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On History and Friendship

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Bitty and Jack had been dating for about a month, when Bitty had the inspired idea to host a dinner for their friends.

“You know I’m crazy about you,” Bitty said one evening as he was in Jack’s kitchen beating egg whites into submission for some meringues. “And if our friends got to know each other and liked one another, then imagine how much fun we could all have together.”

“You’re cute, Bits. Really, but one, I don’t have any friends. Just you and Shitty.”

“Aw, honey. That can’t be true,” Bitty frowned.

“Who do you ever see me hanging out with?”

Bitty stopped whisking, and thought for a moment, “What about Chester?”

“Bitty, he’s 76.”

“And?”

“I’m not going to invite my septuagenarian chess partner to a dinner with a bunch of 20-somethings.”

“Well, that’s certainly ageist, Zimmermann,” Bitty said pointing his whisk at Jack.

Jack sighed, “That’s not what I mean. And two, Shitty will scare them off. You know he’s a little hard to handle sometimes.”

“Oh, he’s just high spirited,” Bitty said as he flipped his bowl over, and watched the peaks of egg whites hardly move.

Bitty recalled the evening he met Shitty. It was around their fifth date. Bitty and Jack were settling in with a bowl of Chex Mix to watch a Ken Burns documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright when they heard a knock on the door.

“Are you expecting someone?” Bitty asked, sitting up and glancing over his shoulder toward the front door.

Jack shook his head and walked toward it. He looked through the peephole and sighed, then mouthed the word, “Sorry,” to Bitty and opened the door.

“There you are, you fucking Canadian beaut!”

Bitty turned completely, and watched wide-eyed as a mustachioed guy around Jack’s age, swooped in and hugged Jack, lifting him off the ground.

The man wore jeans with holes in the knees, some Birkenstocks with pink socks, and a t-shirt which had the cast of the Golden Girls and it read Stay Golden. He had his hair up in a manbun.

“Shitty,” Jack said pinching the bridge of his nose. “What are you doing here?”

“What?” He said as he pushed his way in and made a beeline to the couch. “A brah can’t stop by and surprise his most favorite brah?”

Bitty smiled as Shitty plopped himself on the couch and introduced himself.

“B. Shitty Knight, Esquire. At your service,” he said as wagged his eyebrows.

Bitty laughed. “Eric Bittle, but please call me Bitty.”

They shook hands and Shitty yelled as he threw his head back, “Christ, he’s adorable!”

Jack stood in front of the couch, mortified.

+

“Fine, if you want to throw a dinner for your friends and Shitty, then by all means. Let’s do it.”

“Will Shitty feel awkward if it’s just him and my friends?”

“Shitty hasn’t felt awkward about a single thing in his entire life.”

Bitty smiled. “I guess not.”

Jack leaned against the counter and watched Bitty spoon the meringues onto a tray.

“How about we just make it Shitty and Lardo? That way it’s just both of our best friends.”

Jack smiled, “Lardo can definitely handle Shitty.”

“Amen to that!”

And so, Bitty began to plan a small dinner for four and hoped his best friend and Jack’s best friend would get along.

+++

“What’s Bitty making?” Shitty asked as he threw a bunch of depositions he was reading for his Civil Rights Litigation class on the coffee table. Jack had called Shitty to remind him not to be late for dinner.

“Roasted chicken, I think.”

“Sweet! Ask him to make those tiny potatoes I like. They make me feel like a giant when I eat them.”

“Anything else?” Jack asked, not being serious.

“I think the pie should be peach. Definitely peach,” Shitty said as he petted Susan B. Anthony. She purred and pressed her head into his touch.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Jack said as he balanced his phone between his cheek and shoulder, and poured himself another cup of coffee.

“So it’s just going to be Bitty, you, me and his friend? What did you say her name was again?”

“Larissa, but we all call her Lardo.”

“And you said she’s the team manager? Is she cute?”

"Shitty…” Jack said as he put his cup down. “She's Bitty's best friend. Please don't scare her away."

“What? I’m not a scary dude, Jack. I’m wounded you would even say that.”

“You know what I mean, Shitty.”

“I promise I’ll be on my best behavior. I’ll even wear pants!”

“Shitty, I’m serious.”

“So am I, Jacko. So am I. Look, she’ll love me okay? I’ll get the seal of approval -- besides, aren’t you the one that’s suppose to worry about whether or not she likes you. Not me.”

Jack laughed, “Haha. I’ve already been given the shovel talk. Trust me. I’ve been vetted, but good.”

“Relax. We’ll get along fine.”

