i. apple pie
For a history seminar, Women, Food, & American Culture might be the strangest one Jack’s ever taken during his time at Samwell. It’s not that he doesn’t like the class – he does, because Professor Atley is a bona fide genius – it’s maybe the most unusually specific subject matter since the lecture class on communist unions during Fordism he took sophomore year.
Of course Bitty manages to bribe his way in with a pie.
Still, it’s not – it’s not as bad as Jack thought, having a class with Bitty. He’s grown a lot since he was a frog, become more confident both on and off the ice. It’s not like he’s Rans or Holster, who can’t seem to keep a fucking lid on it, or Johnson, who always was far more invested in over-sharing and talked Jack’s ear off last semester about “narrative arcs” and “build-up” and “your role as the opposing lead, man,” but Bitty’s coming out of his shell, and apparently that translates to bribing professors and walking with Jack to class every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.
So he sits next to Bitty in class, occasionally getting a kick to the shin when Jack’s been drawing up plays for however long Bitty judges to be too long, and works on papers with him in the library, and occasionally steals Bitty’s phone when he’s on the Twitter too much to get things done, because honestly Bitty’ll fail at this point if he doesn’t get off that thing, and things are good. They go to practice, and do checking drills in the morning, and Jack wakes up to Bitty singing Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez or whoever, and things are good. Jack sits in the kitchen to do his readings and listens to Bitty chat about his family, or his classes, or how he doesn’t like to pry but Lardo and Shitty would be incredibly cute, honestly, and things are good.
It’s not until he’s standing in the kitchen, covered in flour and describing the pros and cons of signing with Providence, that he realizes just how much of things being good has to do with Bitty.
“Anyways, I’ve been talking to George – this doesn’t look right,” he says, frowning at the lattice on top of the pie.
Bitty hums and steps next to Jack, inspecting his work and shoving Jack away when he tries to fix it. “Don’t fuss with it. Honestly,” he says, poking Jack straight in the stomach, “if you don’t let me concentrate you won’t even have anything to show Professor Atley.”
“Fine,” Jack says, holding up his hands and backing away, only to find himself watching Bitty, biting back the dozens of inane things he keeps thinking of saying, just to see if Bitty will laugh, or smile, or look back. It’s not like he meant to talk so much – he feels like he never means to talk so much, but something about Bitty makes him want to say something, anything, to keep Bitty’s interest. Seeing Bitty watch him and nod along, or smile at something funny, or sometimes even laugh, is enough to make Jack want to keep talking, to find out what it is that’ll make Bitty do that again. It’s the only explanation he has for why he rambles on about the teams he might sign with and what George has been saying, because honestly he wouldn’t be saying this much, except it’s Bitty.
God, he hasn’t felt like this since – for a while, anyways.
Still, he’s not here to talk to Bitty, he’s here to make a pie, and Bitty’s supposed to be helping with that. Which, he would be, except for how he’s stopped making critical noises and instead seems to be staring off into space.
“Hey,” Jack says, after a second, “you okay?”
“What? Oh, yes, I’m fine,” Bitty says, glancing up at Jack before back down at the pie. It doesn’t look as good as Bitty would make, a testament to Jack’s far more inferior cooking skills than anything else, but Bitty adjusts the crust before making a noise of satisfaction. “This should do it,” he adds, pulling open the oven door and popping it in.
“Hopefully it turns out edible,” Jack says, watching the side of Bitty’s face. It earns him a grin, quick and happy, before Bitty turns back to set the timer.
“Don’t put yourself down, Jack,” he replies, turning away from the oven and smiling at Jack again, wider and brighter. “It looked perfectly fine. I wouldn’t let you make a subpar pie.”
“I’m counting on it,” Jack says back, the warm feeling in his stomach growing. “But honestly, thank you.”
Bitty flushes a little, and carefully pushes at Jack’s shoulder. “I said I had your back, didn’t I? I wouldn’t abandon you to cook by yourself.”
