“Hi,” Bitty said as he walked to baggage claim where Jack stood waiting for him with a smile on his face and his heart on his sleeve.
It was the first time they’d seen each other since Fourth of July weekend in Madison, and while phone calls, texts, and Skyping were terrific, there was no substitute for Bitty’s face in person. Had he always been that beautiful, Jack wondered? Yes. Yes, he had. Jack had just been too boneheaded to realize it—or let himself see it fully.
“Hi,” Jack replied.
Their smiles were a mile wide and fifty feet deep. Jack cleared his throat and spoke.
“Do you have a lot of bags?”
“Just two bags. It was cheaper to FedEx stuff to the haus than to bring it on the plane.”
They made their way to the appropriate carousel and stood side by side, close but not too close. Jack could feel Bitty’s heat radiate off his body and brush against him. Jack’s stomach pleasantly flipped in a way that was all too exhilarating.
Everyone at the haus was expecting Bitty three days later, thinking he would be coming in from Madison but in the dark stillness of the night, in Bitty’s childhood bedroom, the two made whispered plans back in July. Secret and safe.
“Come back early, and stay with me,” Jack pleaded quietly as they pressed their foreheads against one another.
“I mean, there’s no reason why I can’t,” Bitty said as he smiled shyly.
“We can be alone. We can bake, hang out, watch movies, sleep together,” Jack said. The thought was almost too much for Jack to bear. All at once overwhelming and perfect. “No haus shenanigans, no fear of your parents walking in on us.”
“Did you actually say ‘shenanigans?’”
Jack smiled, “Haha. I did.”
“You’re such an old man.”
Jack chuckled and kissed Bitty’s forehead. “Will you stay with me?”
“That sounds amazing, sweetpea,” Bitty said then ducked his head into the crook of Jack’s neck.
“Are you blushing?” Jack asked, instantly charmed.
“No,” Bitty giggled. “Maybe.”
“Will you come and stay with me before school starts?”
Jack pressed a kiss to Bitty’s lips, already counting down the days. And now, there they stood waiting for Bitty’s bags, ready to head to Jack’s apartment where they would spend three entire days, completely and blessedly alone, without any interruptions or fears.
“That’s my bag there,” Bitty said.
They smiled as their hands lightly brush against each other while they both reached for the suitcase.
They held hands the entire drive home. Bitty watched Jack as he drove, how he maneuvered the streets, the intense look on his face when he merged lanes, the anxious tap-tap-tapping of the steering wheel when they were at the red light. All the while, Jack gently rubbed circles with his thumb on Bitty’s hand, and when Jack would turn to look at Bitty, the open happiness on his face was something that took Bitty’s breath away.
“I got us enough groceries so that we don’t have to go out—euh, unless you want to,” Jack said, “go out, that is.”
“I don’t mind staying in,” Bitty said.
He leaned over and stroked Jack’s cheek. Jack closed his eyes and kissed the inside of Bitty’s hand. And angry car horn broke them out of their moment, and Jack shook his head as he chuckled and started to drive once again.
When they finally pulled into Jack’s parking garage, Bitty suddenly became nervous. Alone. That would be the first time they were alone together, without mama walking in on stolen kisses in Bitty’s room, without Coach practically barging in on a quick hug by the garage. Alone. What would that look like?
Jack had been so sweet and gentle back in Madison, taking his time with Bitty, repeatedly asking him if he was okay, he if wanted to continue. How would Jack be at his place? No, Bitty wasn’t worried about Jack being too handsy (truth be told, Bitty wanted Jack to be as handsy as possible), he was just worried that Jack would still want to take things slow for Bitty’s sake. Bitty knew Jack was the more experienced of the two, but Bitty felt he had a lot to make up for. He was a ripe Georgia peach, ready to be plucked and Bitty was prepared to make his home state proud.
“We’re here,” Jack said with a tiny smile. “We’re home.”
Jack carried both bags as they walked in, and the entire elevator ride up, the two remained silent. Bitty, however, could feel the electricity crackle between them.
The doors opened on the second floor, and an older woman with a dog walked in.
“Oh, hello, Jack,” she said.
“Hi, Mrs. Somerlot. Hi, Peanut,” Jack said.
