Bitty wakes up to the sound of a lawnmower, and it takes a second to click, in that moment between almost conscious to all the way awake, for him to realize that he's not at Samwell anymore. The semester is well and truly over, and he's in his bed at home, in Madison. There's a fan perched on his desk, working at full speed to fight the Georgia heat, and he's got the sheets kicked all the way to the bottom of his bed, and less than twenty-four hours ago, he was kissing Jack Zimmermann.
Bitty curls his knees up to his chest, curls a smile into his pillow, and lets out a sigh.
It's funny, how this bed feels empty, now. Too big for his frame, somehow, even though when last he slept in it he was too aware of how small it was, how the balls of his feet could press flat against the end board.
He's never shared a bed with Jack. But he's spent enough time hugging Jack recently to imagine what it would be like, to have Jack wrapped around him, taking up both too much and just enough space, with one arm wrapped around Bitty's middle.
Bitty uncurls, and reaches for his phone.
Good morning, Bittle. How'd you sleep?
Bitty rolls backwards onto his back, and smiles a huge, dopey smile at the screen.
Like a rock! I always forget how much quieter it is at home than at Samwell.
Bitty waits a second, and then adds, I miss you already, sending it off before he can second-guess it.
His phone buzzes less than a minute later, and it occurs to Bitty for the first time that for someone who doesn't care that much about being connected to technology, Jack's almost always answered him right away.
"My Lord," Bitty murmurs. "What am I going to do with this boy?"
"Mama, you shouldn't have," Bitty protests, as she shoves him into a chair, and puts a cup of coffee down in front of him. "You could've woken me up, I would've helped."
"You cook all of the time for that your team of yours, Dicky," Mama says. "Let someone else feed you for a change."
There's no arguing with Mama when she's got an idea in her head, especially when it's an idea about feeding people, so Bitty just gets up to grab the creamer from the fridge, and does his best to get out of her way.
"Coach mowing the lawn?" Bitty asks, as he nudges the fridge door closed with his hip.
"Fighting the same damn fool fight against those weeds," Mama confirms. "I told him he should get out there earlier, before it got too hot, but he didn't want to wake you."
Bitty sets his coffee aside, and pulls down a glass from the cabinet, filling it with ice and then water. "Be right back, Mama," he says, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek, before heading out.
The backyard smells strongly of grass clippings, for all that a good chunk of the yard is browning right now, and Coach is standing at the edge of it, his University of Georgia cap pulled down low to cover his eyes. "Morning, Junior," Coach says, accepting the glass of water with a nod. "You unpack yet?"
"Not yet, sir," Bitty says, lifting up a hand to shade his eyes from the morning sun. "I only just woke up."
It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, how well worn into the patterns of a New England summer he's become. But then again, there's a lot things about his life at Samwell that he's looking at differently right now.
The back of Bitty's neck flushes, and he hopes to whatever God is out there listening that what happened yesterday in Jack's old room isn't suddenly written all over his face. It's another bridge to cross, but Bitty doesn't think he's ready for that one just yet.
"Your mother making breakfast?"
Bitty shakes his head, and does his best to clear all thoughts of Jack from his mind. "Eggs and biscuits, sir. They're about done."
Coach nods, and for a minute, Bitty doesn't expect him to say anything else; it wouldn't be like him to, anyways. Coach has never been much of a talker, and Bitty's got a whole childhood of his own chatter filling up the empty spaces to prove it. He'd rather listen to our chatter than bother with saying much of anything himself, Dicky, Mama always likes to say, but Bitty's always had a hard time letting himself believe it.
He’s trying to work on that. Maybe one day, they’ll find a way to meet in the middle, and Bitty will finally find the right words for all of the things he’s always talked around, and never quite managed to say.
"You had a good run this season, Junior," Coach says, finally. Bitty looks up, surprised. "Let's go stuff ourselves full with biscuits to celebrate it."
He's learning a thing or two about the little moments, these days. Turns out, it doesn't take an earthquake to shift the ground beneath you; sometimes all it takes is a couple of small, easy movements, the kind that don't seem all that significant while they're happening. It's not until after, when you look back and see how far you've come.
Bitty rolls back his shoulders, and smiles. "Yes, sir."
A bright, cozy kitchen, filled to the brim with pots and pans and baking tins stuffed into just about every empty space where a baking tin can be stuffed. A football on top of the fridge, and one of Coach's white boards perpetually propped up on the sideboard, next to the butter. Pretty floral curtains set over the kitchen window overlooking the yard, and a standing fan in the corner, because they don't like to keep the A/C up that high, and it doesn't do the job well enough on its own.
