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The Real Thing

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Fine, it was only 40 degrees but could you blame Eric for being sore about it? Back home, 40-degree weather was cause to start shutting stuff down. Eric recalled the time he had a snow day in Georgia because of a light dusting of snow on the ground that barely stuck. It made perfect sense to 8-year-old Eric, and it made perfect sense to 28-year-old Eric. He hated winter, so sue him. Heck, it was barely the first week of December; it was only winter-adjacent. He pulled his beanie over his head and huffed as he walked out his door.

Eric pulled his messenger bag up higher and made his way to his car. Ugh, of course, the windows were frosted over. Of course.

He opened his car, plopped his bag on the front seat, walked around, opened the driver’s side door, hopped in, and instantly pressed the seat warmer the moment he started the car.

Eric punched the heat up to 75, flipped on the rear window defroster, and sat for a bit as he gripped the steering wheel. His view of the outside was obstructed by frost.

“Sweet Mary,” he groaned. “Let’s get this nonsense over with.”

Eric reached over, pulled out his window scraper from the back seat, then exited the car. His long-suffering groan seemed almost obnoxious even to him, but he convinced himself it was warranted.

He was halfway through the front windshield when he saw someone exit the house two doors down. It was his neighbor, and the fool was wearing shorts, a beanie, and a hoodie.

His neighbor remote-started his SUV, opened the back door, pulled out a scraper, and began scraping his windshield, a million miles an hour, looking like some sort of crazed squirrel.

Eric felt such irrational annoyance as he stared for a moment.

His neighbor paused, turned to look at Eric, and offered a brilliant smile as he waved. Sure, the guy was gorgeous with incredible calves (God, honestly? He looked like he’s built like a brick shithouse) and eyes as blue as the sky, but Eric was 100% done.

He decided right then and there that he hated that guy—and his stupid yellow gym shoes—no matter how hot he was.

Eric scowled and returned to window scraping.

Afterward, Eric got in his car and slammed the door shut. He could see his neighbor getting into his SUV as Eric drove away in a huff.

+++

“We need you to go to MontREAL and write a little something,” his boss, Derek, said at the staff meeting.

“Montreal?” Eric asked. “As in the city?”

“Dude, where have you been? I know you’re more about the baked goods, but you seriously haven’t heard about MontREAL?”

Eric shook his head.

“MontREAL Finest Meats is the official name,” Derek said as he spun around in his office chair, “but we just call it MontREAL. It’s the latest rage in meats and such.”

“Meats and such?” Eric asked.

“What is there, an echo in here?” Will said as Derek smiled next to him.

Eric joined the staff of Eatwell three months ago. Eric jumped at the chance to work for Eatwell. Eatwell was an up-and-coming website that dealt with food, restaurants, and all things related—just as the masthead stated.

The brainchild of Derek Nurse and Will Poindexter, Eatwell had a YouTube channel and was being courted by several publishers for a print edition, or guidebook, of some sort. Eric loved food, loved writing about food, and loved talking about food, so when a position at Eatwell opened, he left his job writing for Southern Living’s website in Atlanta and moved to Boston.

“Sure, I can go to Montreal. Can’t wait!” Eric said, offering up more enthusiasm than necessary.

“Sweet! They sell all sorts of meats and cheeses, but their pride and joy are the sausages. I hear the owner is really involved and even has a small farm out in Brookline. Dude’s from Montreal, hence the name,” Derek said. “They’re expecting you tomorrow at 3:00.”

“See if you can score some sweet samples!” Will added as Larissa, from the design department, threw in a hearty thumbs up.

Adam and Justin, the site programmers, high-fived each other.

“Snag us a charcuterie board, dude. I was there last week, and they had a pork sausage with blue cheese and pear. I shit you not, I saw god when I ate it,” Larissa said.

“Dang, y’all. I’ll see what I can do,” Eric said with a smile.