The dog huffed at Jack and wagged his tail approvingly. She smiled and nodded at Bitty, and Bitty in turn softly elbowed Jack in the ribs.
“Uh, this is my friend. Bittle.”
Bitty scrunched up his nose. “Eric. Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
Mrs. Somerlot smiled. “What a sweet face you have.”
Bitty smiled, and his smile grew even wider when Jack was the one who elbowed him that time.
Mrs. Somerlot got off on the fifth floor and waved goodbye. The moment the elevator doors closed, Jack chuckled.
“What a sweet face you have,” he chirped.
“It’s true, though. It was a lame chirp because it’s true.”
The two exchanged a shy glance that made Bitty feel like he was the star of his very own rom-com.
The ding of the elevator broke their spell as Jack honest-to-goodness winked at Bitty. Bitty took one of the bags from Jack and made his way out.
“I hope you like it,” Jack said as he took out his key. He placed his hand on the small of Bitty’s back, a quiet intimate gesture that thrilled Bitty.
“I do! From what you’ve shown me, I like a lot.”
Jack had been so cute when he gave Bitty a Skype tour of the apartment, and now there he was, all 6’ 1” of nervous as he showed him around in person.
“And here,” he said when they finally reached the kitchen, “is, uh, the oven in the flesh. You can name it—her, uh, him—if you want.”
“Honey, why are you so nervous?” Bitty asked as he tried to mask his nerves.
“I’m not sure,” he said as he blushed and laughed softly.
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I am, too… a little bit.”
Bitty walked toward Jack, who had both hands behind his back as if he were keeping them there to stop himself from touching Bitty.
“But,” he continued, “it’s okay if you touch me. I want you to.”
Jack’s nod was almost imperceptible, and soon, Bitty stood in front of him.
“Now shut up and kiss me properly, mister,” Bitty whispered.
Jack reached out to cup Bitty’s face, and Bitty’s eyes shut. He could feel the heat of Jack’s breath on his mouth as he leaned in to ghost his lips to Bitty’s.
Bitty reached out and wrapped his arms around Jack’s neck, and suddenly, it was on. The two exchanged frantic kisses as they moved around the apartment, exiting the kitchen. They hit the edge of Jack’s coffee table and nearly tripped over it as they made their way to the sofa and landed on it with a big oomph!
“See,” Bitty said breathlessly as Jack sucked tiny kisses onto his neck, “absolutely nothing to be nervous about.”
Jack began to pull Bitty’s t-shirt up and over his head.
“Shirt, off,” he panted.
The two became lost in their kisses once again as Jack blindly pulled at Bitty’s Falconers t-shirt.
Bitty laughed when he found himself tangled up in his t-shirt, arms akimbo. “How about we get to the bed?”
Jack paused and then looked at Bitty, and the two laughed as Jack pulled the shirt back down.
“You are the most adorable person in the entire world,” Jack said as he sweetly smoothed down Bitty’s cowlick.
“Right back at you, mister.”
Jack smiled and kissed Bitty softly on this lips. He then grinned and scooped him up out of the couch and flipped him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.
“To the bed!” he called out.
Bitty’s squeak echoed through the hallway.
“So,” Jack said as his head hung off the edge of the bed, entire body limp with delicious exertion, “that was something, eh?”
Bitty, who had his head at the opposite end, feet on Jack’s torso, nodded.
“Uh-huh…” he finally mumbled. “Lord, I’m thirsty. My throat is so dry.”
“What?” Jack said as he weakly lifted his head and looked in Bitty’s direction.
“Well, it really shouldn’t be, now should it?” Jack said with a wicked grin.
Bitty’s eyes grew wide as he let out a cackle and kicked Jack softly on the chest.
“You are terrible!”
“You like it,” Jack huffed out with a laugh.
Bitty crawled down to meet Jack. He pressed a kiss to Jack’s damp neck as he curled into him in between kisses and muttered, “I plan to have you again and again throughout this entire weekend.”
“I’m fine with that,” Jack said with a gigantic smirk.
“I don’t know—I just, I just want to eat you alive,” Bitty said, then whispered into Jack’s mouth, “I need you.”
“And I need a few minutes, bud,” Jack said with a chuckle, eyes crinkling.
“That’s okay,” Bitty said as he pulled away slowly, ”I’ll do all the work—you can just lie there.”