A pair of Bitty's old skates left by the mat near the door, because he hasn't fit into them in years but he still can't quite bring himself to put them away. It’s lucky, that his parents haven’t gotten around to it yet either, when they only ever get in the way.
Bitty sits, and watches his parents bicker softly over the jam, Coach letting out a groan about how oatmeal's supposed to be healthier for his heart, but him and Mama know that it's all for show; it always is.
But, for Bitty, this is also home:
A cramped old kitchen with a brand new oven that he's only just barely gotten the chance to break in. A cupboard entirely filled with bottles of sriracha, and a drawer in the fridge that's always going to wind up packed full of Natty Light, whether he likes it or not. A stampede of hockey players, loud and sweaty and stubborn as hell, with the biggest damn hearts Bitty's ever had the pleasure to get to know.
Jack Zimmermann, in the corner, hovering, always ready with a small, fond smile, and a chirp tailor-made to get a rise out of Bitty.
Jack Zimmermann, sheepish and amused, as he held up the pie that he made himself, with the sloppy lattice work and the burnt edges. Bitty didn't even have the heart to chirp Jack for it, and Jack would've deserved it too, because for as quiet as he comes off, that boy sure does have a whole lot to say. Bitty should've seen it coming, should've known that he'd be weak in the face of a handsome man covered in baking flour.
There's an empty chair at the kitchen table in his parents' house, and it's so easy, to close his eyes and picture Jack's broad shoulders and deep blue eyes filling up that space with his ridiculous accent, and his quiet, steady chirping.
Bitty’s heart lives in two places; he wonders what it would be like, if he could let these two, disparate versions of himself come together, overlap, and maybe one day, become one whole person.
There's a small voice inside of Bitty that says he's getting ahead of himself, here. All he has is five minutes worth of kissing that turned his entire world on its axis, and a couple of text messages that made his heart beat so fast and so hard that it might as well have gone flying right out of his chest. He doesn't know what this is going to be, with Jack. Doesn't know what's possible, for Jack, and for them.
But my Lord, he can't wait to find out.
"Dicky?" Mama says. "You look lost in thought, sweetheart. Something wrong with your food?"
"What? No, Mama, it's great," Bitty says, shoving a forkful of eggs into his mouth as if to prove it. He chews quickly, and then swallows. "Just, uh. I've got a lot on my mind, is all. A lot happened this year."
Coach takes a slow, considering sip of his coffee. "You'll get 'em next year, Junior."
And, well. Coach isn't wrong, exactly. As much as there's still part of Bitty that's back in Jack's old room, kissing him, there's also still part of Bitty that's back on that ice, watching the final buzzer go off on their Frozen Four dreams.
Bitty shrugs. "I hope so. Don't know how we'll do without Jack on the team."
"He at training already?" Coach asks. "Providence Falconers, right?"
"Uh, yes sir," Bitty says, very carefully, willing himself not to blush. "His parents drove him to Providence after the graduation ceremony was done with."
"Such a nice boy," Mama says, "Handsome just like his father, too."
Bitty catches sight of Coach's reflexive grimace, and barely stifles his laughter.
"You should invite him to the Fourth of July party, Dicky," Mama says, perking up in her chair. "Or do you think he might be too busy with hockey?"
"Ummm," Bitty says, hiding a small, giddy smile behind the curve of his coffee cup. "He might be able to make it. I could ask."
"Tell him he doesn't have to bring his father," Coach says, all low, good-natured grumble, but he still gets a balled-up napkin flying at his head for his trouble.
"I'll ask," Bitty says, once more, eyeing the empty seat at the table.
It doesn't seem like an empty chair, anymore. Right now, it’s looking full of possibilities.
"Huh," Bitty says. He never thought he'd find himself in this position, so overwhelmed with how inadequate a text message feels. He shifts gears, goes to the conversation details, and presses call.
The phone rings for a minute, almost, and then Jack's voice, breathless and close, comes through the receiver. "Hey, Bittle. Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, uh," Bitty starts, swallowing hard. He's nervous, suddenly, for all that he didn't think through any of this at all. He wonders if this is how Jack felt, in the split second of silence before Jack kissed him for the first time. Like bracing yourself to jump off a cliff, only to find yourself landing straight onto solid ground.
It'll be okay. He already knows Jack's got his back.
"I was just wondering. How would you feel about coming down for a visit?"