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At Our Age

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When his cell phone rang one evening, at just after five, David Soul was somewhat startled. He wasn’t expecting a call from anyone, and the number was unlisted, so he almost didn’t answer. However, since you never knew when something might be important, he put on his most intimidating tone and growled a hello.

“Hey, Davey, how ya doin’?” asked a tentative voice.

David was suddenly very glad he had answered. “Paul! Where are you?”

“I’m in town for a few days. Had meetings yesterday and today with the London branch of the foundation, next week’s with my British publisher.”

“How’s that going?”

“It’s going,” Paul replied, noncommittally.

“Not why you called though, right?”

“Nope.”

David could hear hesitation, plus, what? Uncertainty? That was really unusual in the voice he had known so well.

“I need to talk to you."

“Can you come over?”

“I was hoping you’d ask,” his friend replied.

“Have you eaten?”

“Not yet. Can I bring dinner?”

“Not unless you suddenly don’t like veggie lasagna,” David said, smugly.

“If it’s my recipe, you know I love it.”

“It is,” David responded, happily. “I’ve got everything I need in the house."

"I won't be interrupting anything you and Helen have planned?"

"She's with relatives for the weekend so I'm here by myself. Won't take me an hour to put a meal together."

“That’s perfect ‘cause it’ll take me that long to change and get there."

David felt the ennui and depression of the day evaporating. Something in the voice, though, made him ask, “What’s wrong, Paulie, you sound upset.”

“Just want to talk to you, that’s all,” Paul said, unconvincingly.

“Well, get your tail over here, then, pal. It’s been entirely too long!”

“Sure has,” Paul agreed. “See ya when I get there.”

David hung up the phone. He hadn’t seen Paul Michael Glaser in a while and was really anticipating his visit. Whatever was causing the unease he’d heard in his friend’s voice went to the top of his list of things to sort out. He headed for the kitchen.

**********

After he’d gotten the main course ready to go in the oven, David took a quick shower, shaved, and put on fresh clothes. He chose cords and a lightweight turtleneck, almost feeling as if he was dressing for a date. He realized he felt better than he had in a long time and it was all due to hearing Paul’s voice, even as uncertain as it had sounded. He promised himself to try and lift his former partner’s spirits because that’s what friends were for!

The doorbell rang while he was putting the baking dish in the oven and setting the timer. Getting to the foyer as quickly as he could, he found Paul standing stiffly on the porch, dressed casually in jeans, black t-shirt and corduroy jacket. The expression on his usually open and readable face was one David had never seen before: sad, hesitant and almost fearful. David pulled him into an embrace. After only a second, Paul’s arms came around him and snugged tightly.

“You look good!” David stepped back and held his friend at arm’s length.

“So do you!” Paul replied, heartfelt. “How’s the hip? And the back?”

David shrugged. “Some days are better than others. This just turned into a really good one!” He swept his arm in a welcoming gesture. “Come on in.”

David closed the door and led the way to the breakfast counter separating the kitchen from the living room. “Sit yourself down while I get us some iced tea. Just made a fresh pitcher.”

“Sounds great.” Paul shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on the back of the second bar stool, sat and laced his fingers on the counter.

David busied himself for a few minutes, filling two glasses with ice, pouring the tea, adding slices of lemon and sprigs of fresh mint. He had a feeling small talk wouldn’t be appreciated so he did the work in silence.

Walking around the bar, he sat on the closest of the tall chairs, handed a glass to Paul and clinked his own against it. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For taking my mind off the dull, boring hours I thought were ahead of me tonight.” David sipped the refreshing liquid and looked searchingly at his friend. “So, what do you need to talk to me about?”

Paul took a swallow before replying. “I thought I had this all planned out but now I can’t think of where to start.”

“How about at the beginning?”

“Well, no, actually...” Paul hesitated. “The beginning doesn’t work. So let me ask you this. Do you read any fan fiction on the internet?”

“You mean Starsky and Hutch?”

“Yeah.”

David shook his head. “No. Do you?”

Paul drank more tea before he answered, still sounding unsure. “Not unless Jake tells me there’s something I should read.”

