, wrinkled green tee shirt drenched in sweat, hair a muss, and full of burrs. "A talking squirrel?"

"Busy- tailed rat," I corrected, trying to stuff the fiery pain deep down inside.

"Do you…wanna…wanna know…what…what… I've just been through, buddy boy --" Hutch's breath came in shallow gasps as he took several large, awkward steps.

"Prefer not to," I said nonchalantly.

"Where'd…where the hell did you go?" Hutch shoved a long strand of hair out of his eyes.

"Um," I gave an amused snort. "Right here, dummy."

"I know, right here!" Hutch tripped over a small log and hobbled over to me.

"Why didn't you tell me where 'here' was! What if? Are you hurt? How could you do this! Are you out of your mind?" He was nearly screaming, his mouth moving ten times faster than his brain.

"Hutch, I --

"Starsky," he panted, his face first red hot, but quickly bled pale white. "Why'd you do this -- how'd you -- what are you doing here?" Hutch had a really shocked and confused look on his face, like I'd made the Olympic team or something. "I had no clue where you'd gone off….." He closed his eyes and took a shaky breath "You--you had me scared out of my mind."

"Didn't you get my note?" I asked, eyeing Hutch's tightly-clenched fists.

"What note!" He demanded, trembling badly and stuffing his hands into his front jeans pockets. "There was no note." Hutch pinned me with a such deadly stare, I thought I'd drop dead any second.

"Hutch." I stiffened, readying myself for a fight. "I left you a note on the kitchen counter."

Hutch's eyes softened, allowing me to live and breathe while he considered my words for a moment.

"I didn't even take the time to look." He shook his head and muttered something under his breath about poor detective skills. The fight seemed to deflate from his body as he came to sit next to me, still trembling badly.

"Hey, buddy." I reached for the canteen and unscrewed the cap. "You look like you could use something stronger but here." I handed the canteen to Hutch. "Drink this water."

Hutch took three huge gulps, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. "Thanks." He handed the canteen back to me.

"How'd you know I'd be at the lake?"

"Call it -- call it a wild guess," Hutch said, still trying to catch his breath

"You ran the whole way here, blondie?" I frowned. "Why?"

"Because -- I have a loon for a partner!" Hutch shot me a dire look that could freeze hell. "Starsky, I should --"

"What?" I gave a shiver. "Arrest me?"

"Maybe," Hutch said sharply.

"On what charge?"


"Stealing!" I protested. "I never stole anything in my --"

"What's this?" Hutch pointed at the sketchpad.

"So, we're partners. You never said I couldn't use your notebook."

"Oh, you borrowed it, huh?" Hutch heaved a heavy sigh, reclining back onto his elbows.

"In a sense," I said, wanting to keep up the banter. "What's mine is yours, right?"

Suspicious pale blue eyes glared at me. I knew Hutch wanted to lay into me for taking off on my own, but he made no attempt to say the words.

"In a sense," Hutch agreed, busying himself by plucking a tall piece of straw from the ground. I grimaced, envisioning the taste as he clenched the stem between his teeth and began to chew.

"So," I hedged. "You going to arrest me?"

"Forgot the handcuffs." Hutch gave a little shrug, looking out over the lake and becoming very quiet.

I could feel his guilt and pain worming its way into my heart. Sunlight bounced off the tiny waves, gleaming like glass and tearing up my eyes. The group of quacking ducks had returned from the opposite shore. They paddled along, floating easily upon the lift and fall of each ripple. I wished things could be so easy for Hutch and me. Dragon flies flitted about, rats, I mean squirrels chattered, Hutch gnawed, and I went back to adding a few final touches to my sketch.

Finally satisfied with the result, I dragged in a breath of lake air, set my pencil down, and turned to Hutch. We both watched each other for a long moment.

Hutch smiled and sat up. "You going to let me see your work of art?" he asked, the stalk he was chewing on moving back and forth between his lips.

"No." I playfully wiggled away, snapping the sketchpad closed and tucking the drawing under my arm. "Uhhhh," I groaned, pressing my elbow against my bruised side. "Nice try." I tried to smile to hide my pain

"Starsky!" Hutch yelled, spitting the stalk to the ground, his loud voice carrying out over the water.

"That's my name." I winced, partially from pain but mostly from my partner's harsh voice.

"What did you do?" Hutch sat up straighter, looking angry again.

"What?" I played dumb.

"Don't play dumb with me." His voice was harsh. "You're hurt."

Hutch scooted closer to me and reached out a hand. "Hutch!" I backed away. "Don't you want to ask me what I drew? Please," I begged.

Come on, Hutch.' I pleaded with my eyes. 'Give me this.'

