“I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone's hand.”
― Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
It happens fast. It happens slow. Starts the way all things do. Ends the same way, too. Doesn’t end with a bang. Doesn’t end with a whimper.
The clock starts ticking down the second the puck drops, but that’s not the real beginning.
The beginning of the end, maybe.
It’s cool, but it’s not cold. Jack’s neck cracks when he stretches it in either direction. The sun was out while he was stuck in class, but it turns the sky a beautiful pink, purple, orange, blue as it sets, and he tries to concentrate on that. On the way the shingles feel against his jeans, the way the fabric catches against the sandpaper-feel of the roof. There’s paint peeling along the side of the Haus, but if he doesn’t look at where Shitty has chipped it into a vague outline of Texas, it can’t bother him.
Bittle pops his head out the window and says, “Scoot over.”
Jack does. When he shifts, he sits on the tips of his fingers. Shoves them under his thighs to keep himself for reaching when he shouldn’t. Bittle sits beside Jack, bends his knees and wraps his fingers loosely around his shins. He rests his head against the side of the Haus behind him and turns to look at Jack. The weight of his gaze is heavy, but Jack smiles against it.
The way Bittle cares for people is immense. It’s a heady thing. Unstoppable force.
Jack guesses that makes him the immovable object.
Jack shifts so their arms graze against each other, the ghost of a suggestion of contact. Jack says, “What?” He turns towards Bittle, rests his cheek against his shoulder.
Bittle smiles, a bit shy. “Nothing.” He bites his lip, and Jack inhales through his nose.
Jack always struggled with science as a kid. He liked it. Likes it, even. Learning about the solar system in the second grade gave him anxiety, but he’s always liked to watch the stars. For Christmas, when he was seven, his mom bought him a night light that reflected constellations across his room. She’d change the filters when the sky outside changed. She’d let him curl into her side in his bed, and they’d point out the constellations they both knew.
They made a good team.
His parents are both smart, but Jack had a hard time not questioning the Why of it all. It’s the reason he struggled with math, too. Math and physics and chemistry. In the eighth grade, his teacher mentioned that most of what they were working on was based on theory, and it made Jack’s mind spiral and spiral.
He still struggles to wrap his mind around what makes something real. What makes something true.
When Bittle had pulled Jack’s weight through their American Food Culture class, he’d smiled up at Jack and said, “Baking is a science, okay. Like. When you’re making pasta sauce, you can just thrown in whatever you like because it’s just garlic and onions and tomatoes. The rest is optional. But, listen. When you’re baking, you have to be careful. Baking powder and baking soda are not interchangeable.”
Time passes. Time passes and passes and it’s not something anyone can do a damn thing about. Jack spent a month breathing into the skin at Kent’s neck, and time still fucked them, in the end.
And time is still passing. College is weird, that way. Four years, while he was in the thick of it, felt like it could never end. Writing papers and reading articles on jstor and skating at Faber all felt like limbo, somehow. It’s like there was a bubble around him--around Samwell, around the way he fit into the roster and the locker room and the Haus--and the rest of the world had a reality that doesn’t quite click with his.
There was a softness to it that made the stress easier handle. Space goes on and on and on. The world is massive and small at the same time. Jack both matters and does not matter. In the scheme of things.
Einstein’s theory of quantum entanglement suggests that when particles that cannot be described independently are separated, they still can’t be altered without affecting the other. Put them on opposite ends of the universe. Put an infinite amount of space and time and nothing between them. Even still, when you alter one, the other will be identically changed.
Einstein’s theory suggests that one particle ‘knows’ what alterations have been made to its identical part, and shifts accordingly.
Bittle knocks their shoulders together, and Jack can feel how soft Bittle’s plaid shirt is against his arm. Bittle’s laundry detergent somehow became everyone’s laundry detergent since he moved in at the beginning of the year.
Jack says, “It’s kinda weird,” and stops. He exhales. Closes his eyes. He says, “I don’t want it to be over.”
Bittle says, “Yeah,” and it sounds rough as it leaves his throat.
Jack says, “I--It’s not stupid to want to win, right?”
Bittle laughs, and Jack opens his eyes. “‘Course not,” Bittle says.
Jack nods, and his hair catches on a rough part of the side of the Haus. Tugs. It hurts but it doesn’t matter.
Bittle says, “You know we all want to win too, yeah?”
Jack says, “Yeah. I know.”
Bittle drops his knees, and his ankle settles against Jack’s calf. Jack bites his lip, but he doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know how much more of this he can actually take. He digs his fingers into the underside of his thighs, presses crescents into his skin through the fabric of his jeans. Bittle touches him like it means nothing, or like it’s easy. Bittle’s heart is big and the weight on Jack’s shoulders is heavy. Bittle’s love versus Jack’s pride.
