“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“I’m really sorry, but every room is full,” the man said sadly as he shook his head.
Bitty sucked in a deep breath to remind himself that getting angry wasn’t going to fix anything. He was already late and behind schedule when his flight had gotten cancelled. He checked the time on his phone and saw there were two voicemails that he’d missed, probably when he was dealing with the mechanic earlier.
He went and sat down woodenly on the bench that was in front hallway of the bed and breakfast, and listened to the first message from Lardo.
“…don’t know if most of the guests are going to make it in for the rehearsal dinner tonight. All the planes have been grounded and some of the roads are closed. I know you’re trying to drive in, Bits, but don’t risk your life for it either. Even better, if no one shows up, Shitty and I can get married in Thailand like we’d originally wanted…”
The second voicemail, which was from Shitty, went on for ten minutes, mostly about how Shitty’s mother couldn’t make up her mind about the colour of the tablecloths and how Ransom and Holster had been arguing over the playlist. If finally ended when Lardo found Shitty in whatever closet he’d been hiding in and dragging him out because she could not deal with both sets of parents by herself.
Bitty stared at his phone screen, trying to figure out what he was going to do. The wedding was tomorrow, and unless some miracle happened where his rental car got fixed in the next hour and the storm in the north east stopped, there was no way Bitty was going to make it in time. To make things even worse, he couldn’t even get a room for the night in this town that he was stranded in. He tried to stifle the small sniffle, but it escaped anyways.
A hand landed gently on his shoulder and Bitty looked up to see the proprietor of the B&B hovering over him. “I am sorry, really.”
“It’s, uh, not your fault,” Bitty said, quickly wiping his face.
The man smiled. “You hungry? Food usually makes me feel better. Thirdy’s the best cook in town. You should go down to his restaurant and tell him Marty sent you.”
“Oh,” Bitty said in surprise, “That’s kind of you, but I’m not really–”
“Thirdy’s the best cook” Marty repeated enthusiastically as he herded Bitty out the door without even giving him a chance to brace for the cold. Bitty stood shivering on the front step, and after a moment, pulled out the handle to his luggage, and started down the snowy street in search of this restaurant.
It really didn’t take him long to find it. Falconer was a small town, and there was only one main street. The blast of warm air as Bitty stepped through the door of the restaurant was a welcome relief. He hadn’t dressed appropriately for the weather, and his thin coat did little to stop the wind from penetrating every layer he wore.
The restaurant was small but cozy and welcoming in a sense that Bitty did not expect. It was moderately busy with what Bitty assumed to be mostly the locals. He wheeled his suitcase between the tables and chairs towards one of the booth seats in the corner, away from the drafty windows.
At the counter, a man laughed loudly into the phone. “…Yeah, he just walked in. Don’t worry about it. Thanks, Marty.” He hung up and came straight over to Bitty’s table with a menu.
“You must be Thirdy,” Bitty said tiredly.
He grinned. “Sure am! What can I get for you?”
“Whatever you have for today’s special would be great, and tea or coffee, something hot.”
Thirdy took the order back to the kitchen, and after his tea came, Bitty wrapped his hands around the hot ceramic of the mug and tried to formulate his next step. He wondered if there was some way he could get a ride to the next town to see if he could get a room there.
There was a thud and a groan of frustration from the next table that interrupted Bitty’s thoughts. He looked over to see a guy desperately trying to mop up the coffee he’d spilled with his paper napkin. Instinctively, Bitty grabbed his own napkin and tried to help the the other guy before the liquid ran over the side of the table.
“Oh no,” the guy said, moving the wet mess to one side.
“Making a mess again?” Thirdy asked, appearing with a wet towel to clean up the rest of the spill.
“Yes, yes, I’m sorry, but cup fall over by self this time.”
Thirdy laughed before refilling the coffee cup. “Shut up, Tater,” he said affectionately.
Turning to Bitty, Tater said, “Thank you for help me,” he said with a bright smile.
“You’re welcome,” Bitty said before retreating back to his own table. He unlocked his phone to go back to searching for hotel with vacancy, but the clink of a cup on his table had him looking up to see Tater sliding into the seat across from him.
“You look sad,” Tater said as he reached for the sugar to put in his coffee. “Why you come to town anyway?”
“GPS told me to take a wrong turn and then my car broke down,” Bitty sighed.
Tater nodded thoughtfully, as if he knew problems with navigational technology. “Is too bad. So, now you waiting?”
“More like trapped, but yeah, waiting is part of it.”
“My mama always say–” He switched to rapid Russian which Bitty couldn’t keep track of. “Basically, it mean have to get to worse before get better. Maybe even best.”