Jack nodded in agreement. He was never one to argue with solid logic.
Around 8:00 that evening, Bitty’s growling stomach woke him up. He was regretting his pass on dinner (sex won out of course, but oh man, a PBJ would be great right about now.) He glanced over at Jack, who was zonked out, sound asleep. He picked up Jack’s t-shirt from the floor, slipped it on, and made his way to the kitchen.
Bitty turned on the kitchen light and walked around as he ran his hand along the butcher block island. It was so striking to him that he didn’t feel like a stranger in Jack’s apartment. He felt so comfortable there and sighed happily as he took in the entire kitchen. He imagined that future important moments would probably be taking place in that kitchen.
Bitty smiled and walked over to the pantry, hoping he would find some peanut butter. He looked through the pantry, examining the various spices, containers of protein powder, cereal, and bags of pasta which sat there. He gasped when he saw three different kinds of flour, baking soda, baking powder, brown sugar, Mexican vanilla, a variety of chocolate chips. It was obvious Jack had gone shopping with Bitty in mind.
Bitty grinned and grabbed the peanut butter and a loaf of bread. He opened the refrigerator and found some orange marmalade. He was so deep in thought as he took out the slices of bread, he hadn’t heard Jack sneak up behind him until Jack grabbed Bitty from behind and caused him to drop the butter knife.
“Lord, Jack!” Bitty laughed as he quickly turned around to face him. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”
“Heads up, Bittle. You are way too easy to surprise,” Jack chastised.
“Well, I didn’t think I’d have to be on high alert at my boy--my… Jack’s house,” he said.
Jack’s mouth quirked slightly, “Your Jack’s house?”
“Oh, shush!” he said as he unscrewed the lid off the peanut butter. “And if you say another word, I swear I’ll grab my things and go to the haus right this second.”
Jack laughed. “Consider these lips sealed.”
“You want a PBJ?”
“How about a BLT, instead?” Jack said as he wrapped his arms around Bitty and hooked his chin on his shoulder. “Come on; I’ll make them.”
“Well, how could I say no?” Bitty wagged his eyebrows and then scooped out one giant spoonful of peanut butter before he put the lid back on the jar and offered Jack a lick.
“Bits, are you not wearing underwear?” Jack asked.
“Oh, yeah. I’m not,” Bitty blushed. “I just threw your t-shirt on and came foraging for food.”
Bitty opened the refrigerator door and put the marmalade back when he felt Jack instantly behind him. He turned Bitty around and pressed against him. Bitty groaned leaning against the refrigerator, as Jack pulled him closer, tighter.
“If you want a BLT, you better go put some underwear on. Otherwise, I can’t be held accountable if I’m unable to concentrate on the bacon.”
Bitty tsked. “We wouldn’t want that now, would we?”
Jack laughed, a joyful thing, as Bitty strutted out of the room.
“You were right, adding the fried egg was a stroke of genius,” Jack said as he licked some egg yolk off the side of his hand.
“Like MooMaw always says, ‘Everything’s better with a fried egg on top.’”
The two sat on the living room floor, eating on the coffee table. Each one in underwear and t-shirts, feeling utterly at ease with one another.
“Do you wanna watch a movie?” Bitty asked.
“Sure,” Jack replied with a mouthful of BLT. “What do you want to watch?”
Bitty laughed. “Okay, have you ever seen The Cutting Edge?”
Jack shook his head and took another bite.
“Oh my gosh, we have to see it. It’s amazing! A hockey player becomes a figure skater, and romance ensues. It’s the classic enemies to friends to lovers trope.”
“A hockey-playing figure skater? I’d say that was one hell of a stretch if it wasn’t for you and Jeff Skinner.”
Jack took a sip from his glass of milk and wiped his face with the back of his hand. “All right, put it on.”
Bitty hopped up to get the remote and then searched for the movie. Soon, the two were in deep, curled up on the couch, wrapped up in a thick blanket.
“That toe pick thing is super annoying,” Jack said.
“You hush and leave Kate Moseley alone. She is a goddess and will be treated as such, thank you very much.”
Jaco watched intensely, then crinkled his nose. “Shit...”
“No, nothing. It’s just…”
“I just realized I’m Kate.”
Bitty studied Jack for a second then howled with laughter. “You are! You are totally a Kate! Super driven, grumpy as heck but a softie underneath.”