I was proud of making the hike to the lake on my own. Okay, so I was in pain, but it was worth every ounce of agony.

"I…I don't -- I don't know. " Hutch's hand froze in mid-air. I could tell he wanted so badly to mother hen me as he'd been doing all these months

"Ask me, Hutch!" I insisted.

Hutch let his hovering hand fall away and drew in a deep breath. "Let's see what you doodled, Starsky."

Flipping the edges of each page, past Hutch's grand work, I came to my meager offering and stared at my drawing with uncertainty:

Strong dark lines created huge rolling clouds that hung thick in the air above a sea born sailboat. The boats sails were open wide, flapping wildly as the ship charged head on into the raging storm. Hutch and I stood together on the deck, pressed shoulder to shoulder behind the helm. I had twirled my pencil in large circles wiggling and stirring the lead to create monster-sized waves that crashed against the ship's hull. Jabbing dark dots filled the paper, depicting the rain pounding down. Our hair was plastered to our faces. I could almost hear the shrill whistle of the wind in my ears, could almost taste the salty water on my lips as the ship plunged up and down over the rough waters.

"I'm better with a camera," I muttered, shyly handing the penciled sketch to Hutch.

Hutch was real quiet, regarding my drawing. I bent my head, staring at the ground. A slight breeze rose off the lake, bringing a few leaves to cascade down upon the water and fluttering my curls softly in my face. Tiny shivers raced up my spine and I suddenly felt very drained. Like I'd really been on that storm tossed ship -- maybe I had.

"Starsk." Hutch's languid voice broke my reverie.

"Don't tell me. I know…it's…hor"

"It's beautiful."

My head shot up to see Hutch with tears in his eyes. "Just beautiful." His hand reached out and settled on my shoulder.

"It's nothing like yours. I don't even know why I drew that."

"You were expressing the truth. Your drawing cracks the code of what you are feeling inside."


"Starsky, you have us facing the storm -- head on."

"I do?"

"You do." Hutch looked back fondly at my sketch. "You know sometimes words are not enough. That's why I draw. That's why you use your camera. That's why you drew this." Hutch swept an excited hand over my drawing.

"It is?"

"Yes." Hutch met my gaze.

"What does that mean?" I asked, still confused.

"It means, buddy, that often times the things most opposite to our human nature turn out to be the "exact" thing we need to do. It means, by expressing yourself through your drawing, you are naturally healing your soul. What were you thinking as you were drawing this?"

"I guess I wasn't thinking of too much."



You were unconsciously drawing That's why you sketched this." Hutch swept an excited hand over my drawing. "Buddy, did you know that ships at sea must turn into a storm and face the gale head on, or they will capsize?" He handed the pad back to me.

"They will?" I closed the pad and set the collection of drawings in the grass.

"You and me are facing the storm. Facing our terror and the devastation we have been through -- together. Plowing through the squall, through the pain, through the suffering, through the --


"What is it, buddy?"

"You ever think about taking up the violin?"

"I better just stick with the guitar." Hutch gave a toothy smile, his hand falling away from my shoulder. "I'm getting too soapy again, huh?"

"You gotta be the cleanest guy I know, blondie." I gave his shoulder a light punch. "Hutch," I said in a serious tone. "I know what you were thinking of when you were drawing all those wonderful fun times. But..." I gave a little frown. "What were you thinking of, when you were outside -- yesterday -- chopping wood?"

Hutch's smile immediately dropped away, replaced by a dark shadow as he turned to face the lake.

"Partner, what is it? You can tell me," I encouraged. "What …were… you… thinking?" I demanded.

"Starsk." Hutch's face was grim and he sighed. Not just any old sigh, but a heartfelt, pain-releasing sigh. "I was thinking I'm being haunted by 'what ifs'," he said, still staring out over the lake. "Twisted, tied up, and trapped by them." Hutch half-turned to me, intense blue eyes looking much older than they were. "You know what I mean?"

"Yes." I nodded. "I know."

With a shudder, Hutch picked up the sketchpad, quietly thumbing through the pages, and I knew he was once again thinking of that day. I struggled to be patient and understanding of his silence, watching a large yellow butterfly with two peacock-blue-spots, one on each wing floating happily near the edge of the lake. The insect flitted about, landing on one flower after another. Without warning a frog jumped from behind a tall clump of grass, and with one flick of its long, sticky, tongue the butterfly was gone.

I inwardly cringed, even in the insect world you never knew when you'd be ambushed.

"What if," Hutch gulped twice staring at my drawing once more. "What if…we never went into work that day? What if… someone had noticed those two guys in that cop car weren't our brother cops? What if… you'd backed the Torino into that parking spot? What if… you had gotten your keys out just one second sooner?"