+++

Scrape-scrape-scrape

Eric chipped away at the thin layer of ice covering his car’s windshield.

He then heard some whistling nearby and saw Mr. Obnoxious himself, in another pair of shorts and a hoodie.

“Nice out today, eh?” he called out as Eric pulled his scarf up higher to cover his nose.

“If you say so,” Eric grumbled.

“Right on,” he called back.

His neighbor had the nerve to whistle his happy little tune even louder. Eric rolled his eyes so hard, he thought he was about to sprain his eye sockets. His neighbor laughed, and his stupid blue eyes sparkled.

Eric shuffled over to the driver’s side door and could hear his neighbor yell out, “Have a good day!” as he slammed the door shut.

“Whatever!” Eric called out as he peeled away from the curb.

Later that morning, Eric was pouring himself his third cup of coffee when Larissa walked into the break room.

“Good morning, starshine,” she said as she opened the fridge and pulled out a yogurt.

Eric gave her a curt nod and reached in next to her to grab the hazelnut creamer.

“What’s up your butt?” she asked.

“Hi, sorry! Just, I’m tired of being cold and my stupid neighbor just keeps showing off his natural abundance of body heat, you know, like those bros, or whatever, who parade around in the cold in stupid shorts and stuff. He's just showing off his stupid buff legs—and it’s practically winter! So dang obnoxious."

Larissa’s eyebrows flew up, and she smirked.

“Well, I hate to break it to you, Eric, but it’s not even mid-December yet, dude.”

Eric frowned.

“Come back to me in January when it’s in the 20s, then we’ll talk,” she said, then took a dainty spoonful of yogurt.

Eric frowned even harder.

“Now about your neighbor’s legs,” Larissa said as she salaciously licked her spoon and wagged her eyebrows.

Eric laughed, “Get out of here, you!”

+

Eric pulled up in front of MontREAL, just off of Hanover Street, at promptly 3:00 p.m. The outside of the storefront was unassuming yet chic. White with some navy-colored brick and the lettering in the enormous windows was in a smart gold paint.

Eric had already gotten two texts from the Eatwell gang, reminding him to bring back some treats. He laughed as he got one more from Christopher in sales. Chips! Any kind, please! the text read.

He walked in and the bell over the door tinkled twice. Instantly, Eric was hit with the smell of smoked sausage as his mouth began to water.

“What can I do you for?” a man with a bushy mustache asked. He was wearing a MontREAL apron and had a dark blue bandana on his head.

“Um, are you Jack? Jack Zimmermann? I’m Eric Bittle from Eatwell.”

“Hey, brah! Nice to meet you. No, not Jack, unfortunately,” the man said as he pointed to his own backside. “I’m Shitty, but I can go get him. Be back in a jiff!”

“Sure, thanks,” Eric replied, eyebrow furrowed at the man’s name.

He walked around and took a look. The shop was bright and clean and had framed vintage butcher shop posters on the wall. Next to them was a photo of a young boy with intense blue eyes, grinning widely, holding up sausage links of some sort standing next to an older man.

A few customers looked at the cheeses in the cooler; some were being waited on at the counter by a couple of teenagers. The sausages were stacked neatly in the center display case, and Eric saw at least 30 varieties, some fresh, some smoked. The other cases were filled with beautiful cuts of meat: dry-aged beef, Kobe beef, roasts, chops, and many other things, including deli meats and charcuterie.

One corner of the shop had a shelf full of jars with olives, horseradish, sauerkraut, pickles, sauces, bags of Canadian potato chips, and some MontREAL t-shirts, tote bags, and snapbacks. A large basket of fresh French and Italian bread sat next to the shelf.

Eric walked over and picked up a jar of spicy brown mustard.

“That’s from an old family recipe. It's really good.”

Eric turned around and was faced with a somewhat familiar—and super attractive—face.

“Hey, it’s you,” the man said, surprised.

“Me?” Eric replied.