Bitty sat back and settled onto the couch with a smug look on his face. “And I’m like a reverse Doug, from figure skating to hockey darling in three easy steps.”
Jack turned to look at Bitty.
“Guess we’re made for each other,” Jack said with a smile and turned back to watch the movie.
Bitty blinked a few times then grinned as Jack plopped his head onto Bitty’s shoulder.
“Skip, skip, reverse, reverse, draw two, draw four, blue—like your eyes.”
Jack frowned as he looked at Bitty, suddenly holding two Uno cards in his hand.
“What the hell just happened?”
“What the hell just happened is that I just whooped your ass in Uno.”
Jack frowned even harder. “You sure you wouldn’t rather play Rummikub instead?”
“Rummikub?” Bitty shook his head. “Nah, this is fine.”
Jack silently took his six cards and then Bitty put down one more. “Uno, by the way.”
“I’ve had full body checks that were more merciful than this, Bittle.”
Bitty laughed. “You Bittle’d me. You are totally serious! What are you going to do next? Tell me to eat more protein?”
“Oh, I’ve got your protein!” Jack said as he reached over and tickled Bitty.
Bitty threw his head back in laughter. “You did not just say that?! Oh my god!”
Jack launched himself onto Bitty and nuzzled his neck as they both laughed with glee. Things continued to be silly until they weren’t.
Bitty flung his arms around Jack’s neck, seeking his mouth; their lips crashed as they met. Jack grunted as Bitty pleaded into his mouth. No one was sure exactly what Bitty’s pleas were for, but Jack was ready to oblige in any and every way as their bodies pressed tightly together. Bitty rocked into Jack, mouths locked together, tongues plundering.
“Okay, are you ready?”
“Yes. Just don't drop me!”
“I won’t. I promise,” Jack said through his laughter.
“Lord, okay. Do it!”
Bitty stood at the edge of the bedroom, gave a quick nod, then ran toward Jack, who lifted him overhead and then bounced him onto the mattress.
“The Pamchenko!” Jack shouted as Bitty screeched with laughter.
“You are no longer allowed to watch The Cutting Edge if it’s going to put me in mortal danger.”
Jack jumped onto the mattress and the two dissolved into a fit of giggles. Bitty let out a whoosh of air.
“Come on, bedtime. Help me fix the sheets, mister.”
They worked in tandem and made the bed.
“Which side do you want?” Jack asked.
“Um, guess I’ll take the right side.”
The two climbed in and turned to face each other. Jack reached overhead and turned off the light with a tired sigh.
“You okay?” Jack asked as he settled deeper into his pillow.
“More than okay,” Bitty replied sleepily.
“No new nighttime rituals you need to tell me about?”
Bitty shook his head. “Nah, you already know about Bun.”
Señor Bunny sat smooshed underneath Bitty’s chin.
Jack felt so happy—at ease and safe. He thought about doing something he had wanted to for a while. It seemed like the right time to share the unshareable. It felt important.
“Do you want to hear a bedtime story?” he asked.
Bitty yawned. “Sure.”
Jack exhaled. He could do this. He trusted Bitty more than anyone else in the entire world.
"Once upon a time, there was a prince…”
Bitty clutched Bun tighter and offered Jack a smile of encouragement as he inched closer to Bitty.
“From a young age, he knew he was destined for greatness, for he knew that one day he would inherit the kingdom from his father."
Bitty’s toes touched Jack’s calf.
“But the prince also had a secret. He was scared of failure.” Jack swallowed dryly, he could feel his heart pounding in his chest. “Terrified of it. So completely frightened of being as good a king as his father, that he would stay up every night braced with the fear of mediocrity.”
Jack released his breath shakily and continued.
"And so the prince took medicine to calm his anxiety... and he slew trolls! And he took more, and he slew dragons. But one day he took too much… and nearly lost everything."
Bitty’s eyes glistened in the darkened room, and Jack could see that he was crying.
“But the prince would concoct a plan. He would venture back to the land of the Queen. There, he would reclaim his greatness, and thereby gain entrance to the kingdom.”
Jack stopped and closed his eyes; he reached out and took Bitty’s hands into his and squeezed tightly. He could feel Bitty squeeze back, even harder. And Jack knew that he wasn’t going anywhere—neither of them was. This was real and precious.
