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Watching Paint Dry


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This one's for Starsky's Strut, who inspired it with a rev for another story. :D

Special thanks to e-pony for the great beta-work!

The hard-working man leaned back on his elbows, craning his neck to take in the black hole that had sucked in the day’s time so far. A frown started on his face.

Next to him, a sweating bottle of beer clinked onto the plastic-covered floor, as a low groan announced the movement of his apparently not-so-hard-working friend settling down beside him.

“You missed a spot,” Starsky told him.

Taking a noisy gulp from his own beer, Hutch didn’t even look. “Did not.”

“Yes, you did. Right there.”

Knowing Starsky wouldn’t lower his pointing hand if he didn’t grant the wall an earnest glance, Hutch did so. Then, he waved his bottle dismissively. “That’s not a spot. It’s the paint drying.”

“The paint’s drying all over. That’s a spot.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Then why does it look different than the rest?”

Irritated, Hutch gestured with the hand holding his beer, drawing meaningless signs in the air before the offensive wall. “Because paint doesn’t dry all at once, Starsk. It gets sucked up by the wall more slowly in some places. Wait a few minutes, and you’ll see. All right?”

Starsky shrugged. “All right. But if that’s a spot, you’re gonna have to do the whole thing all over again. You know that, right?”

Hutch turned his head toward his friend, brows lifted questioningly.

“Well, you can’t just do a spot after the whole thing’s dry. Paint on fresh paint leaves stains.”

“You been reading a book on this? ‘Paint on paint leaves stains’?”

Suppressing a smile, Starsky did his best to look innocent, if better informed. “Some of us don’t have to read books on everything, Brains. I’ve painted enough walls to know that you can’t fix a spot after the whole thing’s dry. So why don’t you just do as you’re told and get up and paint that spot? It’s just one brushstroke!”

Hutch’s hardening expression was answer enough: “Principle.” Still, he added out loud, “It’s not a spot. I know a spot when I see one, and that isn’t one… because I don’t leave spots. I used to paint houses as a weekend job in college. I don’t leave spots.” To close the subject, he took a sip from his beer.

Starsky gazed at him doubtfully. “You didn’t?”

“What?”

“Work… when you were in college.”

“Starsky, of course I did. Everybody worked in college.”

“Yeah, but you once told me you didn’t.”

Silence was accompanied by quick, darting motions of pale blue eyes, as if they were watching an inner video. “I did?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Really? When?”

“When you were very drunk.”

“Ah.” A nod. Hutch lifted his bottle. “It’s ungentlemanly to bring up information divulged by someone intoxicated, you know.”

Starsky smiled. “I’m not a gentleman.”

“True.” Pause. “Anyway, that’s not a spot.”

“Okay. We’ll see. But if it is…” Leaving the sentence hanging, Starsky opened his hands in a gangster-like fashion and grinned into his beer. It was so a spot!

A grumbling glance rested on him.

“Yeah, I know,” Hutch returned, “if it is, you’ll make me go over that stupid wall with a toothbrush. Starsk, tell me again why I’m spending my afternoon off redecorating your girlfriend’s place?”

“Because the ‘girlfriend’ status is still a bit shaky here, and since you’re my best friend, you want me to be happy, which I will be, once Deb accepts the ‘girlfriend’ title. And,” he added after a moment’s thought, “you promised.”

“Because you wouldn’t stop looking at me like that!”

“Exactly.”

Rolling his eyes, Hutch mumble-grumbled something into his beer. “I hope she’s worth it,” he said.

With a pointed look, Starsky stood up and headed over to one of the covered shelves. He returned seconds later carrying a framed picture, which he handed to his partner before sitting down again.

Hutch’s features smoothed into a dumb-founded expression. When his leering went on too long, Starsky wordlessly took the picture back and put it out of sight.

Hutch stared after it, and then glanced at his friend. “So, when’re you doing the outside?”

Starsky snorted. “I’m not that desperate, okay? I’ll have you know, I’m pretty attractive myself.”

“Yeah, but –”

“Besides, her ex-husband had the outside done before he left, part of the separation agreement or something.” He took a quick gulp of his beer, as if he needed something else to swallow besides the sentence.

Hutch lifted his brows. “Ex-husband?”