“Still,” Jack says, nudging Bitty with his shoulder because it’s important that Bitty gets this, “thanks.”
Bitty smiles at him with the corner of his mouth and hums something under his breath.
Hours later, after letting the pie cool and almost having it stolen by a hungry Nursey, Bitty cuts a slice and declares Jack’s work to be “almost as good as his great-aunt’s.” Jack smiles down at his plate.
ii. chocolate pecan drop cookies
Break passes by more slowly than usual, every day feeling long and empty after the crush of finals. Jack goes to a few things for Bad Bob, sees Uncles Wayne and Mario, takes a few phone calls from George, ignores a few from Parse. Nothing’s changed from his regular routine, but somehow it feels different anyways. He misses the noise of the Haus, misses Rans and Holster’s yelling and Shitty’s monologues about intersectionality and Bitty playing his new favorite diva at eleven at night.
His mom always asks how he’s doing with more than a little worry in her voice when she checks in on him between frantic research sessions for his thesis and his workout regimen, and Jack never quite knows what to say other than “fine,” because – he is fine, honestly. He just – he doesn’t know. Everything feels weird, like he’s not at home in the same way as he used to be.
He’s gotten in the habit of watching the Food Network in between History Channel specials. Something about watching people make things is soothing, the repetition of their hands moving and the calm way they talk about working settling into his mind, letting him relax against the couch and feel his muscles ache post-workout.
What recipe is it? he texts a few days after break starts, flopping onto the couch after his shower and absently flipping through channels.
What recipe for what? Bitty replies ten minutes later, while Jack’s halfway into an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives – he can’t stand Guy Fieri, but the food looks good, like something Bitty would make for the guys after a long practice or if a test was coming up.
The cookies you made, Jack sends back, as someone in Atlanta makes some sort of breakfast sandwich that looks like something Bitty would whip up on a Sunday morning like it’s nothing.
A minute later, his phone beeps. It’s pretty easy – I can send you the recipe, once I get my cousins out of my hair :)
Jack stares at that smiley face for a solid minute, because – well, Bitty’s a naturally expressive person, always sounding happy. It’s probably just like how he texts Shitty, or Chowder, or Lardo, any of his friends. It’s nothing to obsess over, he’s pretty sure.
Great, he finally sends back, and then, after much internal debate, I’d love to try it out.
Three episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and one of Chopped later, Bitty texts him a quick, Sent! And you better send me proof you made them.
Deal, Jack replies, before heading upstairs to grab his laptop, minimizing all of his thesis research to check his email.
The next day, having checked the pantry to make sure that they have everything he could possibly need, and with Bad Bob and his mom watching something in the rec room, Jack pulls up the email and gets to work. The recipe itself is fairly straightforward – creaming the butter and sugar, sifting flour, chopping chocolate and nuts – and every time he stares down at the mixing bowl, unsure of what to do, he thinks of when Bitty’s baking back at the Haus.
Finally, not without a few incidents of flour flying all over the kitchen and the mixer making dubious noises, Jack has the cookies out of the oven and onto a cooling rack. They even smell good, and he can’t help feeling a little bit of pride as he takes a picture to send to Bitty, though he’s careful not to show too much of the burned edges.
Almost two minutes later, he has a text back. Not too bad for your first time!!! Just make sure to check on them so they won’t burn. Every oven has it’s own timing :)
“What are you smiling about?” he hears, and he turns to find his mom picking a cookie up from the cooling rack and popping it into her mouth.
“Just a text from a friend, Maman,” he replies, slipping his phone into his pocket and watching her chew. He tries not to fidget, telling himself it’s just cookies, nothing that matters, really, but he can’t help drumming his fingers on the counter.
A few seconds later, his mom walks around the counter to brush a kiss against his cheek, slightly dusted with crumbs. “They’re delicious, honey,” she says, giving him a quick hug. “Whoever’s managing to teach you how to cook is doing a good job.”
