Local news stations were covering nothing but the sensationalist story in Providence. People talked about how horrified they were. There were calls to local officials.
Georgia Martin, brilliant strategist and assistant GM of the Providence Falconers saw an opportunity.
“Hey Bitty. Is Jack there?”
“He’s in the shower, but I’m sure he’ll be out in a minute. Breakfast is almost done.”
Georgia hummed, thinking about the crepes Bitty had made one morning when she dropped in unannounced. “If he can smell it in the bathroom, I’m sure he’ll be making an appearance sooner rather than later.”
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“Not really. It’s more of a PR/publicity thing I was hoping to rope Jack into. Make use of his not insubstantial assets for the greater good.”
Bitty laughed, high and bright, “Well, he certainly has an abundance of those.” There was a pause and a bit of muffled conversation.
“Jack! What do you think about puppies?”
“Umm … they’re cute?”
“Falconers PR is thinking of being a public face to help raise money for the rescue shelter that took in all those dogs from the Reservoir case.”
Jack sighed. “We’ve had to keep the TV off. Bits can’t stand to see the conditions they were kept in. And everyone keeps playing the same video clips. It’s worse than those SPCA ads.”
“We have an opportunity to raise money for their care and help them get adopted. You interested?”
“Sure, George. What do you need me to do?”
“Nothing, yet. We’re going to get the city engaged and set a date for a fundraising event. Something casual and fun.”
“Sounds good. Just let me know.”
It was the off-season and the days flew by. Bitty and Jack didn’t think too much of the upcoming PR event. It was pretty standard and low-key in comparison to most of the high dollar events Jack was usually asked to attend. Bitty sighed to himself and realized that he was probably not going to get out of those now that everyone knew he was dating Jack.
The week before the fundraiser, the Falconers PR team revved up into high gear. They had Jack come in with the rest of the team that was still in Providence for the off-season and do photo ops with the dogs that had been approved to go to homes. The 15 dogs were the healthiest of the lot and were well-groomed by the shelter volunteers. These 15 were named by the Falconers with hockey themed names or after players themselves.
The dogs that were named after players had their photos done with their namesakes. People lost their minds over Snowy holding a tiny ball of white fluff in his goalie glove. The die-hard Potatomann shippers were cooing over the littermates that were named Jack and Tater. They were black and tan large puppies, easily out-sizing every other dog up for adoption. The pictures were widely shared and certain sites tried to argue whether Snowy and his namesake or Jack and Tater with theirs were cuter. Georgia was ecstatic and posted an online poll encouraging the debate.
Bitty retweeted the poll, kissed Jack on the cheek, and voted for Snowy with the hashtags #SnowyPupWins #SorryBabe.
The day before the adoption event, Georgia called Bitty directly. “Hey, so we were going to have the WAGs help out with running the raffle and help the children that come to hold the puppies. There will be media there getting video and pictures of the SOs mingling with the fans, holding the puppies, etcetera. As the boyfriend of one of our As, and the face of the franchise, I was hoping to rope you into this. I know you have another year of college, so I’m not expecting this to be a common request, but as it’s the off season -”
Bitty snorted quietly to himself. “Lifestyles of the rich and famous?”
“Well, eventually. This is just a puff piece. Something easy and not truly demanding of anyone.”
“And it’s a good look for the organization and all of the players.”
“Hey, who doesn’t like large hockey guys and adorable dogs?”
Bitty laughed. “Ya got me there!” He gazed at the bedroom where Jack was taking his afternoon nap. Well, his post-coital nap while Bitty baked some quick finger foods to snack on and tempt Jack back into wakefulness. Tater was at his physical therapy appointment. Bitty expected him back within the hour. “I have a vague idea of what I signed up for. Alicia has been more than helpful in letting me in on what might be expected once I’ve graduated. And Gabby and Carrie have been really great at making sure that I integrated with the group. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have benefited from starting at regular ol’ SO rather than face of the franchise level, but this might be good for me to get my feet wet with.”
Georgia kept her voice low and sympathetic, it was a practiced tone, but honest. “I know this has the potential to be overwhelming. It’s why I’m hoping to start you out with a bit of a softball, get the town to really love you. Hockey fans have a tendency to defend their own. And if they see you doing local charity, it’ll go a long way.” Georgia paused and debated with herself for a minute. “Do you think you could make a couple of pies? Or, if it’s not too much trouble, some of that treacle tart?”
Bitty laughed. “You think you could get me to go to a charity event and not bring pie?”
“Well, I was thinking maybe you could have your own raffle table. Maybe an assortment of things? Some muffins, some fruit tarts, some pies …”
“There won’t be any blueberry, unfortunately. Tater hasn’t left a single blueberry in peace since he moved in.”
“Your instagram stories with him have been priceless. I have loved every update.”
“Well, bless his heart, I love that boy, but dear lord I have no idea how he has survived on his own for this long.”
Bitty was a bit of a nervous wreck in the hours leading up to the adoption event. Jack chuckled and ruffled his hair as he desperately tried to tame his cowlick in the back.
“Honey, please. I need this to go well. There’ll be cameras everywhere. And George has me running a dessert raffle. I can’t afford to have anything out of place.”
Jack kissed him on the temple. “You’ll be fine, bud. And your raffle is going to be amazing. I’m sure you’ll sell plenty of tickets. I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up selling more tickets for your pies than some of the puppies get.”