“I have to get going to class. See you at 7:30? Don’t be late,” Jack said.

“I won’t, mom.”

“Bye.”

“Toodles.”

+++

At 6:00, Bitty showed up at Jack’s with a few tote bags full of groceries.

“Bits, I told you to let me know when you were coming and I would have met you halfway.”

“Jack, I can handle a couple bags. I carried you on my back the other day across the quad, remember?”

“You certainly were determined to win that bet with Ransom.”

“Damn straight.”

Bitty leaned in and kissed Jack then handed him the bags as he toed off his shoes.

Bitty headed straight to the kitchen and got to work. It had taken some finagling to find a time when all four of them were available, between the bakery, roadies, history lectures, and law school, they finally found a date two weeks later.

“Where’s Lardo?”

“She had to inventory the supply room at Faber, so she’ll come when she’s done. I told her no later than 7:30.”

“And Shitty?”

“Same. I wonder how they’ll get along?” Jack asked. “Do you want red or white for tonight?”

“Um... red?”

“Do you want some now?” Jack asked taking four wine glasses from the cupboard.

“Mmm-hmm. Yes, please.”

Jack uncorked a bottle of Malbec and poured a glass for Bitty. He would let himself have one glass during dinner. An occasional glass of wine was allowed and didn’t interfere with his meds too much.

“I think Lardo will think Shitty is silly but harmless, and Shitty will think Lardo is cool and that’ll be that. It’ll be fine,” Bitty said as he stuffed the chicken with lemons and thyme.

Once Bitty was done with all the prep work, the only thing left was to sit and wait. Jack had set the table while Bitty finished putting everything in the oven.

“Will you look at that. We still have half an hour before anyone else shows up,” Bitty said with a small grin.

“Oh?”

Jack looked at Bitty and his expression changed.

In the last month, he had become quite versed in Bittyspeak. That grin, that cheeky grin, meant that he was about to get loved on. He put the final fork down on the napkin and stood as Bitty approached.

Even after all these weeks, Jack still could not believe that Bitty would be interested in him. Bitty took Jack by the hand and led him to the couch. He sat him down and straddled his lap, wrapping his arms around Jack’s neck.

“Hello, Professor Zimmermann.”

“Eric,” Jack said as he smiled.

"I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Bitty leaned in and kissed Jack sweetly on the lips, Jack instantly pressed up toward Bitty deepening the kiss.

Just then, there was a knock on the door.

“Let me in!” Shitty called from the other side. “I really have to pee!”

Jack exhaled, and Bitty pulled back, shrugged and said, “The Shitman cometh.”

Jack nodded, gave Bitty a quick peck on the cheek and then Bitty climbed out of Jack’s lap to open the door.

“Bitty, my dear! The hugs and kisses will have to wait,” Shitty said as he dashed in and ran toward the bathroom.

“Hey, Shitty,” Jack called out from the couch.

“Hey, Jack,” Shitty called from inside the bathroom.

Just then, there was another knock on the door.

“That must be Lardo,” Jack said. He walked over and opened the door, as Lardo stood carrying a watermelon under one arm.

“I brought a side dish,” she said.

“Lardo,” said Jack as a way of greeting, offering his fist.

“Jack,” she replied and gave him a fist bump in return.

Lardo and Jack had grown quite fond of each other. They enjoyed a quiet camaraderie that Bitty loved. Their conversations were often quite minimal but to the point; Jack would show her something in a book or magazine, and Lardo would respond with a quiet, “Totally.” Lardo would make a Spotify playlist for Jack, and he’d give it a simple thumbs up. Both of them bobbing their heads simultaneously to the music coming out of Jack’s laptop.

Shitty walked out of the bathroom and bellowed, “Well, that’s bett--- Oh…”

He stopped in his tracks and stared at Lardo.

“Dude,” she finally said.

“Larissa Duan, meet Shitty Knight. Shitty, Lardo,” Bitty said.

“Hey,” she said as she extended her hand.

“Yes,” Shitty said.

Jack and Bitty watched them, then quickly glanced at each other.

“So,” Jack said. “Wine?”

“Sure,” Lardo said as she plopped the watermelon on the couch and sat down.

Shitty didn’t move and said, “Yes.”

“Is that all you can say?” Lardo asked with arms folded in front of her.

“Yes-- I mean, no.”

Bitty looked at Shitty and said, “Sit, Shitty. Breathe and sit.”

Jack said, “I’ll get the wine.”

Lardo smiled as she saw Shitty run after Jack.

He whispered, “That’s Lardo?”