He looked at the man and knew he had seen him somewhere but couldn’t quite place where.

“Yeah, you’re the snowman,” he replied with a laugh.

“I beg your pardon?” Eric said as he put down the jar.

“I’m your neighbor. Two doors down? I’m Jack. Jack Zimmermann, the owner. Nice to meet you.”

Suddenly, Eric was mortified.

“Oh… hello. Eric Bittle from Eatwell.”

Jack grinned. “Well, Eric Bittle from Eatwell, I call you The Snowman because you’re always so bundled up in your hat and scarf. Like Frosty.”

If the earth could open up and swallow Eric whole at that moment, that would be great. But he could also dish it out as good as he could take.

“Oh, haha. Snowman. That's so funny," he said dryly. "Speaking of whatever this is we’re speaking of, what’s with the shorts?! You’re not wearing them now, but there you are every morning, without a coat, donning them shorts!”

Jack laughed.

“Well, I can’t wear shorts to work, can I?”

“I should hope not,” Eric retorted.

“So I wear them in the morning on the way here. It’s 40 degrees out, Eric. That’s practically swim weather back home."

Eric looked at him and didn't say a word.

"What can I say?" Jack replied. "I’m naturally extra warm-blooded.”

Eric rolled his eyes. “Show off.”

“Are you impressed yet?”

“Hmmm… I’ll let you know,” Eric said, sounding way more flirty than he had any right to be.

Shitty sidled up next to them.

“So nothing but rave reviews here, right?” he said as he offered Eric a cup of coffee in a MontREAL mug.

“Shits,” Jack groaned. He then looked at Eric and smiled. “Don’t mind him. He has work to do, don’t you?”

Shitty pantomimed zipping his mouth. “Right, sure. Guess those sausages won’t stuff themselves. Nice meeting you, Eric.”

“Yeah, you too. Thanks for the coffee.”

Shitty gave him a quick salute then went behind the counter to help a customer.

“Do you want to take off your coat? I can put it in back, if you want? Or not, if you’re cold,” Jack said with a mischievous grin.

“Why do I feel like I’m being made fun of?” Eric asked and took a sip of the coffee.

“Me? Never,” Jack said. “So, do you want to sit down?”

Jack motioned to one of the two small bistro tables in the store.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen eating tables in a butcher shop before,” Eric said as he sat down.

“Well, we sell sandwiches on Fridays, and sometimes people just want to take a little break and eat them here.”

Jack sat down, and one of the teenagers plopped a cup of coffee on the table for him.

“Thanks, Tony,” Jack said as the boy quickly left.

Eric shimmied out of his coat, took off his beanie, quickly fluffed his hair, hung his scarf on the back of his chair, and took out his phone.

“Do you mind if I record us?” Eric asked.

“Not at all,” Jack replied.

His blue eyes crinkled as he smiled. Eric cleared his throat and turned on his voice recorder.

“Great, thanks. So, um, tell me about the shop. When did you open?”

"Next month will be our second anniversary."

"And were you always in the meat industry?"

“My grandfather had a saucissier back in Montreal. It had been a family-owned company forever, but my dad didn’t want to get into the family business. He, euh, had other interests. So when my grandfather retired, he closed up shop.”

“Were you involved at all with that shop?”

“Not really; I was too young, but he still made sausages at home, and he taught me how. It was sort of our thing, you know?”

Eric smiled, picturing a young Jack cooking in the kitchen with his grandfather.

“Totally get that. That’s how I am with my grandmother but with baking,” Eric said.

“Grandparents and food, right? It'll always make an impact.”

Eric nodded. “For sure. My grandmother taught me how to bake, and while my mama and I baked together, too, it was MooMaw and me who were the baking duo.”

“Moomaw. That’s cute,” Jack said as he looked down at his cup then back up at Eric.

"So, is that you two in the photo?" Eric asked as he pointed over Jack's shoulder.