“Let’s hope so,” Bitty said with a wry smile.
Their conversation was interrupted when the restaurant door slammed open dramatically, and a guy in a yellow, high-visibility coat walked in and up to the counter. “Coffee, Thirdy, please. I’m going to need your strongest stuff,” he said pushing his oversized, travel mug over.
“How are the roads out there?”
“Ehh, not too bad yet. It’s still snowing pretty steadily, but that storm’s supposed to hit tonight so we’re doing our check ups now.”
“Snowy!” Tater called. “You plow road by my house yet?”
“Not yet,” Snowy said back. “But I’ll get to it before dark, okay? We’re mostly focused on the highway right now so people can get through. Word is that pretty much every hotel, motel, B&B is full up between here and Providence.”
“Excuse me,” Bitty cut in. “Did you just say that all of the rooms are booked?”
“Yeah,” he said. “People don’t want to be caught on the road when the storm comes.” He peered at the suitcase beside Bitty. “Sorry, looks like you’re outta luck.” He grabbed his refilled mug and headed back out the door.
“Don’t worry. You not sleep in cold tonight,” Tater said reassuringly when he saw the panic on Bitty’s face. Thirdy brought out their food, a bowl of soup and chicken sandwich for Bitty and a cheeseburger with sizzling fries for Tater. “Motel full, Marty’s full, but we figure it out.”
“I have no place to stay. My rental is sitting in the mechanic’s garage. I don’t even have a car to sleep in overnight.” Bitty chewed his food mechanically.
“I have idea–” Tater started, but the door opened again, letting in a gust of cold wind that even Bitty felt. The newcomer brushed the snow off of his dark jacket before surveying the restaurant with sharp eyes.
“Oh, Jack!” Tater’s face lit up. “We just talking about you!”
“What are you up to, Tater?” Jack said as he walked over.
“Jack, you come just in time. This my new friend– uh, I don’t remember name–”
“Bitty. Well, actually, it’s Eric Bittle,” Bitty stammered.
“–B! He is so nice, Jack, but he is so sad. He not have a place to stay for tonight. But I say it is okay! You have fold out couch for him.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “Tater–” he started, but was cut off.
“My house is big mess, you know. And Gabby and Marty baby sick,” Tater continued counting down on his fingers. “Georgia have family, too crowded in her house. Guy break leg, no good to stay with. No one but you to stay with.”
“I can’t just–”
“You owe me favor,” Tater said slowly.
There was a brief staring contest between the two of them before Jack let out a slow, measured breath. “Fine.” He turned to look at Bitty. “You can stay one night.”
After Jack stormed out of the restaurant, Tater glanced over at Bitty with smirk that he couldn’t quite decipher. “He is nicer than seems. Promise.”
“…and the bathroom’s just down the hall. Call if you need anything,” Jack said as he handed the stack of towels before stalking away.
“Uh,” Bitty started.
“Yes?” he said, pausing to turn around.
“I just wanted to say thanks for everything,” Bitty said.
Jack seemed to be taken aback by this. “You’re welcome,” he finally said. “Good night.” He disappeared upstairs, leaving Bitty to collapse tiredly on the hastily made pull out bed. It had been a long day, but it was still early enough that Bitty couldn’t fall asleep yet.
Jack’s house was, for lack of a better word, minimalistic, but Bitty got the sense that it was only because it was so sparsely decorated rather than a deliberate design choice. Even though Bitty had only seen the downstairs area, the house felt barely lived in, a stark contrast from what Bitty was used to. At least, he reminded himself, that had a warm place to sleep tonight, even if Jack had been mostly silent since agreeing to letting Bitty stay.
Bitty tossed and turned for a while before he realized belatedly that he wasn’t even close to drifting off to sleep. The howling of the snowstorm was too loud, and it seemed to be gradually getting worse. He got up to pace around the living room before he got bored of that and began to peruse the selection of titles on Jack’s bookshelf. Most of them were in French and the ones that Bitty could understand were nonfiction, history books. Sighing, Bitty pulled one out about the Halifax explosion in hopes that it would bore him to sleep.
He’d barely gotten two pages in when the lights flickered for a second and then Bitty was suddenly plunged into darkness. Cursing, Bitty fumbled to find his phone which he had left charging on the coffee table. He went over to the window to yank open the blinds, only to find that all the street lights had gone out too and it was pitch black outside.
“Bittle?” came Jack’s voice. “You alright?”
“Yeah!” Bitty called back.
The dim beam of a flashlight appeared and Bitty was briefly blinded. “Sorry,” Jack said, lowering the flashlight. “Guess the power’s out.”