“Uh, yes?”

“Jesus, Jack. She’s fantastic.”

“You just met her, Shits.”

“The heart knows what the heart knows. Okay, Zimmboni?!”

“Please don’t scare her off, Shitty.”

"I don't think anything could scare that woman."

Crisse,” Jack said. “Pull yourself together, man. And keep in mind, this is me saying that.”

“Okay,” Shitty sighed. “Got it. Help me, Gloria Steinem! Guide me!”

Shitty had a shit eating grin during most of dinner, trying his best to make a good impression on Lardo. He talked about law school, his awful and complicated family, how Jack was one of the greatest people he’d ever known, and their years spent in the tiny apartment off campus on Thayer street.

“One time, our stove conked out. It just fucking up and died,” Shitty said.

“God, the stove story,” Jack said shaking his head.

“Well, I just happened to see a small vintage stove on the back of some junk guy’s truck. So I asked him how much he wanted for it. He said $90, so I said, ‘Sold!’ I called Jack and told him to meet me downstairs so he could help me carry it up.

“Three flights, might I add,” Jack interrupted.

“So we haul this thing upstairs, drag it into our kitchen and I’m feeling like a hero because I got us a stove for under a hundred bucks.”

“Hero, not so much,” Jack said with a smirk.

“Why? What happened,” Lardo asked.

Shitty took a deep breath and said, “Well, we’re standing there staring at the thing and we figure we should clean it and hook it up. So Jack gets the spray cleaner and opens the oven door and starts spraying it down.”

At that point, Jack began to laugh so hard, he snorted, which in turn made Bitty laugh and ask, “Then what?!”

“I shit you not, a cockroach popped its head out of one of the burners. And then another, and another. And then, it was like a scene in a fucking horror movie. Hundreds of roaches began pouring out that damn stove.”

“Lord!” Bitty said holding his hands to his mouth, as Lardo gasped.

“No doubt,” Shitty said.

“What did you do?” Lardo said.

Jack was practically wheezing from laughing so hard, he said, “We started screaming and running around the kitchen.”

Shitty cackled as he pounded the table with his fist. “It was the single most disgusting experience of my life -- and believe me, I’ve seen some shit.”

“That is so nasty,” Bitty said with a mixture of awe and terror on his face.

“We were screaming, trying to step on them all. Susan B. Anthony was chasing them. It was the stuff of nightmares,” Jack added.

The four were laughing, and Shitty wiped tears from his eyes. “Needless to say, we ponied up and got a brand new stove.”

Lardo was, for the most part, charmed, but she’d rather punch a puppy than let Shitty know that. Once the laughter died down, Shitty sighed and enjoyed watching Jack and Bitty give each other shy, loving looks.

“So, these two crazy kids,” Shitty said holding up a glass of wine, “Bless them. They’re fucking cute as hell.”

Bitty laughed, “Oh boy. Is this the portion of the evening, Mr. Knight, where you go on about ‘Our Great Big Romance.’”

Lardo smiled, “Is that really what you call it?”

“‘Chyeah, I mean, look at them. They’re freaking adorable and so in love.”

“Shitty!” Jack said turning five shades of red.

“Well it’s true. When he first met Bitty…”

Lardo grinned widely. “Go on,” she motioned.

“When he first met Bitty, he called me and said, ‘Shits… I have a problem. So I said, ‘Does this problem require legal counsel?’ And he said, ‘No. This is serious. I… like someone!”

Bitty smiled and put his hand on Jack’s. “Well, I liked someone, too,” he said. “And it all worked out in the end.”

Jack leaned over and kissed Bitty on the cheek.

“D’awww!” Lardo and Shitty cooed at the same time.

“Knock it off,” Jack said as he got up.

“Who wants coffee?” Bitty asked.

“Will there be pie available to accompany said coffee?” Shitty asked.

“Have we met?” Bitty said with eyebrow raised. “Ginger peach, per your request.”

Shitty threw his fist in the air, “Yes! I knew you loved me best.”

“Always,” Bitty said with a grin as he and Jack cleared the dishes.

Jack smirked and said to Shitty, “Remember, though, I saw him first.”

Jack and Bitty withdrew to the kitchen leaving Lardo and Shitty alone.

“So art, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s really great. Self-expression is one of life’s greatest mysteries. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing”

Lardo snorted. “Thanks?”

“I’m being sincere, here!” Shitty said.

“I know. That’s what makes it even lamer.”

“Lamer? Shit, don’t hold back now, Larissa.”

