Moon and Stars


Moon and Stars
3,000 words







“Do you want a watch?”

Hutch turned a glare on me. “No. My watch works fine, see?” He held up his pocket-watch and tapped its face. It was a pretty fancy one, even though it didn’t do anything extra, like have a compass or glow in the dark.

“How ‘bout…” My voice trailed off. He was giving me nothing to work with. His was birthday in two days, and I had no ideas.

“Starsk, just take me out to eat—that’ll be plenty. More than enough.” He gave me a clap on the shoulder. His big hand felt warm. “Because I’m not taking you anywhere for your birthday. You’d better get used to the idea now.”

“Sure, Hutch. That’s fine.” He was just trying to get my goat and distract me. Not gonna let that happen, with only two days left till his birthday. I hurried around in front of him and planted my feet, so he had to stop sudden-like or hit me.

He stopped, almost tripping over his feet.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Now what do you want?”

“Starsky…” He raised his finger, and pointed at me in his most ominous way. The old Hutchinson brow was starting to wrinkle. “What I want is a partner who doesn’t try to trip me up!”

I sidestepped and moved beside him. “You got it. What else?”

He gave me a glare, and started walking. I fell into step. Part of me wanted to whine or tease it out of him. But I’d been trying that all week, and hinting before that, and he just wouldn’t budge.

“Don’t get me anything,” he’d say, or “Give me a break from your yapping.” (That was when he was feeling mean; he never really meant it.) I guess I had been bugging him.

“Well, if you don’t give me some suggestion I’ll…” I hesitated, searching around for the worst threat I could find. “I’ll get you jewelry!”

He gave me a thoroughly disgusted look, and held up his right hand, flashing the large silver ring he already wore. “I have jewelry!”

“Yeah, but I’ll get you a necklace,” I said, warming to my theme, suddenly relishing the possibilities. “A nice little number, perfect for a lady, and you’ll have to wear it, ‘cuz it’s a gift, Hutch.” I turned to grin at him, and nudged him. “Huh, Hutch? Maybe a little heart necklace, with a pretty red center? Or a string of pearls?” I laughed aloud at his irritated expression.

He just ignored me, and kept walking. Wouldn’t even give me an answer or a scold.

Hutch, what’s wrong with you? 

A birthday is something to celebrate, and if you won’t let your best friend give you a good gift—not just something crappy, but something you actually want…

“Starsky, hurry up. Are your feet glued to the sidewalk?” He stood at the newspaper office, holding the door open, giving me the old sour face. 

“Excuse me.” A tall, silvery-dressed lady hurried out. 

He kept the door open for her and gave her a big goofy grin. “No problem. I’m just waiting for my slowpoke friend. Are you a newspaperman—or I should say woman?” He grinned after her, but, except for a glance back at him and an amused look, she didn’t react.

I caught up to him, watching the lady depart. She was nice and tall—almost as tall as Hutch. “Don’t feel too bad,” I said to him. “Maybe she liked brunets.” I waggled my eyebrows. “You know what they say about tall, dark and handsome. All the girls go for it.”

“How about tall, dark, and ugly?” He started inside, and let the door almost smack me in the face. Great. He was back to being the sourpuss.

I followed him, eyes narrowing. 

That’s it. I was definitely getting him jewelry.

#

Thing is, even for a joke, I didn’t want to get him something really crappy. It had to be at least sort of nice—so if he returned it, and sure he’d return it, because why would he want a string of pearls?, he had to know I hadn’t just spent peanuts on him. He’s such a cheapskate sometimes, maybe he’d even appreciate the money—not that he’d admit it.

I can usually read the Blintz pretty well by now, which is why it’s so frustrating, trying to figure out what’s going on with him and this birthday. It’s not like it’s a special one or something. Thirty-three. Just a birthday. You can’t say he’s going into shock or something because he’s turning a nice round number like 30, 40, or 50.

Man. Fifty. I wonder what that’ll be like. 

I wonder if he’ll still be talking to me by then, if he’s going to get like this every birthday. Well, I learned to take his view of professional wrestling. Maybe I can learn to take his view of birthdays—ignore ‘em. Of course, that makes it sound like I’m the one who’s got to do all the changing, and I know that’s not true. Hutch makes a lot of concessions—for instance, letting me drive most of the time. I like driving. He says it saves wear and tear on his car, but I think he’s just giving in to be nice. Not that he’d admit it. 

Well, this year he’s getting jewelry, and if that doesn’t teach him his lesson, then I’ll stop. I’ll let him be a birthday Scrooge. I’ll pretend I forget when it falls, and not get him a single thing, if that’s what he wants.

#

So I go into a nice jewelry store, the one where I bought my latest watch—it’s got all these fancy gizmos, and it’ll even tell you the direction, and glow in the dark…

Never mind. This is supposed to be about Hutch.

I leaned on the counter. “Got any nice necklaces?”

The proprietor looked at me, like he kind of wanted me to get off his glass case so he could clean it again, but he didn’t say anything. I’m a pretty good customer, even if I don’t dress up in a suit and tie to come here.