Bitty smiled up at him and raised one eyebrow. “Only some of the puppies, Mr. Zimmermann?”
“Of course. Mine and Tater’s are going to get the most tickets out of everyone.”
Bitty laughed and slapped Jack’s chest. “I believe you are mistaken. The most popular puppy is surely going to be Snowy. That tiny white ball of fluff sitting in that gigantic goalie glove is too cute for words.”
“As long as it’s the puppy and not the guy you think is cute,” Jack chirped.
“I’ll have you know Snowy is quite the looker. But, to be honest, I don’t think I could handle a goalie. They’re just plain weird.”
Jack pinched his denim clad butt and laughed as Bitty squeaked in indignation.
“Don’t you start something you don’t have time to finish!”
The Providence Pups Charity Drive couldn’t have gone better. Georgia watched as reporters dutifully followed the narrative she wanted crafted. It was fluff, pure and simple. Pictures of the players skating with the dogs in hand, kissing them, photo ops with the fans and the lucky winners. It was perfection. And, to top it all off, Bitty had made her a separate batch of treacle tarts.
There was stiff competition for most popular dog … if you added Jack and Tater’s together. Snowy won by a landslide. Tater argued that they campaigned their dogs together and it was only fair to add their tickets to come up with a correct count. Jack nodded along solemnly, and forced his face straight as Tater’s arguments grew more and more outlandish. Apparently, “treason from Little B” was now a high crime and the sole fault of why they lost. Bitty promptly informed them both that he was the one cooking their meals and if they didn’t at least try to behave they could go out for dinner for the foreseeable future.
Jack gave him an overly scandalized look, “Bits, bud, I would never -”
“Don’t you dare, Mr. Zimmermann. Those sad, blue eyes only get you so far. I’ve seen you sweet talk your way out of trouble with professors, don’t think I don’t recognize that look.”
“You bribed your way into class with pie!”
Before the chirping could get out of hand, a woman and her son came over. “Excuse me?”
Bitty bit back his retort and smiled pleasantly before scooting to the side.
Jack smiled at them and the small Parson Russell Terrier the boy held. “Congratulations on the dog. Can we help you with anything?”
The woman, brunette with a few strands of gray, patted her son on the shoulder. “Go ahead.”
The boy was maybe 13 or 14 years old. He shyly stepped forward and held the small dog to his chest. “Um, I actually have a question to ask - um, Bitty? Is that okay?”
Bitty was momentarily shocked, but smiled gamely. “Of course. What can I help you with, sugar?”
He glanced back over at his mom and cleared his throat. “Well, I know the Falcs named all these dogs, but I was wondering - I was wondering if it would be okay if I changed his name?”
“You certainly don’t need anyone’s permission to change your dog’s name. He’s yours. Free and clear. I’m sure the Falcs won’t mind, just so long as you give him a good home and lots of love.” Bitty tried to keep his confusion out of his voice and off his face.
“Well, you see, I was hoping to change his name to - um -” he looked down at the puppy that was snuggled into his chest and forced the last of his question out, “to Bitty. If that’s okay?”
Bitty pressed a hand to his chest. “Of course that’s okay. I don’t know why on earth you’d want to bestow such an honor on me, but I’d be thrilled to know this little guy had my name.”
The boy gained confidence at that and the words he’d been struggling with poured out. “I just want you to know that you’ve been such an inspiration to me. I know you haven’t been public with your relationship very long, but just the way you chose to be yourself. And being from Georgia and choosing to come all the way up here to go to school? It’s so amazing. And then joining the hockey team? That was really brave. I mean, I just started following your Twitter and YouTube when the Falcs announced who you were. But, I can’t believe you haven’t been playing hockey for very long and managed to get a scholarship to play Division I. And you coming out to your team in your first year? I couldn’t imagine doing that. And knowing that everyone was watching on TV and you are still in college? You declared your love so openly and honestly and I really hope that one day I can find a boy that I feel so much for that I would dare to do that with. I haven’t come out to my hockey team, yet. But seeing you and knowing how hard you worked to get to where you are is so amazing. And I can’t think of a better person to name my dog after. Terriers are supposed to be tough, and fierce, and loyal, all wrapped up in a small package. So, I just … you know … wanted you to know that.” The boy trailed off clearly started to become embarrassed by just how much he said and started toeing the ground with his sneaker.
“That is just about the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. I would love for your puppy to be named Bitty. And I hope that he gives you every bit of love and support that you deserve.”
The boy smiled and left with his mom’s arm over his shoulder. Bitty held it together until they were out of sight and then let the tears stream down his face.
“Awww, Bits, bring it in.” Jack held his arms open and wrapped them around Bitty as he buried his face into Jack’s chest.
“That boy - if that wasn’t the sweetest - ugh, I’m a mess.” Bitty snuck a hand up between his face and Jack’s chest and wiped his eyes.
“Don’t you chirp me right now, Mr. Zimmermann.”
“Non, mon petit. You’re my hero, too,” Jack murmured into Bitty’s hair.
Bitty chuckled through his tears. “My goodness, you’re not helping me stop the waterworks.”
“Is fine! I am helping!” Tater grabbed Bitty from the back and wrapped his arms as far around the two of them as possible. “Little B is no longer persona non grata. Have little dog named after him just like Zimmboni and me. And all three have lost to Snowy. Is fair now.”