Lardo grinned and touched the rim of her wine glass, “Lardo. Call me Lardo.” She then raised an eyebrow and said, "So, what's with the mustache?"

"What? You don't like it?" Shitty asked as he stroked it with his fingers.

"I guess it has a certain Magnum P.I. appeal, if you're into that sort of thing."

"Are you? Into that sort of thing?"

"Wouldn't you like to know? It’s a bit pedostache-y though,” she said with a smirk as she got up to use the restroom.

“Just so you know, it is a pornstache and not a pedostache,” he called after her.

Jack ground coffee beans, the loud buzzing affording them a few moments of private chatter.

“I think they’re hitting it off,” Bitty whispered as he sliced the pie.

“Well, I think Shitty is smitten,” Jack said.

“Lord, I hope he’s not acting like a fool. Wait, let me rephrase that. I hope he’s not embarrassing himself… wait, let me rephrase that.”

Jack chuckled as he turned off the grinder.

+++

After dessert, Shitty and Lardo volunteered to do the dishes.

“Bitty, I insist. You did all the cooking, it’s only fair, dude,” Lardo said as she tucked a dishtowel into her belt.

“Fine,” Bitty said throwing his hands up. “But only so I can snuggle on the couch with this gorgeous specimen before we have to leave.”

Jack smiled broadly as Bitty led him to the couch.

“You’re not staying, Bitty?” Shitty asked.

“Nope, we have practice first thing in the morning and then we leave for a roadie in the afternoon.”

“Suckage,” Shitty said as he sidled up next to Lardo by the sink who handed him a soapy sponge.

“We’re off to Colgate,” Lardo added.

“Text me when you get there?” Jack said as he hugged a lapful of Bitty.

“Of course! I’ll text you when I’m on the bus on the way there, too. And tonight.”

“Thanks for dinner,” Jack said as he nuzzled Bitty’s neck, “everything was delicious.”

“Sure thing, honey,” Bitty said with a small giggle as Jack then nibbled on his ear.

“Hey! Keep it PG, guys. No need to lay it all out in the open in front of us,” Lardo called out from the kitchen, “I’m an innocent, for crying out loud.”

Shitty guffawed, and Lardo elbowed him in the ribs.

“And you, you better watch yourself,” Lardo said. “Don’t think I won’t drop kick your ass.”

Shitty's ears turned red which in turn made Lardo laugh. She gently punched Shitty in the arm, with a soapy fist, twice.

“Two for flinching,” she said.

+

“Are you two walking back to campus now?” Shitty asked as Bitty and Lardo put on their jackets.

“Yeah, it’s time to get going,” Bitty said as Jack came and threw his arms around him for a great big bear hug.

“Do you want a ride? I don’t mind,” Shitty said.

Bitty and Lardo looked at each other and nodded.

“Sure! Thanks, Shitty.”

“Why don’t we wait outside and leave these two to their goodbyes?” Lardo said.

Shitty nodded as he leaned in to give Jack a hug.

“Jack, as usual, it was a slice. Thanks for having us over.”

“Always,” Jack said squeezing Shitty tightly. “I’ll call you next week. Papa got some tickets for us for the Falconers if you want to go.”

“Hell yeah!”

Lardo approached and pried the two apart, “Step aside, it’s my turn. Thanks, Jack. See you at the bakery?”

“Of course.”

The two gingerly fist-bumped each other. Lardo winked then pulled Shitty out the door as she called out behind her, “See you downstairs, Bits.”

Jack closed the door, and instantly Bitty was on him stretching long legs, balancing on tippy toes as his lips eagerly sought out Jack’s.

Jack sighed and melted into the kiss, wrapping his arms around Bitty.

“So tell me again why you can’t spend the night?”

“Practice, roadie, blah blah blah?” Bitty said closing his eyes as Jack gently sucked on his neck.

“Damn you, hockey.”

+

“How long do you think they’ll be?” Lardo asked looking up toward Jack’s apartment window.

“Let’s see… three -- no, four minutes? As Jack’s ex-roommate in an apartment that had very thin walls, I can confidently make that guesstimation.”

“Gross,” Lardo said with a laugh as she hit Shitty in the abdomen.

Shitty smiled at Lardo, his eyes shining brightly under the streetlights.

“So, do you skate a lot with the guys?”

“I don’t know how to skate, actually,” she replied and leaned against a car.

“No fucking way. Then why are you part of the team?” Shitty asked laughing.

“I’m good at what I do. I keep those guys in check, on schedule, and I run a tight ship. I have fun on the roadies. I like being a part of something bigger than me. Skating is a small part of it, right?”