“Certainly, sir. What did you have in mind?”

“Do you have anythin’ that a man or a woman could wear? Sort of either-or jewelry?”

He was giving me an odd look, and trying to hide it. Like I care what he thinks. I could make up some line now, but who cares? I want it to be a funny gift, but not too mean. What’s a guy gonna do with a string of pearls? He’d never live it down.

“Why don’t I just get out my collection for you?” He pulls a tray out and slides it onto the counter, wearing those white gloves so he doesn’t muss anything. “Please don’t touch anything, sir.” Like I’m a kid in a candy shop or something.

“We have lovely pearls for the ladies. Silver chokers. A heart necklace.” (I snickered a little on the inside.) “Diamond pendants.”

Nope. All too ladylike for my partner. “Got any coins?”

He gave me a look. 

“Coins. Like I’m wearing.” I held it up.

His eyes got a sort of glazed over look. “I don’t believe…”

My gaze fell on it, then. “Oops, never mind. How ‘bout that piece?” I pointed down at the moon and star necklace, the one on a thin, silver chain. It was a nice piece, sort of classy without being too girlish, quiet but flashy when you looked close. 

“How much is that?”

He was pulling it away, like afraid I’d touch it or something. Maybe I’d just buy it, and then I could touch it if I wanted to. See what he thought about that… I squinted up at him, trying not to look too defiant or too desperate. Maybe too late.

He consulted a pricing guide. “That would be 175 dollars, sir.”

“That much? What’s that thing made of?”

“Twenty-four karat gold for the star and moon, and the chain is made of the finest Spanish silver. All the craftsmanship is done by true professionals, and we have a guarantee…”

“Okay, I get it. Good work and all that.” I dug out my wallet. “Got some kind of payment plan? I’m a little short this week.” 

Like I ever have 175 dollars extra lying around. But it’s the Blintz’s birthday, and he deserves something nice, even if he is going to trade it in. I’ll take a little money out of my savings. No big deal.

#

His birthday came, and I got to his place early, to pick him up for work. 

I got up even earlier, so I could get him his birthday blintz. Drove all the way to the best bakery in town, and got a dozen of them, fresh. They drove me wild with their smell, sitting in a cardboard box on the passenger seat where Hutch would be sitting soon.

I drove fast, and got there while they were still warm.

“Hey Blintz!” I used his key, and bounced in, carrying the box. It was still warm in my hand, and I couldn’t help grinning—giving the Blintz blintzes for his birthday.

“What do you want, Starsk?” He turned to glare at me from where he stood in front of his coffeepot, pouring himself a mug full. I stopped. His shoulders were hunched, and he was still wearing a bathrobe—and a frown.

“Didn’t you go for your run?”

“Oh, now I have to run every day? That’s my birthday gift to myself—no run today.” He turned away, and more coffee gurgled into his mug. 

“All right. Well, this is your other gift. The best breakfast ever!”

He looked at me, and accepted the package slowly, opened it, and took a sniff. “I guess you want me to pack on pounds like a sumo wrestler.”

“They mostly eat rice. Would you get over your stupid diet for one day and eat a blintz?”

He smiled suddenly. “This is a blintz? Why didn’t you say so?” We sat down at his table, and each ate one, slowly. He got some cream on his upper lip, and I resisted wiping it off and laughing at him. He’d see it in the mirror before we left for work and get it himself. 

“Crusty on the outside, soft on the inside.” I gave him a wink.

He shook his finger at me, but he was smiling now, couldn’t hide it. He reached for a second blintz. “These are good, Starsk.”

“Blintzes are wonderful.” I grinned at him, and then, as he was opening his mouth to say something, and probably ruin the compliment, I pulled the little package out of my jacket pocket. “This is your other present.” I popped the last of the blintz into my mouth, and wiped my hand on my jeans. “Go on. Open it!”

He gave me a wary, eye-narrowed look, wiped his own hands (and his mouth), and pried the jewelry box open. “I told you not to get me any—”

He stopped.

“It’s okay, Blintz. You can take it back to Marman’s Jewlery—just tell ‘em you got it from me, and they’ll give you the money back, and you can pick out something you really need. Maybe a new car.”

He was still staring down at it. For some reason, I felt nervous. He wasn’t talking, wasn’t even looking at me. Dang it. What if I’d done something really wrong? Just supposed to be a joke and—and not quite a joke, either. It was supposed to be something he’d like, at least a little bit, before he returned it.

He looked up and gave me crisp nod. “Thanks, Starsk.” His eyes looked a little softer somehow, thoughtful or something. He shut the box and slid it into his pocket, and I knew I wasn’t going to get another word out of him on the subject right then. He got up to go get changed. 

“Don’t eat them all. Have some coffee or something.” 

In a couple of minutes, he was ready, starting out the door, and I followed, casting a last, longing glance back at the blintzes.

Yum.

