Bitty was already exhausted ten minutes after his parents and his grandma had set their bags down in his and Jack’s apartment in Providence.
No, scratch that, he was exhausted from the moment he politely invited them all up North for Christmas, knowing fully well they’ll say no because Christmas was always so busy in Madison; but at least they’d be happy he thought about asking them. Also if he invited them, he would have an excuse to stay home and not come to Georgia.
Why would they want to spend Christmas with their gay-ass son - with whom they had a hard time talking with since he came out - and his Jewish boyfriend in a Catholic-majority Northern State at the other side of the country, when they could enjoy the day as usual, in the warmth of Aunt Judy’s dining room with all the cousins and uncles, and at mass in their dear and beloved church, and then the following day with Coach’s family, after all?
BUT NO, his mama had politely told him “Oh, I’ll think about it”, as he expected. And what he didn’t expect was her telling him two days later “Your Daddy, Moomaw and I are landing the 22nd. We’ll stay until the 28th.”
A whole goddamn week.
When Bitty and Jack had planned to spend the three days that Jack had off in bed, to, you know. Have an insane amount of sex and eat mountains of Chinese takeout as it was their first Christmas living together, and Jack didn’t celebrate and Bitty was just so itching to not do it, either.
So yeah, in a moment of panic, they also invited Bob and Alicia for damage control, and then Bitty promised that from now on, he’ll shut his big fat mouth and never invite anyone against just to be polite.
The Bittles and Moomaw arrived the day before the Zimmermanns, who were in Israel for a whole month to visit Alicia’s family, and really, they were going to be a hassle.
Bitty and Jack both went to the airport to pick them up, and the car trip was tense.
It was the first time the Bittles saw Jack since Bitty’s graduation, where they made sure to state their disappointment in the fact that Bitty was not “going home now that he’s finished with college.” Why do you want your son who you basically stopped talking to since you learnt he liked sucking dick to come live right next to you, that was a mystery, but hey. Oh, and also, still at graduation, when Jack had greeted Bitty’s mama with a nice and warm “Hi, Suzanne!”, as she had asked him to call her back when he had visited for the Fourth of July, she had replied with a smile and a “It’s Mrs Bittle for you.” So yeah, she and Jack hadn’t talked much ever since.
During the half an hour in the car, the only words said to Jack may or may not have been Moomaw saying two or three times that it was great that Jack was such a good friend to Dicky, to share a flat with him like that while he was looking for a good job.
Bitty tried once to correct her, tell her that no, Jack and he were boyfriends and that he did have a job (even two! His YouTube channel was two third of his income, and he was giving baking classes in a culinary school a few hours a week!) but it was clear she was refusing it; so, the second time she said something like that, he just smiled and nodded. At least she wasn’t mentioning girlfriends, so she wasn’t so deep in denial. Small victories.
Finally, they reached their building (“Oh, fancy! Dicky, that’s such a luxurious place to live in!”) and the minute the Audi was parked in the garage, Jack hauled two of the three suitcases in his arms right away, letting the last one to Bitty, and lead the way without a word to the elevator and then, their apartment.
In front of the door, he gave one of the suitcases to Bitty so he could use his key and open the door; and, before entering, he touched the mezuzah. Bitty followed him in, ignoring the box, and with his family on his heels.
“Welcome to our home!” Bitty said, with a huge smile, as he put away everyone’s coats. “Please, Mama, close the door as soon as you’re in- you can put your shoes right here…”
“What was this thing by the door?” Coach asked.
Bitty frowned, not sure of what his father was talking about, but Jack, who was crouched and undoing his laces, raised his eyes and said, matter-of-factly:
“What is it for?”
“Protecting our home.”
“Oh,” Coach said, not knowing what to say about it.
“It is really tacky,” Moomaw said.