“Right. Skating is totally a small part of hockey. Yeah, absofuckinglutely,” Shitty said as he poked Lardo in the abdomen this time.

She smiled, studied him briefly then said, “I don’t do dating either.”

Shitty, frowned, then said, “I didn’t---”

Lardo continued, “I don’t do romance or hand holding or pining or any of that nonsense. Between my studio at Kotter, classes, the team, and the bakery, I’m pretty busy. You know? So I don’t do that. I just wanted to let you know. I don’t like bullshitting people.”

Shitty looked at Lardo, then smiled and said, “Noted. Well, do you do friendship? I’m not proposing we go steady or anything. I’d like to be your friend if you’re down for that.”

“Friendship?”

“Yeah, you know. We call each other once in a while, maybe I send you a bad pun via text, you send me a picture of ducklings, we shoot the shit. Friendship.”

“Sure,” Lardo smiled. “I can be friends with a guy name Shitty, I suppose. Even if he has a pedostache.”

“I told you, it’s a pornstache. Porn, not pedo, for fuck’s sake.”

Lardo’s laughter echoed throughout the block.

+++

“Well thanks for driving us, Shitty.”

“Totes McGoats,” he replied.

Lardo unlocked the front door to the Haus and gave Shitty a quick salute. “Much appreciated, dude.”

“That reminds me, I have a pie for you in the freezer. Come in.”

“Bits, you spoil me!” Shitty said as he walked inside and surveyed the living room. The Haus was actually empty, which was unusual.

“Where is everyone?” Bitty asked as he turned on the kitchen light. Just then Ransom and Holster burst in with a pizza and carrying two giant sodas from Murder Stop 'n Shop.

“Hey! Who’s this?” Ransom asked pointing at Shitty.

Lardo made the introductions, as everyone made their way onto the couch.

“Should you two be eating that the night before a game?” Bitty asked with eyebrows raised.

“Captains’ prerogative, Bits. It’s totally fine,” Holster said pulling a slice of pizza from the box.

Shitty made himself at home, and soon everyone was chatting as though they had been lifelong friends. They watched a couple episodes of Braxton Family Values.

“Tamar is my favorite Braxton," Ransom said.

"Are you shitting me? Toni. Toni all the way," Shitty volleyed.

"I can't believe you all are ignoring the magnificence that is Evelyn. Come on, people,” Holster yelled out, throwing crumpled up paper towels at everyone.

“You’re all wrong! So wrong, there isn’t even a level of wrongness invented yet for how wrong you jackasses are,” Lardo called out chewing on Ransom’s leftover crusts.

Bitty laughed and felt a comforting warmth grow in his belly, seeing this group of people -- this motley crew he adored -- get along so easily. He wished Jack was there.

After a while, Bitty yawned and got up from the couch, “If y’all will excuse me. Unlike some people, I’m heading to bed at a decent hour the night before a game.”

Lardo jeered, “Boo-urns! And you’re totally lying. You’re going upstairs to Skype with Jack.” She air quoted the word Skype.

“A gentleman never kisses and tells,” Bitty said as he leaned down to give Shitty a quick hug then walked toward the stairs.

“Night, Bits! Thanks for the pie. I’ll be heading off soon myself.”

“Drive safe, Shits. Night everyone.”

+++

The next morning, Bitty woke early enough to be able to fit in some quiet time with coffee and cereal before the morning Haus chaos ensued.

He was about to take his first sip of blessed coffee when he saw Shitty slowly coming downstairs and tip-toeing across the living room, his pie in hand.

“Well Mr. Knight, as I live and breathe!”

Shitty jumped and looked toward the kitchen mortified.

“Morning, Bits.”

Bitty sauntered toward him. “Is it now?”

“Uh…”

Just then Lardo came down with Shitty’s phone. “Dude, you forgot---”

Bitty crossed his arms and looked at them both, his smirk growing exponentially.

“You, here’s your phone,” she said looking at Shitty, then turned toward Bitty, “And you, fuck off.”

Bitty covered his mouth as he gasped with faux shock and then laughed as Lardo walked upstairs, flipping them both off.

Shitty looked at Bitty sheepishly said, “What? We’re friends, okay? Uh… bye, Bits.”

Shitty then practically sprinted out of the Haus and called out as he closed the door, “And thanks for the pie!”

Bitty was left alone in the living room thinking that may have been the first time in his entire life B. Shitty Knight felt awkward about anything.

Bitty laughed and shook his head as he returned to the kitchen for his coffee, and picked up his phone from the counter.

“Sweetpea, guess what?”