Jack opened his eyes and smiled at Bitty, happy he was able to get through it. Relieved.
“And all was going, of course, until," he booped Bitty's nose, "this little shit came along.”
Bitty’s eyes grew wide, and he let out a squawk.
"Bless your heart!” he cried out as Jack laughed and pulled him into his arms.
The two kissed gently until Bitty spoke.
“Thank you for trusting me.”
Bitty poured shower gel onto the loofah and began scrubbing Jack’s back as Jack hummed happily.
“You need some sort of step stool in here if you expect me to shampoo your hair, mister,” Bitty chirped.
“Shower stilts?” Jack chirped back.
Bitty dipped down to scrub the back of Jack’s legs and his calves.
“Mmm, a shrink ray? Something. Hey, how do you feel about peanut butter french toast with strawberries for breakfast? Lift.”
Jack bent his knee and Bitty scrubbed the bottom of his foot. He turned to look at Bitty over his shoulder. “It sounds amazing, of course. We can make it together.”
Bitty smiled. “Nice! Other foot.”
When they were done with their shower, Jack got out first, and as Bitty was drying off in the steamy bathroom, he saw that Jack had drawn a heart with their initials on the bathroom mirror. Lord have mercy on Bitty’s soul.
Bitty walked out, practically on air, and saw Jack putting the pillows back on the bed.
“Bed’s made!” he announced proudly.
Bitty smiled and pointed toward the lump under the duvet.
“You made the bed over Bun?”
“Oh, yeah. He was there,” Jack said with a shrug.
“Huh, I see.” Bitty chuckled and shook his head. “You could have moved him.”
“I love all the little things I’m learning about you, Mister Zimmermann.”
“What?” Jack asked again.
“Nothing. Nothing at all, sweetheart. Let’s go make breakfast.”
About 20 minutes into cooking, Jack hopped onto the counter and sat there, swinging his feet.
“Sweetpea, there are chairs here,” Bitty said as he flipped a french toast in the pan.
“I know, but from here I can see everything you’re doing. Gotta take notes, Bittle.”
Bitty wrinkled his nose. “But I prepare our meals on the counter, and now your glorious hockey butt is all over it.”
“You didn’t seem to mind me on the counter here last night, when you were practically ripping my pants off and having my bare ass on it.”
Bitty tried not to smile as he blushed. “Rude.”
“What are you going to do about it, Bittle?”
Bitty raised an eyebrow, spatula still in hand.
“I believe the better question is what would you like me to do about it?” he asked as he pointed the spatula at Jack.
Jack shrugged and swung his feet even faster.
Bitty pulled the frying pan off the burner and walked up to Jack and placed himself in between his legs.
Jack instantly wrapped them around Bitty and said, “I might have some ideas…”
Bitty smacked Jack on the thigh with the buttery spatula.
“Ow,” Jack said with a laugh.
“Food first, sex later!”
Jack smirked and took a long sip of his coffee as he maintained eye contact with Bitty while he made his way back to the stove.
“How can you be this bad at Mario Kart? I’m terrible, and even I’m beating you,” Bitty laughed.
“You’re cheating,” Jack cried out, “and I suck!”
The two sat cross-legged on the couch, each one wore a clay face mask.
“Eat my dust, Yoshi,” Bitty said as he zoomed past Jack.
“Booo!” Jack cried out and tossed his controller aside. "I'm done."
“Don’t be a sore loser. You can’t be brilliant at everything,” Bitty chirped. “Do you want to go back to Wii golfing?”
“Yes, please,” Jack said and picked up his controller. “How much longer on this face thing?”
Bitty gingerly touched Jack’s face. “Hmmm… still a teeny bit damp. Five more minutes to tighter pores.”
“Great, just what I’ve always wanted. Tighter pores.”
Jack got up to change the game when his phone rang.
“It’s Shitty,” Bitty said as he glanced at the phone.
“Should I answer?”
Bitty shrugged. “Sure, I guess. No reason to ignore his call.”
He plopped back down on the couch next to Bitty.
“Not much. Just, um, cleaning my apartment, about to head to the gym. Yeah, you know me. Super exciting life.”
He winked at Bitty and squeezed his thigh.