“Yeah,” Bitty said breathlessly with wide eyes. Jack, in his haste to get downstairs, had come in without his shirt on. Even in the weak light, Bitty could see Jack’s well-defined chest that made Bitty blush.
“I only have the one flashlight, but I’m not sure how long the batteries are going to last,” Jack said. He looked over at Bitty. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Bitty forced himself to snap out of it and meet Jack’s gaze. “Oh! It’s just, uh, well, it’s so dark.”
Jack blinked. “I might have some candles somewhere that aren’t birthday ones.” He went somewhere down the hall, and when he reappeared again, he had matches and a tall, vanilla candle in one hand. At Bitty’s raised eyebrow, he said, “It was in a gift basket for my mother.”
The candle cast a warm glow around the living room, and when Jack stepped back, there was a moment where neither of them knew what to say. Finally, Jack spoke up. “That should do it, eh? Well, I guess I’ll go back to bed now. Good night, Bittle.”
It was another couple hours of sleeplessness before Bitty heard shuffling in the hallway. Turning on the flashlight on his phone and throwing a blanket over his shoulders, Bitty went to go investigate. Jack was getting a drink from the kitchen faucet, and winced when the bright light caught him by surprise. At least he had a shirt on this time.
“No,” Bitty admitted.
“That couch bed isn’t very comfortable, sorry.”
“Oh, no, the bed is fine. I just have a lot on my mind,” Bitty said, rubbing his eyes. “You couldn’t sleep either?”
“No, not with that storm.”
Bitty hummed in agreement and pulled his blanket cape closer to his body.
Jack noticed because he asked, “You’re cold?”
“A bit,” he said. The house had cooled down considerably since the power had gone out, and Bitty already had to dig his socks and a sweater out of his luggage.
“There’re more blankets upstairs,” Jack said as he put his empty glass into the sink.
Bitty went back to the living room where the candle was still lit and burning on a side shelf. Jack returned a moment later with an armful of blankets. He dumped them onto the fold out bed beside Bitty and took a step back to awkwardly fold his arms across his chest.
“Did you want to sit?” Bitty asked after he wrapped himself up in another blanket layer. “Seeing as neither can sleep anyways. I wouldn’t mind some company.”
“Uh, sure,” Jack said. He pulled out one of the blankets from the pile and curled up in the arm chair.
“Thanks again for letting me stay. I know Tater kind of sprung it on you back at the restaurant.
Jack snorted at the mention of Tater. “Yeah, no problem,” he said. “The alternative would have been Tater’s house, and he’s in the middle of a renovation.”
“Well, I still appreciate it anyways.”
“So,” he started, rubbing his hands up and down the arm rests. “What brings you to Falconer anyways?”
Bitty repeated the whole, unfortunate story about his flight being canceled and the subsequent failure of his car. “It just seems like my luck is getting worse and worse.”
“So, what if you don’t make it to the wedding in time?”
“Then, I guess I miss it,” Bitty sighed. “At least it’ll save me from having to stand up and give the Best Man speech to everyone.”
“You don’t want to be Best Man?”
“Oh, well, I do, but I hate giving speeches. I even offered to cater dessert if it’ll get out of the speech part, but they weren’t convinced.”
“You’re a chef?” Jack asked, intrigued.
“Kind of, not really. I mean, I’ll take small, catering orders ahead of time for certain events, and I do have a regular booth at the farmer’s market, but it’s not, like, my career though. I run the front desk at the rec center. That’s my real job.”
Jack was quiet as he played with the edge of his blanket. “Would you like it to be your career though? The cooking?”
“Baking,” Bitty corrected. “And yeah, that’d be great, but…”
“It’s not like I can open my own bakery, and no bakery is going to hire me. I have no experience or culinary schooling beyond what I learned in my Moomaw’s kitchen.”
Jack was quiet for a little while. “Falconer doesn’t have a bakery,” he said.
Bitty gave a shaky laugh. “Right, because I have the money to open up my business wherever and whenever I want.”
“You could get a loan from the bank.”
“Me and what collateral?”
“You could flash that charming smile at them and say please,” Jack said lightly with a grin.
Bitty was speechless for a full second before he started laughing. “Are you chirping me?” He stopped before explaining, “Chirping is when–”
“I know what chirping is,” Jack smoothly cut in. “I played hockey for years.”
“You did?” Bitty asked in delight.
It launched the conversation in a different direction, but Bitty didn’t mind the slightest. It wasn’t until some time around 3 a.m. that Bitty’s eyes began to droop and his words began to slur.