“Yeah.” Silence followed, and Starsky turned from studying “The Spot” to look at Hutch again. “So? You’re an ex-husband.”

The picture of innocence, Hutch lifted his hands. “Just asking.”

“She left him,” Starsky pointed out.

Hands still raised, Hutch tilted his head. “They usually do.” At his friend’s glare, he quickly added, “So I’ve been told.”

Under Starsky’s frowning gaze, he lowered his arms, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. “So she had her hubby re-do the house she kicked him out of. You do like smart ladies.”

“Hutch –”

“Kids?” Hutch interrupted the threatening growl.

“No.”

“Pity. If you could show her how great you are with kids, maybe you wouldn’t have to paint. What’s on the list next? Install a pool?”

“I don’t have to listen to this coming from the guy who drove a chick to Maine once because she was afraid of flying,” Starsky stated, exasperated.

“That was different,” Hutch replied dryly. “We had sex on the way.”

“She dumped you the second you arrived!”

“Still, there was the whole trip,” Hutch countered.

“Still, you drove her,” Starsky pointed out, “on your weekend off. And you rented a car, ’cause yours wouldn’t make it.”

Hutch’s smile had vanished, and he was now staring gloomily at the glittering wall. “Yeah.” He paused. “Why is it, we let them run us like that, do you figure?”

Starsky showed his friend the picture again.

“Right.”

The next few minutes saw the two indulging in one of those manly silences that, to an outsider, might have looked like heavy thinking. Occasionally, one or the other would lift his beer, but their gazes never left the damp wall, almost as if they were reading it.

“This is nice, isn’t it?” Starsky eventually broke the spell with a smile.

Hutch cast him a doubtful glance. “Us watching paint dry?”

“Yeah. I mean –”

“Well, how about we turn it into a weekly thing, then? Instead of watching the game, we could watch grass grow or leaves turn brown.” Hutch snapped his fingers. “Or watch the continents move. That would be a thrill.”

“I meant, it’s nice just sitting here and thinking for a while,” Starsky replied. “Y’know? When do we ever really take the time to just sit and think? Reflect? Take a look inside?”

Hutch pursed his lips. “I do, twice a week.”

“What?”

“Twice a week.”

Starsky stared at his friend with something bordering on disgust. “You’re kidding.”

Hutch shrugged. “Saturday morning and Wednesday night.”

“And what if we’re on a call?”

“I can always squeeze a little self-reflection in. It’s called meditation; you should try it.”

Starsky frowned, studying his friend doubtfully. “You mean, you just sit down and… think?”

Hutch shook his head curtly, as if to clear it – or, rather, as if Starsky were giving him a headache. “Isn’t that what you just said we should do more often?”

“Yeah, but… it sounds weird, y’know, if a person really does it. What do you think about?”

With a resigned sigh, Hutch finished his beer. “Stuff. Life. The big questions.”

“Like why you feel compelled to drive a wreck that looks like it runs on the stuff you eat?”

Casting him a smile, Hutch took Starsky’s half-full beer out of his hands. “Yeah. That and why it is I’m earning my keep by having a sack of beans ‘n’ meat drive me around in a cartoon car all day long.”

Returning the smile, Starsky leaned back on his hands once more and looked up at Hutch, who sat cross-legged. “And? Why do ya?”

“No idea,” Hutch grinned and took a sip. “So,” he continued after the moment it took him to finish Starsky’s beer, “what do you think you should think about?”

“Oh, you know,” Starsky replied with a little waggle of his head, “the usual: life, stuff, the big questions – like why you can’t see that that’s a spot. Stuff like that.”

Ignoring the spot issue, Hutch put his elbow on one knee, resting chin on palm as he studied his friend. “So… what about life?”

“Hmm?” Starsky asked, turning his gaze from the wall again.

“What is it you want to think about? Now’s the chance, buddy. Spill it. What’s going on inside that head of yours?”

Starsky watched him meaningfully. Then, suddenly, he sighed, one hand lifting to indicate the wall. “That’s a spot, Hutch.”

Following Starsky’s pointing finger, Hutch nodded. “Nothing like some old-fashioned paint-watching to really get to the deep shit. I’m glad we shared this moment, partner.”

“Yeah. Me too, pal. Grab your brush.”

THE END

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