It was, a little bit. Jack had found it in an antique shop, and it was all shiny metal, much more visible than the very plain one he used to have. But still. Bitty frowned at his grandma’s remark, but Jack didn’t say anything. He dropped his shoes in the corner and made his way to the living-room.
Bitty was appalled.
“Moomaw, how can you say that?” he hissed.
“What? It’s true.”
Moomaw had an entire wall decorated with crosses and naked white Jesuses hanging from them. She doesn’t get to find anything tacky. Sighing, Bitty grabbed her suitcase and motioned his family to follow suit.
“Right on the left, it’s the kitchen; here the living-room and dining-room; here the bathroom, the restroom, at the end of the hallway it’s the master suite, and the guest room is right here. We’ve set up the two beds in the guest room already. I’ll let you make yourself comfortable!” Bitty smiled, and he all but pushed his parents and his grandma in there before closing the door.
Jack, who still had his cap on his head, was watching him from the living-room, standing there with a defeated look on his face. Bitty went to join him, his steps light and his shoulders down.
Jack just opened his arms to gather Bitty as close to him as he could.
“One hour in, one more week to go,” Jack said.
“Don’t tell me about it,” Bitty sighed. “Still have your cap on?”
“Oh. Yeah. Uhm- I’m leaving soon anyway.”
That, and he didn’t feel like putting on his kippa at home as usual would be a good idea right now.
“I want to apologise in advance for anything Moomaw will say,” Bitty began. “At least my mother knows when to not talk, but Moomaw has no filter. Little old ladies for you.”
He thought for a few seconds, and corrected:
“Well, ‘little old ladies.’ Your mother doesn’t feel the need to say everything that goes through her mind with a huge smile, regardless of how mean it can be.”
“My mom isn’t a little old lady,” Jack frowned.
“Sweetheart. My grandma is turning 60 this winter.”
Alicia herself had celebrated her 58th birthday last month. Bob was 62.
That absolutely blew Jack’s mind. Between his parents’ and Bitty’s grandparents, there was only a few years, and an entire world.
And also suddenly all the hurtful, ignorant comments couldn’t be blamed on a generational issue anymore.
It’s about then that the Bittles went out of the guest bedroom. Bitty let go of Jack when he saw his family making their way to the living room, where Mama and Moomaw began to gush about the decoration of the apartment. Bitty was happy to tour them around the living-room, to show off the different art pieces and photography they were displaying there.
When explaining the framed photograph of Ransom, Holster, Shitty and Lardo T-posing in front of geese that was hanging above the couch, he could see that he had lost his grandma. Instead, she was focused on the small, grey, live, fluffy rabbit that was on the top of the couch’s backrest and was looking at her with scared eyes.
“There’s a rabbit here, Dicky.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s Monsieur Kinigl. He must be freaking out, but- where is Moutarde? He likes new people more…”
As on cue, a second, big, brown rabbit bolted from under the couch and went straight under the bookcase. Kini was quick to jump and join him there.
“Why are they free?!” Moomaw shrieked.
“Because they live here?” Jack confusedly answered.
“I didn’t know you could keep rabbits free…” Mama said. “Why do you do that? They must eat all the furniture!”
“It’s not that you can; it’s actually that you should,” Bitty began. “Rabbits are not made for life in cages, and…”
Jack left for the rink earlier than usual, when Bitty, Mama and Moomaw got comfortable in the kitchen to bake a pie or fifty. In a moment of pity, he asked Coach to go with him, because his future father-in-law would definitely be more at ease around a bunch of jocks preparing for a game rather than waiting around an apartment with nothing to do because he wouldn’t be caught dead baking; also, it was the last game before the Christmas break, so Jack knew that several of the guys would bring some family members along.
Before they left, Jack stopped in the kitchen. Bitty was already elbows deep in dough, and Moomaw and Mama were going through old notecards of family recipes, apparently looking for one in particular. The stack was three times the size of Bitty’s personal recipes collection, so they probably would be spending the afternoon on it.