"Yeah, that's in my grandparents' home. I think I was around 9 or 10."

"You're adorable," Eric said.

"Haha, well, you'd be the first to think so."

"Nonsense!"

The two smiled softly at each other. Then Eric remembered he had an actual job to do—which did not include staring at his beautiful neighbor. Or, for heaven's sake, flirting.

“So, was this something you always wanted to do?” Eric asked.

Jack played with his coffee mug handle and shook his head.

“No, this was the furthest thing from my mind. I was sort of following in my father’s footsteps, but then… something happened that changed my course. I took time off from life and things and spent time with my grandparents—you know, helping them, cooking with them. I sort of reconnected with that old part of me.”

Eric listened intently as Jack spoke with a quiet intensity. He talked about going to college, meeting Shitty his freshmen year, getting a degree in history, but all the while still cooking, learning about meat, and studying animal husbandry. He went back to school again for a culinary degree, and then spent a year working on a farm.

One day, Jack was visiting back home, and his grandfather gave him his old recipe book. Jack pored over every inch of that book, and it’s from there that he had the idea to open his shop.

“Things just sort of grew from there. Shitty and I are partners—although he handles many legal aspects and our contracts—and it’s great just doing something you love together. Something you believe in every day. I mean, what’s better than feeding people and making them happy?”

Eric smiled. Was this guy for real? He was so darn earnest; he could almost forgive him for the shorts and hoodie in the dead ass middle of winter. They were chatting for over two hours when Eric stopped and looked at his phone. He had completely lost track of time talking to Jack. It was like talking to an old friend—they had talked about their childhoods, friends, families, all sorts of things. Comfortably. Effortlessly.

(Jack had mentioned that he had noticed when Eric moved in and was surprised he had gotten such a big house all to himself. Eric explained it was a last-minute year-long lease he got for a steal from the owner who had decided, apparently quite unexpectedly, to hike the Appalachian Trail. The house had been the find of the century, especially for Boston real estate prices. The owner had wished Eric luck in his AU when he gave him the keys, whatever that meant.)

“Is it really almost 5:30?” Eric asked. “I’m so sorry! I’ve taken so much of your time.”

Jack smiled. “It’s okay. I’ve been having fun. To tell you the truth, I was dreading this. I don’t like to talk about myself that much, but then you showed up and--”

Jack stopped talking and turned bright red.

“But then I showed up?” Eric said as his nose wrinkled.

“I, euh, like talking to you.”

It was then Eric’s turn to blush.

“Want me to show you around?” Jack asked.

“Sure, but it looks like you’re ready to close, and I don’t want to keep you any later than necessary,” Eric said as he stood and picked up his phone and looked around.

The kids were bringing out mops, brooms, and cleaning supplies.

“It’s fine. Shitty, Tony and Denice can handle it.”

“Okay, then, lead the way.”

Jack showed Eric the back of the shop where the smokers were located.

"We have two European smokehouses, and we burn a medley of natural woods to get a perfect color and flavor."

Eric inhaled deeply, and his eyes shut. He smiled and looked at Jack.

"It smells great in here. I love that smell."

"Me too."

Jack showed him the grinders, their pantry that had all of their spices, and the walk-in. Everything was neat and tidy.

“And here,” Jack said as he pointed toward a window, “look.”

Eric walked up to the window, and Jack moved over to make room. He placed his hand and the small of Eric’s back—for a brief moment—and Eric felt himself wanting to lean into it.

“We grow all sorts of herbs out there when it’s warm out. See the raised beds?”

“I bet it smells great back there when it’s all in bloom, huh?”

“Definitely."

They walked by a small room that appeared to be their office. Eric quickly peeked inside.

"Is that a picture of you with the Stanley Cup?" Eric asked. He recognized the eyes.

"Oh," Jack frowned. "Yeah."

"You're so tiny!"

"I was almost a year old. Come on back to the front.”