“Jake?” David couldn't hide his surprise.

Paul laughed. “He’s been fascinated with television ever since he was about two and found out I’d been the co-star of a popular series.” Paul looked like he was blushing. “He never missed a rerun.”

“Okay,” David said, trying to ease his friend’s discomfiture. “So what’s that got to do with fan fiction?”

“Jake was cutting his cyber teeth at about the time fandom discovered the World Wide Web and he became addicted. Reads every word posted on all the different Starsky and Hutch sites.”

David was dumbstruck. “Wow."

Paul smiled and drank. “I know.”

David got up and refilled Paul’s glass, putting the pitcher on the counter in front of them before he sat back down. “Go on,” he urged, “I’m a captive audience.”

“Well,” Paul continued, subdued again. “A few weeks ago, Jake sent me the link to a story that had been posted on one of the archives. He said it might explain some things he and I had talked about a bunch of times.”

When he didn’t continue immediately, David took another swallow and waited. “What things?” he finally asked into the lengthening silence.

“I never understood what happened to us fourth season,” Paul said, quietly. “I mean, we were each other’s best friend for three years. We had fun, we did good work. We enjoyed each other’s company eighteen hours a day, five days a week!”

“Six, on location."

Paul shuddered. “Don’t remind me.”

David couldn’t help smiling; good memories.

“But something was different during that last season.” Paul stared into his glass. “We lost each other. We lost the fun, the camaraderie, the closeness.”

David remembered but didn’t have an answer. “Things happen, Paul. Sometimes there’s no explanation.”

“That’s what I thought,” Paul said. “It’s also what Jake and I decided, after we talked it to death, over the years. That was before I read the story.” Jumping off the stool, he headed toward the hallway. “You still keep your computer in the same place?”

David followed him. “Sure.”

Paul went into David’s den/office and sat down at the desk. “You put in a password yet?”

“Nope."

“You should."

“I guess,” David responded. “But I’m the only one who uses it. Helen has her own.”

Paul brought the laptop out of sleep mode and logged onto the internet. Typing an address into the browser, he made a few clicks, pushed the chair back and got up. “There.” He gestured David to sit in front of the screen.

David sat down.

“It’s not too long,” Paul said. “Shouldn’t take you more than an hour or so. I’ll busy myself in the kitchen.”

“There’s salad makings,” David said, beginning to read. “And a loaf of French bread in the freezer. Make us some garlic toast, okay?”

“You got it.” Paul left the room.

*******

Paul set two places at the counter before he began putting the salad together, using every possible acceptable ingredient he could find. Adding the oil and vinegar dressing he knew David liked, he tossed it lightly and put it back in the fridge. Having defrosted the bread in the microwave, he made up garlic butter and slathered that into deep cuts in the loaf. Wrapping it in foil and putting it on a cookie sheet, he added the sheet to the oven for the last ten minutes of the lasagna’s baking time.

With nothing left to do, he sat at the breakfast counter, drank more tea and worried. What would he say to David? How could he ever ask forgiveness? Maybe he should have let sleeping dogs lie and not even come here tonight. What was he thinking?

He was working himself into a fine state of nerves by the time David came out of the den. Paul couldn’t read his friend’s face and his determination to hear David’s reaction first, before he said anything, got lost in the silence while David sat back at the counter and picked up his drink.

Paul got up, grabbed David’s glass and dumped the diluted liquid into the sink. He added fresh ice and filled the tumbler from the half-full pitcher before putting it back in front of David. “So?” he asked, holding his breath.

David took a sip before looking up at him, a confused expression in his sky blue eyes. “Do we know the person who wrote it?”

Paul moved around him and sat down. “We used to. Remember the lady who did research on the show?”

David’s face clouded while he plainly paged through memories of nearly forty years before. “I think so,” he said, at last. “Kinda short. Brown hair, shoulder length. Brown eyes.”

“You coulda been a detective,” Paul said, hiding a smile.

“I do remember,” David stated. “She wrote what she called ‘the real report’ on ‘Partners’.”

“That’s the one."

“Joe wanted to call her boss and have her fired!”

“You and Rick talked him out of it though,” Paul replied. “Rick took the script and reworked it a little.”

