When Bitty’s phone rings, a reverent silence passes over the Haus. Dex and Nursey stop fighting over a video game controller; Chowder sticks his headphones into the laptop that’s streaming his Sharks game; even the oven that Bitty’s filled up with apple pies does not dare sound its high-pitched alarm -- not while Jack is calling.
“Hey,” Jack says, on the other end of the line, too many miles away, his voice a fervent whisper.
Bitty had never thought he could have this -- not even after their first kiss, when all he could think was, ‘We’ve wasted so much time.’ With Jack graduating, heading for the NHL -- his dreams, his destiny -- just a month later, Bitty hadn’t even imagined -- “Hey, yourself.”
Hell, touching Jack Zimmerman’s ass was lucky enough, and sharing even just a little piece of Jack’s life was luckier still, for Jack to stick with Bitty, with the NHL, and the weight of Bad Bob’s legacy on his (admittedly broad and strong) shoulders -- that, that was something else. It still is.
“You catch the game?” Jack asks, because yeah, some things change, but Jack Zimmerman still has the easiest time expressing his reserved, French-Canadian emotions through hockey.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Bitty assures. “You were great.”
“Thanks.” Bitty can hear his cheeks color with pride. “I wasn’t sure I was gonna be able to settle that bouncing puck down, but then I made the pass --”
“I missed your accent,” Bitty says, cutting him off. He can’t help it. There’s too much sweet, exuberant sentiment streaming out of every pore. It feels as though he might burst.
Jack laughs, a warm, rich rumble, but then he says, “I missed your accent, too.”
“I do not have that much of an accent, Jack Laurent Zimmerman. I haven’t even said ‘ya’ll’ once this conversation yet.”
“We’ve been talking for two minutes.”
Bitty sighs. It’s not enough -- two minutes, ten minutes, half an hour. It’s hard, not having Jack so close, not seeing his face every single day. The irony is not lost on him -- almost two years of having Jack around, all the time, when Bitty couldn’t touch him, and now, Bitty can do anything he wants, and Jack’s miles and miles away. “Can you Skype later?”
“Maybe in a couple of hours,” Jack says. “But you’ve got that test. I shouldn’t keep you up.”
“I’ll be fine,” Bitty says. “Chowder helped me study.” It’s an Intro to Programming class that Bitty took on a whim, and Chowder’s sort of a genius with computers.
“Knew I gave him my dibs for a reason.”
It’s nice having Chowder right there -- not as nice it had been when Bitty’d lived right next to Jack, but he’d never tell that dear summer child something like that. Making the sweet baby Chowder frown was punishable with the scariest tongue-lashing Bitty could muster, and a weeklong cessation of pie privileges, and Bitty could not very well carry out that particular punishment on himself. (He has a hard enough time carrying it out when someone else -- also known as Dex and/or Nursey -- earns it. The longest the pie ban has ever lasted is three days, when the two of them upset Chowder so badly with their bickering that he pulled out an actual chunk of his own, beautiful hair).
“I thought you gave Chowder the room because he’s my favorite, and you love me,” Bitty says.
“Nah. Someone has to help you study when you fall behind because all you do is bake pies.”
“See if I send you any baked goods, Zimmerman!”
“Eric. I might get kicked off the team! They love your cookies.” Jack says. “On cheat days, I’m the most popular guy on the team.”
Bitty puts on his most dramatic sigh, pretending to think about. “Well, if your NHL career is on the line…”
Jack laughs again.
“Oh, who am I kidding? Tell me everyone’s favorite kinds of cookies,” says Bitty. “What’s your head coach’s favorite pie?”
“I’m gonna have to start sending you money for butter.”
“Excuse you, I am a strong, independent woman who doesn’t accept butter from any man.”
Bitty can almost hear Jack trying not to smile. He aches for the sight.
“My dad called after the game,” says Jack, his voice almost shaky with pride.
“Of course your dad called! You were plus two!”
Jack’s probably blushing. Lord, Bitty hates distance.
“He said to tell you, ‘hi.”
“Really?” It’s Bitty’s turn to get flustered.
He’s still a little starstruck and terrified whenever he and Bad Bob interact. It’s one thing to come out as a couple to your boyfriend’s father when you’re the first guy said boyfriend’s ever dated. It’s a whole ‘nother thing when said father in an NHL legend who could probably still snap you like a toothpick if he decided that was a good idea. But as it turned out, Bad Bob had been alarmingly cool about the whole thing, and had actually seen Jack-and-Bitty-as-an-item coming before either of them had imagined it as a valid option. Jack’s dad was, and continues to be, happy for them. It’s sort of a trip.
“I swear, he likes you better than me,” says Jack, and just a year ago, that would have been painful, and he would have meant it. Now, it’s a joke.
Coming out’s brought Jack and his dad closer than ever.
Even if their relationship crashes and burns, Bitty can always know that he helped Jack in this way -- that theirs was a positive chapter in Jack’s life, if only for one reason, and one reason alone.
“You’re thinking too much,” says Jack. “I can hear it. Go eat some protein.”
“No fair. I can’t even throw something at you right now.”
“Why’d you think I said it?”
Bitty laughs, and shakes it off. There’s a reason Jack is still here, on the other end of the line -- why he came out to his dad, and the whole damn world, the whole NHL -- why, with the whole world he’d worked for finally in the palm of his hand, Jack still chose Bitty. The truth of it is: they are better, happier people together.
“I meant it, though -- go eat some protein, and make sure you don’t burn down the Haus by forgetting your pies. One of the coaches wanted to talk to me after dinner.”
“How dare you? I’d never burn a pie!”
Jack’s laughing so hard he almost can’t speak when he says, “Bye, Bittle. Love you.”
Bitty hangs up, incandescently happy -- but not before saying, “Bye, Jack. I love you, too.”