“Bye,” Jack said, kissing Bitty as he always did before leaving. “Love you.”
“Love you too. We’re going to try to get there before the game.”
“Will it be for us?” Jack asked, pointing at the dough with a corny smile.
“This one is just for Tater! He’s got a date with Vanessa Channel 7 after the game, he ordered me this little beauty. Y’all have something to eat if Mama and Moomaw finally decide on something.”
“Ok; so, I’ll tell everyone to gorge themselves on vending machine pastries, because it’s the only ones we’ll see tonight.”
“Oh, shush you!” Bitty playfully said. “Now go, instead of talking shit!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack laughed, stealing one more kiss on his way out.
Moomaw and Mama hadn’t said a word, now silently focused on the cards and obviously ignoring them. A few minutes after Coach and Jack left, they finally found the recipe they were looking for, because they approached the counter to begin to look for tools and ingredients.
“Ok, let me explain to y’all… We keep the kitchen kosher and vegetarian, so you must only use the blue kitchenware – do not touch the red ones in the last drawer, they’re only used when Jack needs his chicken tenders fix…”
They made it to the arena in time for the game, and even soon enough to see the Falconers and their families and share with them a slice of the pies they had baked; the pastries were a hit, and so were Moomaw’s and Suzanne’s Southern charm and warm smiles. When Jack made his way on the ice, he still could hear George telling him, her face stuffed with cherry pie: “You hit the jackpot with the in-laws, Jack.”
Georgia’s in-laws kicked her husband out when he came out as a lesbian at nineteen, and the tiny amount of contact they still had stopped when he came out as a trans man soon after their wedding -the last words they told him were “You are dead to us.”
Yeah, Jack couldn’t complain, he guessed.
Jack pretty much felt ignored. He didn’t usually want to have any kind of attention turned towards him, especially more when he just lost a game like right now, but well. If he can’t go hide in his bedroom, under the covers, with Bitty rubbing his back to cheer him up, because he’s supposed to politely drink some tea with his guests before, well ok. But then, he’d very much like if said guests at least acknowledged his existence.
Like, no offense to Suzanne and Moomaw, but Jack really didn’t care about what Judy’s daughter Gracie Lou’s best friend Dallas said about Moomaw’s jam. More accurately, that’s not so much that Jack didn’t care, but more that he couldn’t find one atom in himself that gave a flying, single fuck about it. Jack had had more fun at funerals.
Coach seemed just as bored about the conversation, and even Bitty, who seemed exhausted, couldn’t say anything more than some ill-timed mmhmmh’s and others wow’s.
But the tea mugs were only half-empty.
Just as Jack was trying to convince himself that he could do it, (He had managed to survive a game that went into overtime tonight! So now he could survive ten more minutes of church gossip about Jessica who apparently had sinned with her long-term boyfriend, wow how decadant), he felt his trousers being nudged.
Lapin Moutarde was nagging him, not seeming to be in a great mood. Of course he wasn’t, by this hour the living-room was usually empty and the rabbits were sleeping. Jack lowered down, to pet the poor thing.
“Oh, t’es fatigué Moutarde? T’en a marre qu’on t’emmerde et tu veux aller te pieuter, hein? Ça me casse les couilles aussi. Sauf qu’en plus moi on me les a pas coupées.”
“I still don’t get why you just don’t get a cat, if it’s to have them free.”
Oh, finally, Jack had Moomaw’s attention. It was the first time since she had insulted his mezuzah, yey!
“We don’t have cats because we didn’t want cats, we wanted rabbits,” Jack said, gathering Lapin Moutarde in his lap in some sort of defensive reflex.
“And Moomaw, they’re free because they’re supposed to be free, not to live in tiny hutches,” Bitty added. “They need space to thrive.”
“My rabbits are happy in their hutches.”
“Moomaw, you don’t even raise rabbits, you fatten them up for their meat. Believe me, they are not happy.”