Jack placed his hand on the small of Eric's back to lead him there and then quickly pulled it away.

"Sorry."

Eric found himself disappointed by the disappearance as Jack talked about the different display cases and explained the reasoning behind how the sausages were displayed. Shitty counted out the register and smiled briefly at them.

“I like to display them by intensity, and then whether or not they are fresh or smoked.”

“Intensity?”

“You know, how spicy they are.”

“Do you prefer spicy ones?” Eric asked and then paused at his unintentional double entendre.

Shitty snorted.

Jack smirked. “One needs some spice in their life, right?”

“I guess so?” Eric replied as he looked at Shitty and then back at Jack.

“Do you want to try some?” Jack asked. “Some of the sausages?”

“Yes, please,” Eric said as he followed Jack closely.

“I had Tony prepare a little tray for us.”

Jack took a wooden cutting board from Shitty. On it were several chunks of sausages and a little glass cup with toothpicks.

“I try to be involved with as many steps as I possibly can, whether it’s our cheeses or meats, and especially the sausage,” Jack said as he smeared some mustard on one end of the cutting board. “I make sure we treat our animals humanely and only work with vendors who follow our same way of doing things.”

He placed the tray on the bistro table as the two sat back down.

“This is the fig and rosemary sausage,” Jack said and pointed. ”It's a pork sausage.”

Eric picked it up, smelled it, and popped it into his mouth. It was savory and sweet and had a wonderful smokiness to it. The rosemary added just the right touch of bright sharpness.

Jack pointed to the next one. “And this is the goat cheese and mango.”

Eric helped himself.

“That’s our chipolata--”

“Is that sage?" Eric asked in between chews.

“Absolutely! You have a great palate. This is lime and coriander, and our maple and bacon."

Eric laughed softly. "Maple and bacon, huh?”

“What? Too predictable?”

“If the maple leaf fits,” Eric teased.

“Hey, now, there's a reason those are classic flavors. Here, well, then how about this? It's pork sausage dressed with Quebec maple syrup and crunchy pecans.”

Eric’s eyes fluttered shut as he chewed.

“That’s amazing,” he said.

Jack watched him and smiled. “Told you.”

“You’re not going to give me moose sausage next, are you?” Eric sassed.

“Are you interested in a moose sausage?” Jack asked with an innocent expression on his face.

Eric raised an eyebrow, and Jack laughed as his hands went up in surrender.

“I didn't mean it like it sounded. It's a legitimate question—but no, no moose sausage here.”

Eric took another piece and sighed. “It’s good, Jack. All of it.”

“Thank you. I bet you’d love the saucissons aux noisettes.”

Noisettes?” Eric asked.

Jack nodded. “Uh-huh. Hazelnut, here.”

He took a toothpick from the tray and speared a chunk of sausage. He then held the toothpick close to Eric’s mouth. Eric looked at Jack, opened his mouth, and took the chunk.

"I love hazelnuts," Eric said quietly.

“Uh,” Jack said as he stared at Eric’s mouth, then quickly back up to his eyes. He sat up straighter and pushed his chair back slightly. “Sorry, I’m sure you could have done that yourself.”

Eric looked at him intently and didn't cheat away when Jack caught him. Jack finally continued.

“People love our merguez, which is lamb sausage with homemade harissa and garlic.”

“Well, Jack, everything is delicious. And I can see how passionate you are about this.”

“I tend to go 110% when I’m into something. Maybe I come off as too strong because of it?”

“Some people don’t mind ‘too strong,’” Eric said.

“Good… that’s good,” Jack replied with a wink.

Eric laughed.

“Okay, now, Monsieur Winky, let’s just cool our jets here,” Eric said. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to schmooze me for a good review.”

“I already have all the good reviews I need,” Jack said matter-of-factly.

“Modest, I see,” Eric replied with a smile he couldn’t help but share.