It’s a hell of a life. Stop and Go and In and Out.
Save or Do Not.
Bittle says, “No matter what, Jack. I--it’ll be okay, y’know?”
Jack knocks his knee against Bittle’s thigh. “Yeah,” he says. “I know you’ve got my back.”
Jack snaps a photo of Bittle looking out over the ice, and a lump forms in his throat.
Shitty ruffles Bittle’s hair on their walk back, and Bittle’s laugh pulls a smile out of Jack despite Jack’s mood.
Jack likes the way that rinks are cold. The way it gets warmer when you step away from the ice. It’s not the same as stepping out of winter weather. The tip of his nose gets cold when he’s skating, and that’s the only similarity he can really draw. It’s a dry cold. Hockey is in Jack’s blood, but the cold of the rink doesn’t reach his bones. Bittle pushes away from Shitty and Jack wants to wraps his arm over Bittle’s shoulder, but doesn’t.
“The idea is,” his mom said, looking over his Physics 11 textbook, “could God--”
“God’s not real,” Jack said, smug.
“Okay,” she said. “Use your imagination. Pretend God is the Big Bang.”
Jack dragged his pencil along the rings of his spiral notebook, and she continued, “The question is asking if God could make a rock so heavy that even he wouldn’t be strong enough to lift it?”
“Does he need to lift it?” Jack asked.
His mom shook her head. “That’s not really the point. The Big Bang doesn’t want anything. Things just happen. So if God is the unstoppable force, and the rock is the immovable object, what happens?”
Jack breathes steadily as he sets himself up in the face off circle. He turns his head and Bittle’s lips turn up at corners. He nods, and Jack holds his eye.
The puck drops and drops and drops.
Jack, warm in the kitchen of the Haus, had a hard time looking away from Bittle’s dimples.
Occam’s razor would suggest that he’s fucked.
Eleventh grade physics taught Jack that the Gravity of the Earth, as denoted by g, refers to the acceleration that the earth imparts on objects on or near its surface. At sea level, it’s measured to be 9.8 meters per second squared.
Jack’s dad asked about what he was learning, and he repeated the information.
His dad said, “Which hits the ground faster if you drop them both from a plane? A five pound bag of feathers, or a five pound bag of bricks?”
Jack’s instinct was to answer ‘bricks.’ He thought about it, and said, “They both weigh five pounds.” Assuming nothing got in their way, the bags would fall at the same rate.
They drop the game. Time runs out on the scoreboard, and the second that the buzzer goes something dislodges inside Jack.
He can imagine the headlines.
How the mighty fall.
Jack Zimmermann, back at it again.
It’s easy to slip away, at the end of all things. All things considered. No one is paying attention. It hurts to lose. To be so close that you can taste it.
It hurts Jack to know that he doesn’t get another chance to prove that he’s good enough. Another chance to try to be good enough.
Jack just wanted to be the guy who led them there.
He hears Bittle coming. Doesn’t know that it’s him for sure but hopes so.
That alone is a funny thing.
Jack isn’t sure he wants anyone here, but if it had to be anyone, he wants it to be Bittle. He turns around to check because he’s crying either way, no matter who it is. And it could be anyone, really, until he turns around. And then it’ll either be Bittle or it won’t, but Jack will still be here. They still lost, no matter what.
Jack lifts his head, and Bittle stops in his tracks. Jack hasn’t cried in front of anyone ever. Not when it mattered.
Bittle steps forward again. Jack puts his face back in his hands. Bittle’s thigh presses into Jack’s when he sits beside him.
His arms fit around Jack, but barely. Jack’s gear smells horrible. Bittle’s Under Armor is sweaty and damp. Jack heaves a sigh into his palms, and Bittle doesn’t sniffle, but Jack knows he’s teary eyed, too. Jack’s not sure he’d be able to stay dry-eyed if he caught Bittle crying in the cold, either.
Time is a strange concept. It keeps going and going, even when Jack can’t keep track of it all. It’s steady, but sometimes it feels like it’s all passing him by faster than he can live through.
Sometimes, it feels slow.
The irresistible force paradox assumes two things:
One: the immovable object and the unstoppable force are two separate entities.
(This create a false dilemma. Only considering limited options forces a specific outcome. An unstoppable force, or something with infinite inertia, could be defined as an immovable object. They could, really, be one in the same. Any object whose momentum or motion cannot be changed is an immovable object, and it would halt any object that moved relative to it, making it an irresistible force)
Two: both the force and the object are indestructible.