“Thanks,” Jack says. “I think so too.”
His mom smiles at him, ruffling his hair before heading back into the rec room. When she’s out of sight, he leans against the counter again, pulling out his phone and quickly texting Bitty. Thanks.
Any time, Jack is the reply. Jack can almost hear it in Eric’s voice, drawling and sincere, and he can barely manage to bite back his smile.
iii. omelet with pancetta and green onions
The first few games back from break are always a challenge. While Jack knows better to expect the kind of rigor he got used to in juniors, that not everyone has the same sort of standards to live up to as he does, he still can’t help texting the team after Christmas, reminding them of the game on the 4th. He gets chirps from the boys, of course, and Lardo too, but he still sends out another text, reminding everyone to keep up their workouts and stick to their diets so they’re ready to go.
It doesn’t help that the end of the season looms over his head maybe even more than graduation, or the impending due date of his thesis, or the dates George gave him for making a decision. It’s his last chance for a championship, last chance to win it all with this team, these guys, and the pressure of it sits in his stomach like a rock.
Everyone comes back from break looking good, though. The first practice goes well, everyone doing sprints and taking shots like they’ve just been on the ice the whole two weeks. In between drills Holster talks about meeting Rans’ family – “They’re insane, bro, like, all of them are fucking ridiculous. Who has two doctors for sisters? You’re showing all of us up with that family of yours.” – and Shitty recounts Christmas dinner in his best snooty accent. Over by the boards, Jack can hear Eric talking about football and pecan pie, voice warm in a way that catches in Jack’s chest. He glances back towards the net, and breathes out, feels the cold in his lungs again, constant and comforting.
After practice, Eric comes up to Jack in the locker room, fidgeting as he shifts from foot to foot. “Um, Jack,” he says, “were we doing checking practice this week? Because –“ he trails off, wincing, and Jack really should do this, it’s for the team, but it’s hard to say no to that face.
“Not until after the game,” he says, just barely stopping himself from reaching out to – he doesn’t know what. Ruffle Eric’s hair, maybe, or grab his shoulder. “From the sound of your break, you need all the sleep you can get.”
“Thanks,” Eric replies, smiling at him. “Right after the game, then.”
“Right,” Jack agrees. He watches Eric walk away until he realizes that he’s staring, and goes back to taking off his pads.
Just because he doesn’t have extra practice with Eric, though, doesn’t mean that Jack is going to get up any later. 5:30 rolls around, and even though it’s cold as fuck outside, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get up and run.
The circuit around campus is quiet, just him in his shoes and running tights, toque pulled down low over his ears. Every step crunches in the new snow, and his breath is cold in his lungs like rink air, leaving behind that burning feeling that never quite fades away. He runs for a mile or two, easy steps, letting his mind clear to the sound of the running mix Parse gave him that he never quite managed to delete off his iPod.
When he makes it back to the Haus, everyone’s still asleep by the sound of it, nobody willing to get up at seven even on a game day. He strips off and takes a quick shower, scrubbing at his hair and hissing as the almost-boiling water hits his chilled skin.
He’s toweled off and starving by the time he pads downstairs, in his most worn-out pair of sweatpants and an old t-shirt from juniors. True to form, Eric’s already stocked up the fridge with more than the standard hundred Siracha bottles, and Jack finds pancetta, green onions, and cheddar to go with the eggs he knows he needs for his protein intake.
Come to think of it, Eric probably needs some more protein too – it’s not that he looks skinner than usual, because he doesn’t, but Jack can’t help worrying a little, a holdover from last season. He knows Eric’s getting stronger, faster, better at staying on the puck, but the image of him crumpled up on the ice hasn’t left him alone. Anything that can make Eric just that little bit stronger, little bit faster than the other team has got to be good.
