I pushed open the door, felt the waft of cold air, and headed out. The sounds of cheerfully sung Christmas carols faded behind me as the door slid shut.
It was the precinct Christmas party, and usually, Starsky would be singing the loudest.
"Hey Starsk. What's wrong?" I took his elbow, and turned him gently to face me. "It's not like you to get upset about Christmas songs. Or is it something else?"
He turned to face me, and yeah, he was upset. He wore that sort of expressionless look he gets, the one that doesn't really cover the fact that he's hurting. He'd left the party partway through a song. He usually loved anything to do with Christmas, especially the music.
"Ain't the same, Hutch." He passed the back of his hand over his forehead. "Just... ain't the same."
"What isn't, Starsk?" I leaned against the wall near him, watching his face carefully.
"...just heard that line, and couldn't..." He shook his head, crossing his arms over his chest. "Just wasn't the same." He looked down at the ground.
I reached out and put a hand on his arm, wanting to comfort him, even if I didn't understand yet. I cast my mind back. What could be disturbing about "Deck the Halls?" He likes all Christmas music - even the obscure song I once sang for him while playing my guitar, "Sans Day Carol," or "The Holly and the Ivy."
Then I realized. The lyrics just before he left -
"Don we now our gay apparel, la la la la la, la-la-la la..."
Gay apparel. Usually, Starsky would make a crack or two, some kind of joke about gay apparel - juxtaposing the previous meaning of the word with the current meaning of the word for humorous purposes, at least as he saw it. Plus he was usually a bit hammered by the time we got around to singing carols, and it didn't take much to make him giddy.
But this time...
This time Blaine was dead.
Starsky was still raw, missing Blaine, and still, I suppose, dealing with the secret. It hadn't been easy for Starsky, and now he saw things differently. Perhaps his previous fooling-around jokes had secretly offended his friend.
Probably Starsky was running other Christmases through his mind, other conversations, things he might have said in front of Blaine....
"Aw, Starsk." I massaged his arm. "I'm sure he didn't hold it against you."
Shoulders raised, shoulders dropped: a shrug. "Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Guess I wouldn't... blame him. But... I kinda hold it against him too, that he never told me. That he... just..." His voice dropped lower with each word. "...that he...lied. And that he's... dead."
"Starsk, you've got to quit torturing yourself about this." (I pulled him against me in a hug, and he leaned against me.) "Things happened the way they happened. He wasn't perfect, and neither are you. But that's okay. We're all just human." I massaged his back a little, wanting to comfort, wanting to loosen his tensed, knotted muscles.
At last he nodded a little, his curls springy against my head. "Guess you're right, Hutch. Guess you're right...." He drew back, and gave me a smile he tried to mean, a brave smile. "Hey, I think we oughta visit Maggie, y'know? Bring her a gift."
I smiled. "Something really nice."
He nodded. "I didn't give 'em nothin'', last y-" His voice broke off in a choked sound.
"Starsk... Hey, he knew. Christmas is just one day a year, you know. He knew you cared. We even ate at his place, didn't we? Hey - you did too give him something. A bottle of wine, wasn't it?"
Starsky drew back a little, and sniffed once. "That doesn't count, Hutch. That's a-a visitor gift." He ran his hand under his nose. "Doesn't even repay 'em for dinner. And you gotta be careful it's not something that fits with what you're eatin', or they'll feel like they gotta open it then. Hey, we did take 'em out to eat later, remember?" He glanced at me.
"Yeah, Starsk. You're right. Huggy's, wasn't it?" I smiled at him, enjoying the reminiscence, even if it was bittersweet.
"Maybe not the best place we coulda picked," he admitted, sharing my rueful grin. "Huggy's holiday-in-a-single-dish special wasn't exactly their cup of tea."
"Is it anybody's?" I asked.
"It sounded tasty... cranberries and turkey... marshmallows, yams and green beans... mashed potatoes and gravy all mixed together."
"Crushed candy canes sprinkled on top..."
"And great big blobs of stuffing." Starsky grinned. "Great, now I'm hungry again!" He cast a glance at me. "Hutch, how come you can always cheer me up? Even when I don't deserve it?"
I smiled. "You deserve it. C'mon, buddy." I hooked an arm around him and nodded back towards the party. "Let's go get some eggnog. We can shop for Maggie, and get something disgusting to eat after the party, if you want."
He grinned at my generous offer; it wasn't every day I'd let him pick where we ate, or what - at least not without complaining about it. He leaned his head against my shoulder. "Maybe we can get two of Huggy's Christmas cocktails, too. With candy canes."
"Sure, Starsk. Hey - it'll get easier, I promise." I tightened my arm around him. I wanted him to know that until it did, I'd be here, looking after him the best I could. "He loved you and you loved him - that's why it's hard, not because you're a bad person. That's why you feel sad, and worry that you might've hurt him, and that's why you get mad at him, too - because you cared about him."
Starsky shrugged. "I don't know if you're right, Hutch, but thanks for saying so."
"Well, I know I'm right." I gave him a jostling rub on the arm. I could've said more here - about how Blaine had filled a place in his life when he was young, as a father- or uncle-figure. That Starsky would have to be stupid not to realize that losing Blaine, and all the mixed feelings he had about him now, were natural enough, and were probably going to last for awhile. That things like this take time; that he shouldn't blame himself for however he felt.
But hey, I can be tactful sometimes. I let him retreat into thoughtful silence, and just kept my arm around him. We could talk more about it later, if he was receptive.
For now, we headed back into the party. I fetched him eggnog, and reminded him to wipe his mouth. (Eggnog mustache.)
After a bit, he cheered up a little - even felt good enough to join in on "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."
He sang the way he always does on Christmas songs - too loud, but right in key.