#

“Blintz. Blintz!” He looked up from his absent staring at the sidewalk. 

“Hm?”

“Y’okay?” I nudged him in the arm as I walked past. “Something wrong?”

“Hm? No. E-everything’s great.”

I cast him a small, happy smile. Great? On his birthday? “I’m glad to hear it. Let’s go to Huggy’s, okay?” I slid behind the wheel. “Or did you have somewhere special in mind, for your birthday?”

“Hm? No, no. Huggy’s is fine. Don’t know how you can afford…” he mumbled.

“What’s that, Hutch?” I glanced over at him, and saw he was fingering something near his neck. I looked closer, at the flashes of gold and silver. 

“Hey, you’re wearing it! I didn’t think you’d wear it.” I drew back with a huge grin on my face.

He tried to give me a stern look—and would’ve succeeded if he hadn’t looked so preoccupied and thoughtful. “Starsk, you shouldn’t spend so much on me.”

“Why not? Who else am I going to spend money on?”

“Yourself. One of your…interesting dates.”

“Nobody’d look half as good in that thing as you.” I gestured to his neck. It did look good there, sort of fine and delicate, but not unmanly, making him look—I dunno, dreamy, and somehow even larger. Like his big, strong neck contrasted with the shiny, small jewelry.

“Thanks. I think.” He went back to fingering the piece, and turned to gaze out the window.

I waited, not wanting to miss this by having my attention anywhere else—even on driving.

“You spent too much,” he mumbled.

I shrugged. “Ah, it’s an investment.”

He cast me another glance, almost shy. “Starsk, how’d you know?”

“Know what?”

“When I—when I was a kid, there was a time that was all I could think about. The…the moon and the stars. I used to have a telescope at my window—and I actually looked at stars with it, so don’t give me that leering look.”

I raised my hands, swallowing the ‘leering look.’

“And the moon. I was nuts about space travel, used to read stories about people going to the moon. Sometimes I even wrote my own. I loved the moon and stars. Constellations, the moon’s phases—waning, gibbous—the seas of the moon…”

“Seas? The moon has seas?” Okay—I was playing stupid. Sometimes it helps.

“No. They just call them that.” He turned a nice smile on me. “Come on over sometime. I’ll show you some things.”

“Sure, Hutch. I couldn’t see a lot of stars in New York, and I wasn’t so interested in the sky anymore once I moved out here.” I followed the moon landing real close though—I’m not stupid about the moon. I waggled my eyebrows, just to bug him. He was looking entirely too serious.

But he ignored it. “Starsk, this is the perfect gift—reminding me of my youth, just when I’m starting to feel old. How’d you know?”

Wow. I got him something—a sort-of gag gift—and it turns out to be the best thing I’ve ever gotten him. He’s never reacted like this before to a gift. Never.

So all I can do is tell him the truth. “I didn’t.”

“But you got the perfect…”

I raised my hands from the wheel. “I didn’t, Hutch. It was an accident. I just saw it there, and thought it looked nice.”

“Nice… Yeah.” He gave me a sad smile. “Starsk, I know I’ve been a pain about this birthday…”

I waved it away. “Hutch, you’re ALWAYS a pain!”

But he stayed serious. “Thanks for…for everything, Starsk.” He grinned at me. “You know what? Why don’t I treat you to supper, instead? How about some more of those blintzes?”

I perked up. “Yeah? You don’t mind sharing?”

“Of course they’re probably cold now…”

“We can warm ‘em up in the oven. And you can show me a constellation or something.” I started up the engine.

“Sure, Starsk. That’s a good idea. I’ve got some binoculars, and…”

“You can watch the sky with them? Why do you have ‘em, anyway? More…‘star gazing?’”

He sent me a scowl. “Bird watching.”

“I didn’t know you like birds. You never seem interested in ducks.”

“Starsky, ducks aren’t birds!”

“DUCKS aren’t BIRDS?!”

“They’re…fowl. Waterfowl. The point of bird watching is to see as many different species as possible. Once you’ve seen one duck, you’ve seen them all.”

“Prejudiced against ducks…” I muttered.

He put a hand on my shoulder. “Starsk, I’m trying to say thank you. If you don’t want to look at constellations, we won’t look at constellations.” He raised his hands. “We’ll look at ducks.”

I smiled at him. “No, that’s great. You can show me where to see Aquarium and Octopus and Orion’s Necktie.” I hid my grin and waited.

Hutch opened his mouth—then closed it again. “Yeah. Sure. All of them.” He frowned. “Will a few blintzes be enough to eat?” said Hutch, all solicitous now. “Do you want to stop and pick up a pizza, first? Pepperoni, or whatever you want.”

“Thanks, Hutch!”

Hey, you don’t get an offer like that every day—not from the Blintz.

And, I don’t know, maybe he’ll change his mind about the necklace—maybe in the end he’ll rather have money. But for now, he’s wearing it, he’s looking less grumpy, even kind of thoughtful and happy, and he’s letting me pick the pizza. That’s a win in my book.

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