Moomaw didn’t even try to pretend she listened to him.
“It’s too bad your Peepaw couldn’t come up this week. But he needed to stay to feed them.”
“No,” Bitty said, rolling his eyes, “Peepaw didn’t come because last time he saw me, he told me I was sick, a freak and an error and that he was disowning me until I followed church therapy. I don’t know why exactly, but even if for an obscure reason he had wanted to come, I doubt I would have let him stay in my home.”
“Well, your grandpa had always had some strong opinions.”
Jack just raised his eyebrows and blinked a few times. And Bitty finished his tea mug in one go and stood up.
“I’m going to sleep.”
“Okay,” Suzanne said, as if everything was normal - and to her, it probably was. “We should decorate tomorrow, we could all do that in the morning so it’ll be nice when the Zimmermanns arrive.”
“No,” Bitty sighed. “We’re not decorating.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because. Jack’s Jewish and I honestly don’t care. We don’t have any tinsel anyway.”
“It’s important, Dicky. It’s Christmas. We need a tree.”
“Well, they’re not actually vital to the celebration, are they?” Jack began, freeing the bunny on his lap. “It’s not like there were a lot of pine trees in barns in the middle of Bet-Lekhem.”
“We’re still getting some ornaments and a tree,” Suzanne decided. “A small white one would be so pretty right here, wouldn’t it?”
Bitty and Jack exchanged a long, tired look. Looked like there would be a Christmas tree in their living-room, whether they wanted it or not.
“Hi Coach,” Bitty said the following morning, rubbing his eyes and walking in the living-room.
“Hi, Junior,” Coach replied. He was sitting at the dining table, on his laptop, reviewing some football tape. “Your Jack goes to practice even on days off, uh?”
“Yeah. He promised to hit the gym with Tater and Thirdy this morning. Tater because he’s stressed about meeting the in-laws; and Thirdy because he wants to avoid the in-laws. Where are Moomaw and Mama?”
“They are already in the kitchen.”
Who would have guessed, uh. It was ten already, of course mama and Moomaw were baking. Scratching his stomach, Bitty tip-toped in the kitchen, still half-asleep.
“Hi Moomaw, hi Mama.”
“Dicky, will you please dress?” his mom asked, scandalised.
Bitty looked down at himself. He was wearing boxers longer than some of his shorts and an old shirt too big. Definitely one of Jack’s.
“Yeah, just a sec,” he yawned. “What are y’all baking?”
“Breakfast,” Moomaw said, showing him the pan she was using.
A blue pan.
Bitty woke up in three seconds.
And Moomaw was grinning, blissfully unaware.
And Mama had on the counter next to her packages of shredded cheese and what seemed to have contained grounded beef.
In the kitchen Jack and Bitty kept kosher.
“Nope nope nope-”
In one movement, Bitty took the dairy pan out of his grandma’s hands, not knowing what he was supposed to do but knowing he had to do something- and boy did bacon smelt bad to him now, he really wasn’t used to it anymore since he left the Haus.
“I- Uh- Well- Paper plates! There are paper plates in the drawer-” Bitty yelped to himself, opening a drawer with one hand to take out a paper plate and dump in it the bacon. Then, out of ideas, he put the pan back on the burner. The thing was lost anyway.
On the table in the middle of the kitchen, there were dairy plates, dairy cutlery, dairy bowls out. Some with pancakes in it, some with gravy, some with chicken cuts, some with small potatoes, some with ham.
Bitty just sat down at the table, dropping the bacon paper plate in front of him.
“Is that a joke,” he said, his hands on his cheeks and admiring the delicious disaster in front of him.
“Dicky, what devil has gotten into you? Apologise to Moomaw, now.”
“Why is there meat here?” he continued, his eyes focused on the gravy.
“There are more important subjects - like, why did you grab the pan out of Moomaw’s hands?”