Jack shrugged, then grinned again. And damn it all, Eric was utterly charmed despite himself.

“It’s great, Jack, that things just sort of took off. And I read that local restaurants are jumping at the chance to work with you?”

“Yeah, it was a little overwhelming at first, but then we found our stride. We provide meat to Barbara Lynch’s place,” Jack said.

“The Butcher Shop?”

“Yeah.”

“I love that restaurant.”

“It’s good. I like Barbara. She takes the time to get to know vendors and all the local guys. She even came up to my farm a couple times.”

“Is it a big farm?” Eric asked.

“It’s on the smaller side, but it’s all mine. You should come with me,” Jack said suddenly. “You should come with me to Les Glorieux and see it one day.”

“Sure… all right,” Eric said and felt himself blush.

“Of course, I’ll make sure to have extra blankets and stuff on hand.”

Eric laughed. “You're teasing me again, aren’t you?”

“Me, never? It’s pretty funny, though, how angry you are in the mornings. It makes me laugh.”

“You are teasing me,” Eric protested weakly.

“Never ever,” Jack said with a smile. “Well, maybe. But only in a good way, I promise.”

Eric felt an unexpected giddiness start to creep in.

“Well, I think I’ve got all I need here,” Eric said as he turned off his voice recorder. "Thanks for your time, Jack."

"It was my pleasure," Jack said. "Come back, anytime."

Eric extended his hand, and Jack took it in his large, calloused one, and shook it. The two were silent for a beat, just studying one another, and Eric rose from the chair.

"Shitty, thank you. It was nice meeting you." Eric called out, and he pulled his coat, scarf, and hat back on.

"Brah, samesies! I sincerely hope we'll see you again," Shitty said with a grin. "And again and again!"

Jack muttered something to Shitty under his breath, and Shitty’s grin grew exponentially.

"Stay warm!" Jack called out just as Eric was leaving.

Eric waved one more time from the other side of the window.

The entire drive back home, Eric couldn't stop smiling.

What had just happened? Was that--were they both flirting? Or just being silly? They were comfortable with each other, chatting like old friends, that was for sure. Eric could kick himself for not being more forward. He could have asked him out for coffee or something, or wait, no. That would have been unethical. He was on the clock, after all.

"Okay, Eric. Pull yourself together."

His phone beeped just as he parked in front of his house.

Did you get the goods? Larissa texted.

Eric looked toward Jack's house and sighed.

Unfortunately no, he texted back.

The next morning, Eric approached his car, a travel mug of coffee in hand, ready to say hello to Jack. He was genuinely disappointed when Jack wasn’t outside cleaning off his car. He didn’t see him at all then—or during the following week.

“Oh, well,” Eric said as he entered his car and quietly closed the door.

+++

MontREAL is the REAL Thing
Boston’s Sustainable Butcher Shines but the Sausages are the Star
by Eric Bittle

When MontREAL opened, sustainable meat lovers throughout Boston breathed a collective sigh of relief. Finally, there was a place where one could buy what they wanted and not worry about the ethics behind the meat. Butchery isn't a dying art form, and one only needs to look at MontREAL’s offerings to know it is alive and well within its brightly-lit space. One of Boston’s first sustainable, whole animal butcher shops, MontREAL’s meat comes from animals raised responsibly on owner/butcher Jack Zimmermann’s small Brookline farm Les Glorieux. Zimmermann has done more for meat in Boston than anyone else. He has hosted workshops, worked with other farmers, spoke at conferences, and evangelized for sustainable carnivory.

Entering MontREAL, one instantly gets the sense they are in a special place. A vast meat counter sits along one wall, containing an extensive collection of deli and charcuterie as well as various cuts of meat. Everything looks lush and fresh. MontREAL offers items from beef to chicken to lamb to homemade pâté. You might not be able to find exactly the cut you want, as Zimmermann notes that once a cut is gone it is gone for the day, but he'll guide you through the process of choosing another great cut.