So that’s how Jack ends up carefully slicing green onions and pancetta to throw into a frying pan, a bowl full of eggs next to the stovetop as the oil hisses. Eggs are one of the few meals Jack knows he can’t mess up no matter what, and he feels reasonably confident that he’ll be able to make something, if not mouth-wateringly delicious, than at least good. At least, judging by his own plate of scrambled eggs, it can’t be that bad.
He’s just poured the eggs and milk into the pan to mix with the meat and greens when there’s a thumping noise. Looking up, he finds Shitty, shirtless as usual and weirdly energetic for – he checks his watch – before 7:30. Still, Jack’s long since given up on trying to figure out how Shitty works, other than that he does, and so he waves briefly before turning back to the eggs.
“Morning,” Shitty says, yawning a little and hitting the button to prime the coffeemaker. “You’re up early.”
“Went for a run,” Jack offers, scooping a mouthful of egg from his own plate back into his mouth before turning back to the stove.
“Who you cooking for?” Shitty asks, bracing himself on the counter with his elbows and pushing back his hair. There’s a hickey right under his ear that Jack’s not going to ask about, since he’s pretty sure Shitty will tell him more than he wants to know later, turning purple around the edges.
“Bitty,” Jack says, poking at the edges of the eggs and frowning as they firm up. “He needs to eat more protein,” he adds quickly, looking back at Shitty.
Shitty just rolls his eyes, cradling his mug of coffee like it’s nectar and taking a huge gulp. “You don’t have to justify your life choices to me,” he replies, raising his eyebrows. “I’m not your therapist.”
Jack rolls his eyes right back, carefully folding the edges of the omelet over themselves, watching the cheese ooze. For once what he’s cooking looks more than just edible, but like it’s actually good to eat. “Why are you up so early anyways?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Shitty replies, shrugging. “Insomnia, maybe.”
“You’ve never had a problem with that before,” Jack replies, flipping the omelet over. It breaks a little down the middle, but Jack thinks it’ll still be okay.
“Obsessing over my sleep schedule? You really care, Zimmermann,” Shitty says, pointing at him over the counter. Jack rolls his eyes right back.
For a couple minutes, there’s nothing but the sound of the pan sizzling, and of Eric singing in the shower – it’s the one Beyoncé song about halos, the one Jack had looked up and listened to just to ask Eric about over break, and it shouldn’t make Jack’s chest feel a little tight but it does all the same.
“You know,” Shitty says carefully, or as carefully as Shitty ever gets, “I remember that once upon a time in the good old days of freshman year, that you used to bring me protein shakes before practice. Took me a while to figure out what it meant, but – well, you know.”
Jack can feel the tips of his ears flushing, so he stares down at the pan instead. It seems safer.
“I’m just saying,” Shitty continues, “if what I think is happening, is actually happening – it’d be good for you, man.”
Jack hums, busying himself with plating up the omelet, making sure everything stays mostly together.
“Seriously,” Shitty says, and Jack looks up to find him looking weirdly serious, the way he only gets after a joint or a good win or the conversations they used to have at three in the morning on road trips, “it’d be good. I know it would be.”
“Yeah,” Jack says back, shrugging. Half their forks are dirty, and he frowns, trying to pick out a clean one.
“Don’t ‘yeah’ me, you emotionally repressed Canadian,” Shitty says, mock outraged, right before he chugs the last of his coffee and sets it down with a clunk against the counter. Then he tips his head, and says, “I think he’s out of the shower by now. You don't want his eggs to get cold.”
“Fuck off,” Jack shoots back, heading for the stairs, plate in hand.
As he makes his way back towards his and Eric’s room, he can hear the water shut off, and carefully opens Eric’s door to leave the plate on his desk. After a couple seconds, he grabs a Post-It note too, scribbling a note quickly before heading back to his room. He needs to shower anyways.