“Mama, I honestly think the most important subject is why there’s suddenly ham and gravy in my vegetarian, kosher kitchen. I am pretty sure neither Jack or I have packed the fridge with traif food during the night. And I’m pretty sure you’re the one owing apologises, here.”
Mama shrugged. Shrugged. She obviously didn’t want to drop her request, but she also knew that she wouldn’t get anything out of her son right now.
“When Moomaw and I woke up, we wanted to cook breakfast and lunch for when the Zimmermanns arrive, but the fridge seemed really empty. So we went our way and we bought stuff to fill it.”
“It was em-” that got Bitty to turn his eyes towards his mother. “Of course it wasn’t full! Jack is supposed to go to the store after practice! There was more than enough for breakfast - and yesterday morning Jack made a whole casserole for lunch today! It’s in the fridge!”
Bitty turned back, feeling the tears coming. He won’t cry in front of his mom and his grandma because of bacon, he promised, hiding his head in his hands to calm down.
“I am your mother, I have to make sure you’re fed correctly-”
“I can’t believe it. I’m an adult. Jack is an adult. Why did you buy food without asking? We are capable of feeding our guests. And we are capable of feeding ourselves. God, how bad is it-”
Bitty got up and opened the fridge - and there were several meat packages of the things that had been cooked for breakfast, stuffed wherever there was room, most of them open.
“Well, it cannot be worse.”
It could. In the oven, was the lasagna that mama and Moomaw had prepared for lunch.
When he noticed the sturdy Viking was actually on, Bitty rushed to pull out of it a half-cooked big blue plate. Obviously, there was shredded cheese on the top of it.
“The bottom right corner doesn’t have meat, because you don’t wanna eat meat,” his mother offered.
Oh, great, thanks. So the rest of the plate had meat. Perfect. Bitty dropped it on the lost s, because fuck.
“Y’all cooked meat and dairy together in our kosher kitchen.”
“I don’t see what the problem is,” Moomaw began. “You don’t have to eat the meat.”
It was ten am, and Bitty was tired.
“Yes. I just don’t have to eat the meat. That’s not the problem. The problem is that I made it clear that we kept a vegetarian kosher kitchen, and instead of asking what that entailed, y’all went to the supermarket and brought meat and pork and proceed to contaminate the entire place. Neither Jack nor his parents can eat anything that comes from in there now. I don’t even know how you could think it was okay to bring pork to a vegetarian-and-Jewish kitchen.”
“We did ask you what it meant yesterday! You told us that we shouldn’t use any of the red tools, only the blue ones,” Mama said, “-and we did!”
“Yes! Because yesterday it hadn’t come to my mind that you’d go behind your adult son’s back before he woke up to buy meat! Especially when there was definitely enough to eat!”
“Meat is important! How do you get your proteins otherwise?”
“Meat is not important! You shouldn’t eat meat every day! There are a thousand of ways to get protein that don’t involve eating corpses! It’s been four years I haven’t eaten meat and I’m still alive! Jack is a professional athlete and he gets by very well with an almost-fully vegetarian diet! Stop acting as if you cared!”
“Well maybe y’all want to be vegan, or whatever- but your father wanted bacon, you know he eats some every morning-”
“Well, under his vegetarian son and his Jewish boyfriend’s roof, he’ll have to find an alternative for -oh, wow, the grand total of seven days he’s here!”
“Dicky, I believe I’ve taught you to accommodate your guests,” Mama snapped.
“Oh yes, you did. Still doesn’t mean Jack and I are gonna break our ethics and our morals to put some grease into y’all. Our roof, our rules, and the one rule is ‘no meat.’ Do you even know how hard will it be to re-kosher this kitchen? You used our dairy-ware to touch meat. We can’t use the table, the counters. We gotta clean the fridge. You’ve crossed-contaminated everything.”