“We should probably get some sleep,” Jack said after a large yawn. He moved to stand up and stretch.. “I should go upstairs.”
“Or, you could stay,” Bitty mumbled, flicking open a corner of the blankets. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jack freeze.
“I know I’m just a random stranger, but it’s too cold for me to fall asleep properly.” He eyed Jack. “I promise I’ll keep to my side of the bed.”
After another moment of deliberation, Jack silently blew out the candle and climbed under the covers with Bitty. In the dark, Bitty could hear the Jack’s breathing and the shriek of the wind outside. It didn’t take him long to slip into blissful unconsciousness.
When Bitty awoke, he had to peel back the multiple layers he was buried underneath. The power had come back on at some point in the early morning, and with the furnace running, Bitty was too hot. Twisting around, he realized he was the only one in the bed. Thankfully, Jack had already gotten up so he wouldn’t have to witness Bitty flush and groan in embarrassment as he replayed last night’s events in his head.
After getting dressed and brushing his teeth, Bitty headed down the hall to the kitchen. He stopped just outside when he heard Jack’s voice. “No, Poots, I’m not going all the way down to the library to open it so you can avoid paying late fees.” There was a pause and then a huff. “Yes, fine, I’ll waive the overdue charges, but not on the books from last week, Poots. You still owe me $0.75, no matter what.”
Bitty waited until Jack ended the call before walking in. The both looked at each other before trying to to speak at the same time.
“How did you sleep?”
They paused before Bitty said, “Sorry, you go first.”
“You sleep okay?” Jack repeated.
“Yeah,” Bitty said, nodding. “It was good, really good,” he added. Jack nodded, and Bitty suddenly felt self-conscious. “Well, anyways, thanks for letting me stay. I think I’m going to head over the mechanic’s, see if my car’s ready.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Even if it was ready, I don’t think you’re going to be able to get anywhere. Roads are snow covered and the highway headed west is still closed.”
Bitty frowned as he edged closer to the kitchen window. It was still snowing outside, but at least the wind seemed to have died down. “So, I’m stuck,” he said aloud.
“Think of it as a snow day,” Jack said as he got up from the kitchen table. “Feel free to stay. I’ll be back in a little bit.”
“Where are you going?” Bitty asked in alarm.
“Shoveling,” Jack called back.
After an hour of nervous back and forth pacing, Bitty felt like he was going to go stir crazy. He’d already called Lardo to tell her that he wasn’t going to be able to make it, but she’d reassured him that everything was going to be fine.
“Don’t worry,” she’d said. “Everything’s been postponed until tomorrow. It’s not going to cost us extra for the venue because no one’s renting it in this weather. The roads should be cleared by then, and hopefully more than ten percent of the guest list can make it in.”
Shitty had sent him a text message in all caps that had read, BITTY WHEN WILL YOU COME SAVE ME FROM MY RACIST COUSINS???
So, Bitty had one more day to make it in, but as he glanced out the windows again at the thick, white blanket, he was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to make it out of here. Not that he was ungrateful, but being alone in a strange, empty house was doing little to help calm him.
There was a sharp knock on the front door, and when Bitty opened it, he found someone holding a cardboard box full of groceries. “Hi,” the woman said. “You must be Bittle.”
“Yeah,” Bitty said slowly, wondering how she knew his name. “Jack’s not home at the moment.”
“I know,” she said. “Jack already talked to me this morning. He asked me to drop off some stuff for you. He knows his refrigerator shelves are a bit bare at the moment.”
“Oh, thanks,” Bitty said as he took the box.
“Not a problem. I’m Georgia. My card with my number is somewhere in this box. Just give me a call if you need anything else. Jack said just to charge it to his account.”
Bitty got the box to the kitchen and started putting away the perishables into the fridge. When he got to the butter sticks at the bottom of the box, and an idea struck Bitty.
After a bit of searching, he found the flour and sugar in the pantry, and then, realizing he lacked some fundamental pie ingredients, he found Georgia’s card and called to ask her about fresh apples.
Just before noon, the front door opened and Bitty could hear Jack stamping his feet in the front entrance way to get the snow off of his boots. “Smells good in here,” he said when he appeared in the kitchen.
His hair was completely disheveled from having been crushed by his hat, and Bitty’s heart did a weird jump when he imagined himself carding his fingers through Jack’s hair.
“I did some baking while you were out.”
Jack leaned over the two pies cooling on the counter. “What did you make?”
“Apple and chocolate.” He snuck a glance over at Jack. “I hope you don’t mind that I used your kitchen.”