“The 12th? I think that’s open. Let me check my calendar, and I’ll get back to you.”
Jack walked his fingers higher up Bitty’s leg and grinned.
“Bittle? Uh… yeah, he gets back in a couple days. I offered to pick him up at the airport and give him a lift to the haus. Yeah, I’ve talked to him all summer, how come?”
Bitty leaned in to try to listen, and for once in his life, Shitty was way too quiet.
“Seeing someone? I dunno, he didn’t say,” Jack said as he looked at Bitty.
Bitty’s eyebrows flew up.
“Why do you think he’s seeing someone?” Jack asked. “That happy, huh?" He smirked. "Maybe someone in Madison? Yeah, no, he didn’t introduce me to anyone when I went out there… Sure, sure, I’ll let you know if he says anything.”
Bitty mouthed wow to Jack, and Jack flashed him a thumbs up.
“Okay, I’ll check on the 12th and call you tomorrow. Yeah, man. Of course. Bye, Shits.”
Jack grinned again and looked at Bitty. “Wow is right. He asked me if you were seeing anyone because the last time he talked to you, you sounded—and I quote—‘over the fucking moon’ but wouldn’t say why.”
“That boy is as nosy as he is naked.”
Jack gazed softly at Bitty. “Well, are you? Over the fucking moon?”
“Yeah… I am. What I’m feeling right now, with you, it’s more than I ever imagined would happen to me.”
“Me, too, Bits. Me, too.”
The two leaned in for a kiss and then remembered that was probably not the smartest idea considering their faces were covered in clay.
“Ew, our faces stuck together!” Bitty laughed.
“Can we wash this off now, please?”
Jack got off the couch and offered his hand to Bitty.
The relentless rain thwarted their plans to go for an evening run. Jack had no complaints, however. He would soon enough be working out hard, and nonstop, so if he now found himself with his head on a pillow in Bitty’s lap while the rain carried on outside—Bitty who stroked Jack’s hair and whispered sweetnesses to him—well, he had no regrets.
Jack reached up and stroked the tiny hairs at Bitty's nape while Bitty, in turn, scratched at Jack's head. Jack closed his eyes and relished in both sensations, the fuzzy hair along the hairline, Bitty's fingers gently scraping his scalp. He sighed with contentment as the rain stormed on and pitter-pattered against the windows.
“Your hair is bonkers right now,” Bitty said with a smile.
“Is it?” Jack asked as his eyes slowly opened.
“I like it. It makes you look carefree and a little bit out of control.”
Jack smiled. “If I am carefree and a little bit out of control, it’s ‘cause of you, bud.”
“Do you like that?” Bitty asked.
Jack’s eyes fluttered shut again. “Yeah, I think I do.”
Bitty leaned against the couch and sighed, “I don’t want to go to the haus.”
Bitty kissed Jack’s forehead. “Nuh-uh.”
“Then don’t. Stay. Forever.”
“Sure, you say that now, but then you’ll be all like, ‘Bittle! What about school? Bittle! What about hockey?’”
Jack smiled. “Oh, right. School. Forgot about that.”
“And you have your season coming up and all those people relying on you, and we’ll have to bust out of this bubble we’re in.”
The two contemplated what the future would hold for them. How difficult would it be? The thunder broke through the silence, and Jack looked up toward Bitty.
“Being involved with someone wasn’t anything I was particularly interested in. I was too busy with school and hockey, and never seriously considered it as an option,” Jack said.
“Because no one was good enough for you?” Bitty teased.
“No, because I just didn’t feel like sharing my life. My therapist once said that I spent a lot of time building walls, and I was content behind them. She said one day, though, someone would climb over my walls. I guess she was right.”
Jack closed his eyes tightly and smiled. He felt the sense of calm Bitty had a knack for giving him, wash over him. Jack was amazed at how right it all felt, how real it was. He was grateful that he let his guard down and let Bitty in. For as long as Jack was with Bitty, he felt true, validated, accepted and cherished, and he would never give that up. Bitty had easily climbed over Jack’s walls—walls that were put firmly in place for so many people, for so long.
Bitty smiled. “Do you want to help me make some pie?”
“Yeah, that sounds perfect.”
The storm continued but Jack was surrounded by sunshine. Not only had Bitty climbed over Jack’s walls, he had also razed them.