“You’re talking about cross-contamination now? Dicky, I’ve cooked since before your mother was born. I’ve never-”
“Moomaw. When you keep kosher you don’t mix meat and dairy. You use different pans and tools and ideally, two sinks and fridges. Y’all used our dairy stuff to cook your corpses. Y’all’ve cross-contaminated the entire kitchen.”
Bitty sighed. If he yelled once more, he’ll cry.
“I want you both out of my kitchen.”
“No. We didn’t do anything wrong. We wanted to help.”
“Well, you sure as hell didn’t. Next time you’ll ask.”
Bitty began to gather on the paper plate with the bacon all the food that had been prepared for breakfast, and pushed both his mom and grandma in the dining room where Coach was still focused on tape, unphased by all the yelling that had happened a few feet away from him.
“Here. You have your breakfast,” he said, setting the plate on the table.
He went back to the kitchen to grab something in a drawer, and all but threw three pairs of wooden chopsticks on the table.
“I don’t know how to use that,” Moomaw said.
“We’re not dogs, Dicky,” Suzanne frowned, visibly angry at her son’s vehemence.
“Well, maybe you should have bought some plastic forks and knives, instead of filling our fridge with unsolicited shit. That’s actually one of the only things we’re out of.”
“Give us some real cutlery, then.”
“And have even more work to re-kosher it all? You’re kidding, mother.”
Bitty made his way back to the kitchen. And he sighed, totally at sea.
He had no idea of where to begin. So he took his phone, and he called Jack before he’d begin to sob.
“Hi, Jack. Uuum. How to say it… There was an accident.”
“Bits are you okay?!”
“Love what happened-”
“Mother and Grandmother found the fridge too empty. So they went grocery shopping. By the time I woke up, there were meat and bacon all over the counters. And the table. And the blue plates. And the blue spatulas. And the blue pans. And the oven. And the fridge.”
There was one moment of silence, and then a small, a sad, a disappointed:
That won’t do. Blood or not, you don’t get to make Bitty’s boyfriend feel small, sad, and disappointed.
“I am so angry I am livid. And a bit lost. I don’t know where to begin to fix this. Should I get someone from the synagogue or can I do it by myself?”
“Bits, er… it’s okay. Get the pork out and well, I’ll take care of it when I’m back, and for today I’ll survive stuff cooked with defiled tools-”
Jack’s voice was still small. The one he used when he wanted to try to avoid conflict and to dilute issues.
Too bad, Jack. Your boyfriend’s hobby was to pick all the fights that happened around him.
“No. No no no, Mister Zimmermann. I’m going to take care of it, now. If you want to keep kosher under your own roof, you will keep kosher under your own roof.”
“Bits, really, it’s not a big deal.”
“If it wasn’t a big deal, you wouldn’t have bought everything in double and you wouldn’t have called a rabbi to kosher the place. You wouldn’t make the effort to keep things separate the rare times you cook yourself a steak or some chicken. But you do make the effort, because it’s important to you. You have every right to be angry, and I’m going to fix it before you come back, and before your parents arrive.”
“Yes, but… I don’t want to bother.”
“First of all, it’s your home, sweetpea. It’s not a bother to ask for rules to be followed. Second, what would you said if someone switched all my vegetarian ingredients with meat-based products? You’d probably be angry and try to fix it because you know it’s important to me.”
Jack took a few seconds, sighed, and said:
“Yes. You’re right. Eating kasher is important to me. And I don’t think I’m angry, except if you told me it was done on purpose. I’m just… Crestfallen. I was really excited about the dinner tomorrow, but now… I’m not sure how we’re going to do it. Neither I nor my parents can eat anything that comes from this kitchen. Because you can’t really fix it before tomorrow, Bits.”
“I need to put every thing in boiling water, right? One by one?”
“Depends the thing, but yes, it’s about it. But, hum, first you gotta not use anything for twenty-four hours.”
“Twent- Oh yes. I had forgotten about this thing. Fuck.”