“Not much he could do by then,” David pointed out. “We were already in pre-production.”

“I don’t know what changes he made,” Paul added, “but I think he cut out some of the mean and added a little of the love and trust she was concerned we’d be ruining for the fans.”

“That’s exactly right.” David looked searchingly at Paul. “What’s that got to do with this story, though?”

The oven timer dinged and Paul leaped to his feet, glad to have something to do besides answer the question right then. Maybe he’d be ready in the few minutes it would take to dish up the meal. He put a hand lightly on David’s shoulder. “Sit still. I know where everything is.”

Paul turned off the oven and, mitted up, took the baking dish and cookie sheet out. He shed the mitts, scooped generous portions of the main course onto two plates and added slices of delicious-smelling bread. Retrieving the salad from the refrigerator, he filled two individual bowls with his greenery concoction. He put one plate and bowl in front of David, picked up his two dishes and went back around to sit down. He ate a mouthful of salad and a bite of bread before taking a deep breath. “The guy in the wheelchair.”

“I recall there was someone.... His name wasn’t Marty, though, I don’t think.”

“No. But the name doesn’t matter.”

“He wasn’t a Vietnam vet, either, was he?”

“No, that part was fictional. His mother had taken thalidomide, I think.”

“Oh, God.” David shuddered. “That’s almost worse.”

“Almost,” Paul agreed.

“It was like weird déjà vu, really,” said David, “remembering all those episodes we filmed, reading between the lines, and filling it in with our own actions. But the whole thing felt right. At least it did to me.”

“Me, too,” Paul agreed. “And it made me realize you and I didn’t just drift apart, get tired of each other, and the show, like I thought we had.” He looked at David and saw the knowledge appear in his eyes, too. “Marty, we’ll call him Marty, deliberately put himself between us.” Paul choked down a bite of lasagna before he continued, doing his best to get the words out around the constriction in his throat. “He fascinated me, at the same time I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t understand why he never covered his misshapen legs. When I got to know him, I realized he did it deliberately because he enjoyed making people feel self-conscious.” He paused, trying to get his memories in order. “In the beginning though, I think I just wanted to help him because I felt downright sorry for him.”

“Who wouldn’t?” David appeared unsettled by the memory. “Help him with what, though? I don’t think I ever knew what he was doing there. He always concentrated on you and hardly ever spoke to me. Wasn't he just a groupie?”

“In the beginning, yes. Talked his way onto the lot, then onto the sound stage. He was good at that kind of thing. And he was determined to get into The Biz.”

“Oh.” David ate a forkful of lasagna, plainly thinking it through. “With his disability, it would have been difficult back then.”

“He knew he’d have to have help.... Someone to introduce him around, get him his first role or tech position. His first credits.”

“And who could have been better at that than the co-star of the most popular series on television?” David's tone had taken on tinge of sarcasm.

“He said he didn’t want to waste the time of anyone who wouldn’t be able to help him,” Paul admitted.

“Very considerate."

“I promised I’d do whatever I could.”

“Which must not have been easy.” David's sarcastic tone was gone, replaced by understanding.

“Not too much call for a wheelchair-bound guy in those days,” Paul said. “It took a while.”

“All of fourth season,” David observed, "as I recall."

“Some of third, too.... If you remember, he showed up for the first time before ‘Partners’.”

Plainly casting his mind back, David nodded. “That’s right. He did.”

“I spent a lot of hiatus with him, because I felt so sorry for him.”

“I’ll bet he counted on that." David waited a few moments before adding, “He used you, didn’t he?”

Paul nodded. “And did exactly what was described in the story, made me choose him over you.”

“You couldn’t have known what he was doing."

“Looking back, I think I should have.” Paul said, berating himself. “He monopolized my time, tried to become my best friend. Never let me forget I promised I’d help.”

“Have to give him points for persistence.” David was blatantly attempting to lighten the mood.

“He came around all the time that last year,” Paul continued. “Thinking back, it seems like he was there almost every day I was.” He cut another forkful of cheese and noodles but didn’t lift it. “And when he was on the set, I spent all my between-takes time with him.”