The star of the show, however, is their high-quality sausage. With over 40 varieties of fresh and smoked sausages, ranging from the traditional flavors to the more eccentric ones, it's hard to pick one favorite. Choose from classic types such as the Italian sausage, the French Toulouse, and the Merguez, to a range of innovative creations. Among the most notable are the blueberry boar and cider sausage, their goat cheese and mango sausage, and their pork curry.

Zimmermann proudly admits to learning everything he knows about sausage-making from his grandfather.

“My grandfather had a saucissier back in Montreal. It had been a small family-owned company forever, but my dad didn’t want to get into the family business. So when my grandfather retired, he closed up shop.”

Although Zimmermann did not reopen his grandfather’s shop, he did take the shared knowledge learned throughout his childhood and adolescence to launch MontREAL two years ago with his best friend, Byron Knight.

“[Byron] and I are partners—although he handles many legal aspects and our contracts—and it’s great just doing something you love together. Something you believe in every day,” Zimmermann shared.

And he’s not the only believer. MontREAL consistently ranks in the city’s Best Of lists. It’s no surprise why. MontREAL has two in-house European smokehouses that burn a medley of natural woods, a vast array of knowledge, and everyone there will be more than happy to talk to you about the best way to cook the meat you are purchasing.

If you are there on a Friday, stay for a sandwich made with MontREAL’s charcuterie, including bread from local organic shop Shruti’s.

Some sausage must-haves: the Quebec maple syrup with crunchy pecans, the saucissons à la bière blanchex, and the saucissons aux noisettes made with roasted hazelnuts. The attention to detail that Zimmermann gives can be tasted in every bite.

“I try to be involved with as many steps as I possibly can, whether it’s our cheeses or meats, and especially the sausage,” Zimmermann adds. “And above all, I make sure we treat our animals humanely and only work with vendors who follow our same way of doing things."

If taste, skill, and family traditions can create art, MontREAL is as much an art studio as a butcher shop. But in the end, it all comes down to Zimmermann’s simple philosophy: “What’s better than feeding people and making them happy?”

Indeed.

MontREAL is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sundays, 10:00 a.m, to 3:00 p.m.

+++

One Week Later. (A day after the article was published.)

Eric locked his front door, ready to head into Eatwell when he noticed something on his porch. It was a gift basket.

He took a closer step. It was filled with sausages, cheeses, and a coffee mug from MontREAL. Stuffed in the middle was a small moose plushie. The moose wore a tiny scarf and beanie and had a small envelope next to it.

Eric opened the envelope; it contained a note along with Jack’s business card.

Eric,

I wanted to wait until your article was published, so there wouldn’t be a conflict of interest. And I didn’t want to see you before then because I knew I wouldn’t be patient.

Have dinner with me?

I promise, no moose sausage.

JLZ

Eric grinned and put the note in his pocket.

One Month Later

Erin groaned as his alarm went off. Mornings were seriously the worst. He popped his head up to look out the window and could see it had snowed last night. Great. Just great. He instantly pulled the covers back over his head and groaned dramatically.

His phone beeped.

Eric reached over to the nightstand, picked up his phone, and read the message.

Time to wake up, sleepyhead. See you later today. :-)

Eric grinned, put his phone down, and took a long stretch.

“Fine. Let’s get it over with,” Eric grumbled as he threw off the blankets.

After breakfast, Eric sat in his hallway, pulled on his boots and enormous parka, wrapped his scarf around his neck once, twice, and slipped his beanie on. He locked his front door and made his way to his car.

His breath shot out in a sharp, misty cloud. He then stopped and instantly smiled.

There sat his car wholly cleaned off, the ice and snow gone—all except for one part of his hood, which had a large heart traced onto the snow.

Eric suddenly felt warmth down to his toes.

"That boy."

He smiled while he opened the door and began to whistle as he started his car.