Bitty had forgotten for one moment that he wasn’t alone as, well, the kitchen was wide open on the dining area where his parents and his grandmother were sitting, meaning they heard everything.
“Mother, I think it’ll be better for everyone if you let me deal with this and you don’t bother me until I’ve finished. However, Jack and I will gladly hear apologies.”
Instead of waiting for excuses that wouldn’t come, Bitty left the kitchen by the door on the other side, to not have to look at his mother anymore. He sat on the floor right outside the kitchen door, in the entrance of the apartment.
“You don’t have to be, Bits. Is it tense at home?”
Bitty kept his voice down.
“Yes. I’m so pissed. Maybe, yes, okay, we haven’t explained them all the rules of koshrut, so yes, they didn’t know, but… They haven’t asked. And I’m still not over the fact that they went behind our backs to buy food and fill our fridge. Do they think we’re kids? Idiots? I know my parents think I’m stupid for going vegetarian and that it’s a weird rebellious fad. They think I’m famishing you and forbid you to eat meat around me.”
“Really? Have you told them I decided, of my own volition, to stop eating meat at home?”
“Since when do they care. I think that right now, they’re in a state of mind where they refuse to try to understand anything that I don’t do their way. Not eating meat. Living with my boyfriend without being married. Wanting to marry my boyfriend one day. They think I’m a kid and an idiot.”
“Love, they have no right to make you feel bad about your choices, you know that? All of them are valid, and great. If they make you feel better, if they make you feel like you’re a greater person, then it’s good choices. But love, I’m really worried. Do you want me to come home sooner? To have them out of here? I can invent an excuse if you need to-”
“Jack. It’ll be okay. Just tell me what to do about the kitchen, and you go shopping when you’re out of the gym. I’ll update the shopping list with everything I had to discard, okay? So don’t forget your phone in the car again. Also are the vegetables for the rabbits still good, or do I need to discard them too?”
“They should be. Just, listen, don’t do it alone, please? Go ask Miss Simon on the third floor if she can help you. She’s the one who helped me set the kitchen in the first place. I gotta go, but I’ll be back soon. Love you.”
Miss Simon on the third floor couldn’t come to help, as she was busy wiping the floor with her grandkids in a card game. She had no remorse sending her son Nathanael, who was visiting her, to deal with it.
“I’m sorry,” Bitty said, when Nathanael followed him in the kitchen. “I’m just really lost about where to begin and what to do, exactly. My boyfriend isn’t back for another few hours.”
“Yeah, don’t worry,” Nathanael, a bit bored, replied. Or maybe it was his default face? He looked like a thirty-something IT guy. Thirty-something IT guys always look bored.
“I’ll bake y’all pies and cookies as soon as I can use this kitchen once again.”
“Yeah,” Nathanael said, this time significantly less bored.
Bitty’s mom and grandma, still at the dining table, were watching them when they thought Bitty wasn’t looking, and ignored them obviously when Bitty was turned their way.
Well. If you want to play this game, don’t forget you raised me.
“So, we need to clean all the things on the table, in the sink, the counters… The fridge.” Bitty explained. “Only those two burners have been used. The oven, too.”
“Please tell me the oven is self-cleaning.”
“It is. Does it help?”
“Yes. We just have to run the self-cleaning mode, no need to wait a whole day… So, let’s begin-”
No one came to bother them while they were cleaning. The only interaction was when Bitty found the bag Moo Maw and his mother used to shop, and he went to the dining room to give them the receipts and a check covering the exact price of the groceries they bought, down to the penny.
At noon thirty, the kitchen was looking pristine. Nat and Bitty were cleaning the last thing (the fridge); Nat on the floor, sorting all the food in big bags, Bitty disinfecting and cleaning the walls.
“Yes, sweetheart, a kosher kitchen, that seems such a good idea! Once you get used to it, that’s no problem at all, is it?” Bitty was ranting. “Please forbid me to ever encourage my boyfriend ever again.”