(If not, the answer would be simple. When they met, one or the other or both would be destroyed.)
Jack’s not sure how long it’s been. Can’t do anything other than focus on drawing in his breath. His palms are pressed into his eyes, and his skin is sweaty where he’s been breathing against his own wrists. He bites at his lip, hard, and says, “Sorry.”
Jack feels Bittle shake his head against him. Pressed half into his shoulder and half into his collarbone. Jack’s hands are steady but his breath shakes. “I’m sorry,” he says again. He sees spots behind his eyelids, and the tears sneak out under his eyelids anyway.
“Jack,” Bittle says, soft. Sad. It feels like a whisper when he says, “It’s okay.”
Eventually, they stand. People will come looking. Jack wipes the backs of his hands under his eyes, and then his palms on thighs.
“We oughta go back,” Bittle says, wiping at his own eyes.
Jack nods. He looks up at the ceiling. He says, “Yeah.”
Shitty hugs Jack hard, and Jack says, “I know. Sorry, I know.”
Shitty says, “I fucking love you, brother.”
Jack swallows. Exhales. “You too,” he says. “I gotta shower.”
Jack usually sits alone on the bus. The aisle seat, sometimes. Leans across it to talk to Bittle or leans forward to talk to Shitty.
Bittle is tucked into a seat near the back. Unusual, but not unexpected. Jack can’t see much of him, barely the top of his head. He can imagine him with his knees pulled up on the seat. Bittle’s small, but he’s good at making himself smaller. Good at hiding himself away. Taking himself out of the equation of whatever else is happening around him.
Jack walks past his normal spot and shoves his laptop case in the overhead storage. He looks down at Bittle until Bittle looks up at him. “Can I sit with you?” Jack asks.
Bittle’s mouth twists in a complicated way that Jack decides he hates. “If you want,” Bittle says.
Jack sits, and Bittle lowers his feet to the floor. One of his knees cracks when he straightens it, and it’s a nice reminder. They’re only human.
Bittle is looking out the window, and it’s possible he’s asleep. Jack’s not sure. The speed limit on the Interstate is 70 miles per hour, and he likes New England fine, but he can’t imagine that watching it blur by is any interesting way to contemplate the rate at which their lives are changing.
Jack stares at the back of the seat in front of him, tries to memorize the pattern of the fabric.
Bittle’s arm is pressed along Jack’s arm. The armrest isn’t big enough to share. Not really. Jack can’t bring himself to pull away. He wants to turn his wrist so his hand is palm up. Wants Bittle to slide their hands together.
The space between them is already so limited. The time they have like this is running out. Nothing will ever be the same again. It’s dark outside, but Jack knows how the light refracts of the strawberry parts of Bittle’s hair when the sun is out, and he wants it all to be easier.
He shifts his hips softly, slowly, barely. His leg moves to the left just slightly. His knee knocks into Bittle’s, and it’s not enough.
Physics, Jack thinks, is total bullshit.
Jack can overdose and Jack can lose over and over again, but if his life has been about anything, it’s been about trying. Pushing through. Standing strong. Immovable object.
And there’s no way, not really. There’s no fucking way it could go any other way. In a universe of infinite possibilities, it was bound to happen eventually.
Something’s gotta give.
Jack lifts his wrist off the armrest and gently touches the soft inside of Bittle’s forearm.
Bittle lifts his cheek from the window, turns towards Jack.
He blinks at Jack, and Jack drags his fingers along Bittle’s wrist towards his palm. Bittle bites his lip, and Jack holds his eye as he flattens their hands together. Jack’s hands are bigger. Bittle’s skin is soft. Bittle closes his fingers in Jack’s hand, and the corners of Jack’s mouth twitch to a smile. Bittle moves his thumbs softly on Jack’s skin, like he’s testing it out.
Jack exhales, and Bittle shifts in his seat so he can rest his head against Jack’s shoulder rather than the window.
The bus is quiet. Someone is whispering near the front, and someone’s music is too loud, a muffle outside of their headphones. Bittle’s hair is soft a still a bit damp against Jack.
Bittle sighs, and Jack moves to press his nose into top of Bittle’s head.
Bittle’s grip tightens on Jack’s hand. Jack’s hands feel a bit clammy, but not enough to make him want to pull away. He closes his eyes and tries to focus on the humming of the bus, the sound of the rest of their team existing in the same space as them for one of the last times.
Jack rests his head back against his seat, and closes his eyes. His breath is steady in his chest. He can feel Bittle relax against him. His heart feels heavy against his ribs, but it doesn’t hurt.
Jack’s not impermeable. But he doesn’t have to be if it means he gets to have this. To try for this.