Author’s note: for Renee
The box was sitting on the kitchen table when Hutch got home from the gym that afternoon.
“From your mom,” Starsky said.
Hutch raised his eyebrows. He looked at the parcel briefly, then walked over to the junk drawer. After some rooting around, he came up with a carton cutter and set to opening the box.
Starsky put down the dish he was washing. “Were you expecting something?” he asked.
Hutch answered with a grin. “Look at this!” he exclaimed, pulling something out of the box. It was a stack of thin, yellow books.
Starsky came to his side. “What are they?” he asked, grabbing one and leafing through it.
“My old piano books.”
Starsky started reading titles. “’Two and Three-part Inventions’. ‘The Well-Tempered Claver’. What’s a claver?”
Hutch shook his head. “Clavier. It means piano.” He sifted through the books. “At least, I think so. In Bach’s day, anyway.”
“Can you really play this stuff?”
Starsky was mildly surprised. “Really?”
“I didn’t just come out of the womb knowing how to play the piano, you know. I had lessons. I even tutored music in high school, to make some extra cash.”
“Had to pay for those expensive nights out with Jack Mitchell?” Starsky teased.
Hutch blushed. I paid in more ways than one, he thought. He took the stack of music and headed over to the old upright near his front door.
“What do you want me to play?” he asked.
“How about that bad-tempered claver thing?”
Hutch had to chuckle. “OK, he said, opening the book. “Which one do you want to hear?”
Starsky closed his eyes. “Flip,” he ordered. As Hutch flipped, Starsky stabbed his finger randomly into the pages. “That one.”
Hutch smoothed the pages of “No. 8 in E Flat Minor” and began to play. Starsky stood behind him, watching.
At first it was hard. His finger memory was gone. The complicated counterpoint was too much for hands more used to playing the pop and country favorites he tended towards at parties these days.
But after a few dozen measures, he was able to relax enough to actually hear what he was playing. Bach’s use of inversion, of the canon form. Of two contradictory melodies clashing together, tearing apart, always melding again in the end.
He moved from the fugue to the prelude, pausing only briefly to turn pages.
Starsky watched in awe as Hutch’s hands flew over the keys. At first it was hard. The music was not instinctual, visceral, emotional. He was ready to ask Hutch to quit, and from the look in his partner’s clenched jaw, Hutch was ready to quit too.
But after a little bit, he was able to relax enough to actually hear what Hutch was playing. Two melodies, snaking in and around each other. Teasing, insinuating themselves into the theme, then pulling apart.
He watched Hutch play, watched the jaw unclench as the blond relaxed into his task.
As the last notes of the slower, shorter prelude trickled away, Starsky sat down on the bench next to his partner.
“Is it over?” he asked, disappointed.
“Can I try?”
Hutch didn’t pause for a moment, didn’t even stop to consider that the sum total of his partner’s musical knowledge was the ability to pick out tunes on the guitar. “Stand behind me,” he ordered.
Starsky stood. Hutch sorted through the yellow books, picking out one with a grunt of satisfaction and placing it atop the piano.
“Put your hands on top of mine,” he instructed.
Starsky obeyed. He leaned his chin on Hutch’s shoulder, his warm breath bathing Hutch’s cheek.
Hutch began to play, slowing down slightly to accommodate the extra burden, strategically skipping the trills in order not to dislodge his partner’s hands. He felt Starsky’s heart thump against his back. Smelled the sandlewood.
If Starsky closed his eyes, he could almost fool himself into thinking that he was playing. Hutch’s sure, strong hands moved under his. He felt his heart thump against Hutch’s back. Smelled the soap and water.
It was short, Two-part Invention No. 15, and normally not that hard to play. But then again, by the time they were done playing it, it was long and hard enough.