“Well, one accident in - how long did you say, two years and a half? Honestly, that’s good. I have two kids under seven, I feel like I have to re-kosher my kitchen every week. Mind it, we eat meat, so we have more occasions of cross-contamination, but still…”
That’s when the front door opened, letting in Alicia and Robert Zimmermann, both wearing huge coats and scarves and snow boots that wouldn’t look out of character on Bitty. They let their coats and their boots near the door, and when they entered the kitchen, Alicia still had her copy of the key in her hand, while Robert was carrying a huge duffel bag.
“Hello!” Alicia beamed; and then, seeing the door of the kitchen open and in it, an angry Bitty rubbing clean the fridge and a stranger sorting food, and a harsh smell of lemon cleaning product instead of lemon pie: “… Hi?”
“Alicia, Mr Jack’s Dad. You’re already here,” Bitty panicked a little.
“What is happening?” Bob frowned as he entered the kitchen.
“Mmh. There was a bacon incident. And beef lasagna,” Bitty explained. “I’d hug you, but…” he opened his arms to show his T-shirt damped with cleaning products and the plastic gloves on his hands. “How were your holidays? And- Oh, I’m sorry, Nathanael, meet my in-laws, Bob, Alicia, meet Nathanael Simon, the son of our neighbours who’s helping me out. Also he just promised to teach me how to play chess.”
Nathanael didn’t reply, just gasped loudly.
Alicia and Bob seemed to find it funny.
“Nice to meet you, Nathanael,” Bob smiled, “-and to answer your question, Mr Jack’s boyfriend, the holidays were warm. So warm. One month in the desert is hell-”
“It is not the desert, Robbie, we were near the se a. My parents don’t live in Beer-Sheva anymore, now they’re in Herzliya. They have a private beach.”
“Still. It took away all my Canadian abilities. I can’t stand cold anymore.”
“Sounds like my kind of place,” Bitty said.
“You should come for Pesa’h,” Alicia proposed. “If Jack has games, too bad for him, he’ll stay here and take care of the rabbits.”
“The rabbits! Where are my grandsons?”
Bob dropped the duffel bag on the floor and made his way to the living-room where he knew the two bunnies would be lounging around, as usual, and Bitty only heard him greet his parents and his grandma after he’d got the tamest of the bunnies in his arms.
“Is he carrying him like I told him to? He isn’t, is he?” Bitty asked no one in particular, still focused on the empty fridge.
“He probably is. He spent half of the plane trip watching rabbit-care videos,” Alicia explained. “So, uh. A bacon incident?”
Bitty turned sour.
“Let’s say I slept in and I woke up with meat all over my kitchen. And -oh, I’m so sorry, I can’t propose y’all any pie to eat, but the casserole Jack made was in an hermetic box so it’s good, the oven is still self-cleaning, but the microwave is safe to heat it. Or, hum- I guess there are stuff in the cupboards if you want something sweet. Maybe some cookies still in the jar?”
“Don’t worry, Eric, we will find something to eat. And, uhm-“ she pointed all the bags of food on the floor; “what are you going to do with this?”
“I’m going to bring them to the shelter when I leave,” Nathanael, who finally seemed to find back his voice in front of Alicia Zimmermann, said. “Eric called them and apparently they’re okay to take all of this, even the fresh and cooked food?”
“They know me. I always bring them the leftovers of the cooking school… And -Oh my, Alicia, sorry, your bags. Is there only the duffel one?”
“I also have a suitcase, I let it by the door, but don’t worry-”
“No, no, I’m taking care of it right now,” Bitty said, grabbing the duffel bag. “We put y’all in the master bedroom, Jack and I will stay on the couch in the living-room while you’re here; and, oh, boy, what have you hidden in this bag? How is it that heavy? You’ll never guess what Tater told me about the last roadie…”