“I hardly ever use it anyways. But hey, we can have that after we eat lunch. I got take out from Thirdy’s,” Jack said, holding up the plastic bag.
Whatever lingering awkwardness from last night that Bitty was afraid of was gone. Jack told him about his morning over sandwiches and soup, and Bitty told him about the time he’d tried to teach his college hockey team how to bake.
Jack laughed, and said, “Is it really that hard?”
“I didn’t think so, and I even simplified the recipe for them, but somehow, it still ended up as a disaster.”
“Well, maybe it wasn’t as easy as you thought, then.”
“They were chocolate chip cookies!”
Jack leaned in closer and Bitty could feel his breathing speed up. “I’ve never baked before,” Jack whispered conspiratorially.
Bitty reared back with a mock gasp. “No! Tell me it’s not true!”
“Yes! Not even cookies.”
Bitty turned to gaze wistfully at Jack’s beautiful double oven behind him. “You’ve honestly never used it?”
“I’ve used it to heat up chicken wings before,” Jack admitted. “And my mom used it when she came to visit me once. But other than that, not really.”
“That’s not possible,” Bitty said as he hopped down the stool. “Where are your aprons? We’re fixing this right now.”
“Right now?” Jack asked.
Bitty stopped. “Are you busy this afternoon?”
“No, the library’s closed today, and I really don’t have anything better to do,” Jack said as he cleaned up the empty takeout containers. He washed his hands and wiped them dry. “Alright,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Teach me to bake.”
A grin spread on Bitty’s face. “Okay,” he agreed.
“This definitely doesn’t look right,” Jack said much later. He looked over at Bitty’s neatly rolled cinnamon buns before grimacing at his own.
“It’s fine. Just roll them a little tighter next time,” Bitty said. Without thinking, he reached over to cup Jack’s hands. “Like this.” When he finally realized and drew his hands back, Bitty was fairly certain his cheeks had turned pink. “You’re doing great,” he said before turning back to his own buns.
“Thanks, Bittle, um, Eric.”
“You can call me Bitty. All my friends do.”
Jack gave a small laugh that came out more as a quiet huff of air. “Am I your friend, Bitty?”
Bitty looked up to see Jack smiling at him. There was a small smear of flour right under Jack’s chin, and Bitty had clench his hands to keep from reaching out to gently wipe it off. “We could be friends,” he said softly.
Jack seemed to sense Bitty’s hesitation at the end of his sentence. “But?” he prompted.
“But I want more,” Bitty said in a rushed and breathless confession. Snapping his gaze to Jack’s the counter, he apologized. “Sorry, I don’t know why I said that.” He could feel a tightness welling up in chest that was a mixture of panic and anger at himself. “Ignore what I just said. I’m being ridiculous, you know. I’ve only know you for a day, and I–”He was cut off when Jack unexpectedly reached out to kiss him.
Several minutes later, Jack stepped back, but he kept a hand firmly against Bitty’s jaw. “I don’t want to be friends either,” he said, taking a shaky breath. “But I don’t want you to think you owe me anything.”
“Jack,” Bitty gasped. “I don’t– you don’t–”
Apparently, it was enough for Jack because he surged forward to kiss him again. Bitty wasn’t sure how long they stood like that with him pressed between Jack and the counters. He’d lost track of time when Jack started grinding up against him, dirty and slow, and Bitty gave back as good as he got.
“Bed?” Jack gasped when they finally broke apart.
“As long as it’s not the fold out one,” Bitty said, letting Jack pick him up and carry out of the kitchen.
“That was a hell of a Best Man speech,” Jack murmured into Bitty’s ear.
“I wasn’t supposed to cry,” Bitty said.
“That was the best part.”
Bitty laughed and leaned his head on Jack’s chest. “Such a flatterer, Mr. Zimmermann.”
Jack wrapped his arms around Bitty in reply and squeezed him tighter against him. They were currently hiding in one of the side rooms while the rest of the wedding celebrations continued outside. “We should probably go back out though. Someone’s going to come looking for us soon.”
“Or, we could just sneak out the back door and drive back to Falconer.”
“Tempting,” Bitty said, “But Lardo would murder me if I tried to leave.”
“Are you sure she’d even notice? Shitty seemed to be keeping her busy.”
“She would notice,” Bitty insisted. He closed his eyes to enjoy the last moment before he said, “Okay, only three more hours to go. We can survive this.”
“Three hours, but you meet me in the bathroom in ten minutes.”
“Two and a half hours, and I let you take me up to the hotel room I have booked.”
Jack pretended to think about it. “Deal,” he said before kissing Bitty soundly.