It was my turn to gulp, as the mental picture of me dropping my keys and reaching for my gun, only to realize I'd already hit the ground, trying to breathe while blood pumped out my arteries.

"Starsky, what if… you'd gotten down?" Hutch gave me a sideways glance, a hard angry glare appearing on his face. "Starsky… what if…what if I'd slid across the hood to stand by your side? If I hadn't dropped and rolled like they teach you at the Academy! What if …"

"Hutch!" I yelled, jabbing a finger at Hutch's face and stopping his breakdown like a traffic cop in the middle of a busy intersection. "You would have been blown away!" Hutch's mouth hung open, looking really surprised. "You listen close, Hutchinson! " I shuddered, to rid myself of the in-living-color images of that day now playing in my head. "You don't have to be the white knight of this storybook, buddy." I took his hand and in a low voice said, "You gotta let that image go. The white knight didn't get a scratch on him, the best friend did. It's not about that day anymore. It's about this day -- forward. Hutch, no more running up hills and down valleys. This day, partner, this is the day we stand and fight the 'what if' monster."

"Starsky." Hutch tried to pull his tough-guy act, tugging his hand from mine in protest, but I held tight. He had a very scared look about him. Lost, maybe confused, certainly hurt. But mostly, mostly he looked mad. Mad at himself.

"Hutch, hear me out." I watched him swallow down a lump in his throat. "Please."

"Okay," he agreed, trying to be strong, but there were tears welling in his eyes.

"What happened -- happened," I continued, gently rubbing my thumb over his. "What's to come -- no one knows. All we can do is keep moving down the dirt path, and at the end of the road if we make it to the lake -- terrific -- if we don't -- we know we gave it our best shot, right?" Hutch shrugged. "Buddy, I know it hurts and we're both in some kind of pain. Maybe our hearts feel broken, but they're still beating, we're still alive, Hutch. We just have to learn to adapt and keep the 'what if' monster from twisting around so much, huh?" I raised my brow and gave a curt nod, very carefully letting go the tight grip I had on his hand. "You with me on that, Hutch?"

Hutch was quiet, then said, "How'd you get to be so smart, Starsk?"

"When I met you, Hutch." Feeling my own eyes start to water up. "Man…Hutch," I patted his shoulder, needing to change the subject. Besides a bright idea had suddenly come to me. "Wilderness therapy is a real gold mine!" I nonchalantly swiped away the beads of sweat I felt popping out on my forehead. "We could pool our funds, buy a cabin, charge admission to our brother cops. Be cheaper then couch therapy back home."

"Starsky, Hutch patted my shoulder in return. "You still have another two weeks here. You keep taking off like you did today… all 'wilderness therapy' is going to do for you is land you back in a hospital bed." Hutch gently eased a stray curl off my forehead. "You need to pace yourself. The lake was nothing. Wait until we hike Applegate Trail," he said sarcastically. "You'll be in real trouble."

"Already in real trouble," I admitted tiredly, trying to hide a wince as all my aches and pains seemed to return. "Don't think the chef is going to give me any dessert tonight," I said, ducking my head, hoping Hutch's mental alarm was broken.

"You know what, Starsk?"


"I think you're right."

"It's okay, Hutch. I'll survive."

"We both will." Hutch fondly mussed my hair, prying eyes signaling me that my partner's 'mental alarm' was working just fine, calculating my current condition. "Starsk, let's head back to the cabin, huh?"

"Okay," I readily said, not having the energy to argue and not wanting to anyway.

"You need my help?" Hutch asked.

"Nah," I mumbled, but didn't make the effort to move.

Taking in a breath and hoping my lungs wouldn't explode into a ball of flames, I glanced out over the water. The quiet, glassy, surface made me feel heavy-eyed and at peace. Close by, the quacking ducks lazily paddled around the marshy cattails feeding on tiny fish. A fog started to roll in off the lake, realizing it was too early in the day for night mist, I knuckled my sleepy eyes clearing my vision.

"Hey." I turned to Hutch.

"What's that?" He arched a brow.

"Can you give me a hand back to the cabin?"

Hutch only smiled, not saying a word he scooted closer, hooked an arm around my back and drew me to his side. "In a minute, buddy. I gotta catch my breath."

I was relieved. I didn't think I had the strength to move just yet, even with his help. I gratefully put my head down on Hutch's shoulder.

A best friend's shoulder was more than just a place where you could rest your head. It was a place where you could rest your entire being. Where you could put down your pain and worry, find serenity, and understanding, and the strength to chase the 'what if' monster far away.

The end