“I remember.” David's expression was somber. “I found out what the inside of my motor home looked like.” He smiled, obviously trying to take the sting out of his words.

“Jake knew the story would show me the possibility of what really happened.” Paul didn’t try to hide his remorse and guilt. “I’m so sorry, Davey. I allowed Marty to separate us.”

David ate a few bites, appearing to sort recollections. “Since you spent all that time with him, did the things the fictional Marty said sound right?”

“I’ve read it twice now,” Paul replied, subdued. “I didn’t go to see ‘Star Wars’ with him but he always cut lines wherever we went. He never took me to an expensive Mexican restaurant either, but at the places we did go, he refused to wait for a table. And, yeah, he was proud of the fact that he was comp’ed everywhere.” He pushed his plate away. “Marty’s words rang absolutely true. He was coarse, pushy, and full of his feelings of entitlement. I just didn’t see it.”

David put a hand on his arm, his eyes now holding nothing but forgiveness. “Don’t tear yourself up over it, Paul, it was a long time ago.”

“I know!” Paul turned to his best friend. “But, if it hadn’t happened, I think we’d have stayed in touch more than we did. I’d have been there for you when you went through all that shit with your back.”

“Nothing you could have done."

“Of course there was!” Paul didn't intend for his voice to sound angry but knew it had. “I could’ve sat with you," he went on, moderating his tone, "helped you get through the worst of the pain.” He reached for David’s hand and rubbed the knuckles lightly. “Fan fiction has Starsky and Hutch doing this all the time.”

David smiled down at their clasped fingers. “Are you telling me you’ve read more than that one story?”

Paul grimaced, realizing he’d been caught. “You should read some of them,” he said, blushing again. “Wish we’d had these fandom writers on the show. Bet we’d still be on the air!”

David chuckled. “Forty years and counting.”

“The point is,” Paul went on, with determination, “I wasn’t there for you with Patti, either. And I should have been!”

“Paul,” David said, calmly but sadly, “my problems with Wife Number Three, and my whole life at that time, were of my own making. Entirely.” Gently, he took his hand back. “There wasn't anything you could have done.”

“I’d have supported you,” Paul countered. “Stood by you, so that you didn’t have to go through it alone. We were friends, David! And I let you down.”

“If we’re taking guilt trips,” David said, “I wasn’t there for you when you and Elizabeth were going through your private Hell.”

Paul’s shoulders slumped and his heart turned over. More than twenty years and he still missed Elizabeth every day. Missed Ariel.

David picked up Paul’s hand and duplicated the knuckle-rub. “We don’t need to do this to each other. It’s water under the bridge, as they say.” He brightened. “But I’m glad you read the story. And had me read it.”

Paul looked up, startled. “You are?”

David nodded. “I’ll remember fourth season now, without the ill-feelings. It wasn’t anything you and I did, we were manipulated, by everybody, I guess.” He sounded sad but resigned. “Think about all the divided-loyalty scripts and mean-spirited dialog we had to shoot.”

Paul sat up straight but didn’t let go of David’s hand. “Oh my God, you’re right. And Marty may have had an influence on me I didn’t even realize until this minute.” He looked at David, searchingly. “I co-wrote one of those divisive scripts myself.”

“But you directed it beautifully, as I remember.” A flush crept up David's neck. “Helped me do justice to your conflicted characters and their twisted relationships.” He blushed a little more. “You always made me look good when you took the helm.”

“You were easy to work with. I knew you.”

“That’s for sure.” David ate a bite of salad, patently reflecting, before he went on, his voice now tight. “Other than your script, though, you and I had no say about anything. We shot the scenes and the words they gave us. Reading that story just now, brought them all back.”

Paul nodded. “Lots more antagonism than the first three years combined.”

“Episodes were Starsky and Hutch were at cross-purposes, and separated,” David said. “And not because Hutch was trapped under his car, or Starsky had been kidnapped.” He looked at Paul, pennies almost visually dropping into his memory. “There were days and days when one or the other of us wasn’t even on the call sheet because we had no scenes together.”

Paul smiled. “Remember when that happened a few times in the beginning? We’d show up anyway.”

David returned the soft smile. “Be there for each other. Moral support.”

“Me and thee.”

“We lived it those first three years, Paul."

“Fourth season, when they did put us together,” Paul said, “it seems like the lines had us sniping at each other most of the time.”

“Add Marty’s constant presence keeping us apart between shots and set-ups, and we didn’t stand a chance.”

Paul knew David was right but it didn’t assuage his feelings of guilt. He gripped his friend’s hand tighter. “Forget lousy scripts and petty dialog for a minute. Marty couldn’t have done what he did, if I hadn’t let him.” He put his forehead down on their clasped hands. “That part was all my fault.”

David put his free hand to the side of Paul’s face and lifted it. His eyes were crystal clear and showed only love. “We got past it, though, found each other again. Moved on. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. You know that, don’t you?”

“I hoped you still felt that way,” Paul muttered. “But I didn’t know.”

“Well, you do now.” David looked at him and Paul had the feeling his soul was showing.

“Did you read right to the end?” he asked, pulling his plate back and trying to affect aplomb.

“You mean where Starsky professes his newly discovered love for Hutch?” David asked, ingenuously.

“Yeah.” Paul concentrated on his cold meal.

“I did.”

“What did you think?” Paul asked, almost afraid of the answer.

“I thought it was sweet.”

Paul turned his astonished gaze on a smiling David. “Really?”

“Really.” David's smile softened. “I could picture us shooting the scene, too. I found myself thinking of camera angles, as if I was directing. We’d have beaten ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to the punch by twenty-five years.”

Paul laughed. “Aaron might have fallen off his throne.”

“The censors would’ve had coronaries."

“Could’ve been fun though, ya think?"

“Lots of rehearsals.” David sounded completely serious. “A long master involving a slow push-in and a moving camera. Followed by at least four cover shots.”

Paul laughed some more, his fears dissipating. “With innumerable re-takes of each, I imagine.”

David grinned. “I’m a perfectionist. You know that.” He picked up his glass, clearly enjoying what he was seeing in his mind. “Closed set, of course. A skeleton crew sworn to silence.”

“Think, with all that practice, and repetition, we’d’ve made it convincing?”

“No question about it."

“We were a hellava team, weren’t we?”

“The best!” David raised his glass and Paul clinked his against it. “They keep trying to duplicate us but, so far, I don’t think they have.”

“Not even close!” Paul agreed. He really hadn’t known what to expect when he’d come here. Would David hate him after reading the story? Not want his friendship any longer? Or would he forgive him? Try as he might, Paul couldn’t seem to get his next thoughts in order.

“Did you just think what I think I heard you think?” David asked, cautiously. “You were afraid I wouldn’t forgive you?”

Paul lifted a shoulder in a half shrug. “Glad we haven’t lost that ability.”

“There’s absolutely nothing to forgive, partner." David's tone and gaze indicated he meant every word.

Paul allowed himself the first truly relaxed breath he’d taken since arriving. Here he was, casually having dinner with his best friend in the whole world. And that friend was seemingly ready to take up their relationship where they’d left it over thirty years earlier; the one where they trusted each other, loved each other, and bantered their way through thick and thin. With that lovely thought in mind, Paul decided to go for broke. “What are you doing this weekend?”

“Nothing that can’t be postponed,” David answered. “But don’t you have appointments?”

“Not ‘til next week.” Paul smiled, conspiratorially, into blazing blue eyes.

“Okay.” David seemed a little wary, now. “What do you have in mind?”

“Wanna read some more stories?” Paul reached into the inside pocket of the jacket on the back of his chair and held up a piece of paper. “I’ve got a list.”

David calmly put his glass down and pushed his half-eaten dinner away. He looked at Paul and his expression showed amusement and anticipation. “Are you suggesting we both get into reading fan fiction? At our age?”

“Better late than never.”

“Oh, that is such a Starsky thing to say.” David had a twinkle in his eye.

“You’re right. Guess I never really grew out of him.”

“Or… we’re both finally growing into him.”

“Awww, now there’s my Hutch.”

*******

Friends for forty years
when a casual question
starts new adventures

END