Eric doesn’t say anything, but he smiles at Jack right before they take the ice, and really, that’s better.
iv. reveillon tourtiere
Spring semester goes faster than Jack thought it would. It seems like he’s barely taken a breath and they’re already in February, though you’d never know it judging by the snow that’s feet deep outside. He’s keeping busy, doing research, playing hockey, talking to his agent, playing hockey, practicing photography for his class, playing hockey. It should feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t. Instead, he’s doing just enough that he can’t even think about the future, except for late at night when it’s hard to sleep, and even then he just runs through some of the exercises from Dr. Freeman until his heart stops pounding and his mind stops racing, and finds himself present again.
They finally get a break Valentine’s Day weekend, the first three-day weekend of the year. There’s a game Friday night but not another one until next week, and practically the entire Haus has plans for the free night off – Rans and Holster have a double date, though by the sound if it it’s almost like they’re going with each other than with the girls, and Shitty and Lardo are apparently going to the Thai place on University Ave “but not as a date, Lardo doesn’t like Valentine’s Day so it’s just, you know, dinner – oh fuck off, Jack.” If Eric has any plans, Jack doesn’t know them – not that Eric ever says anything about who he’s interested in, or if he’s interested in anybody, but Jack doesn’t know if Eric would tell him regardless.
That leaves Jack alone in the Haus, without any dinner plans or options to go out to eat. It’s only natural that he decides to try to cook something, and his mom had just emailed him his grand-mère’s recipe for tourtiere.
If his choice of recipes is more because he’s a little lonely and homesick, well, hopefully eating something will help.
It’s definitely the most complicated recipe Jack’s ever attempted, but he’s watched his grand-mère make it plenty of times when they’ve come for family dinners, sitting on the counter and chatting to her while she made the crust and chopped vegetables. Soon enough he has the pork sausage browned perfectly, and after a close call with one of their duller knives, he has the rest of the filling ingredients in the pan, everything simmering together and smelling delicious, letting him get to work on making the pastry crust.
Jack jumps, turning around to find Eric in sweatpants and a hoodie, staring at him. “Um,” he says, blinking, “tourtiere.”
“What?” Eric asks again, walking closer to get a look at Jack’s crust, which, well, definitely isn’t par with Eric’s by a long shot.
“Tourtiere,” Jack repeats, double checking on the filling and making sure it’s reducing properly. “It’s something my grand-mère makes for holidays.”
“Oh,” Eric says. “Well, it certainly smells good.”
“It’ll be a while,” Jack warns him. “Everything has to chill before I put it together.”
Eric shrugs, sitting down at one of the stools behind the counter. “I can wait.”
Turning back to the piecrust and rounding it off, Jack asks, “No plans for tonight?”
Eric sighs. “No,” he says, “I – no, not really.”
“Oh,” Jack says, like an idiot, before searching through the cupboard above the stove for the cling wrap. “That’s – I’m sorry.”
“What’s there to be sorry about?” Eric asks, and Jack turns to find him playing with the sleeves of his hoodie, picking at a thread. “It’s not like it’s your fault I’m – whatever.”
Jack puts the crust in the fridge to chill, then checks on the filling again. “Well,” he says awkwardly, leaning against the counter, “if it helps, we can just do dinner together, you know.”
At that, Eric looks up from his hands. “Oh,” he says, smiling slightly, “I mean – if that’s okay with you.”
“Of course it is,” Jack says, possibly too quickly, “I mean – I invited you, didn’t I?”
“Yeah,” Eric replies, smile getting a little wider. “Okay.”
They waste an hour letting everything chill down in the fridge, and soon enough Eric’s leaning over the counter to show Jack music videos on his phone. “It’s appalling that you still don’t recognize Beyoncé,” he says, and the Georgia accent just makes his indignation even cuter. Jack almost wants to fake ignorance just to hear it more.
“She’s the one who did Toxic, right?” he asks, because, well, he’s not that good at resisting.
Honestly, the way Eric’s cheeks get redder and his drawl gets even worse only encourages Jack more.
By the time Jack’s putting the tourtiere together, Eric’s full on singing along to XO, shimmying a little in his seat while Jack carefully cuts vents for the steam and crimps the edges of the crust. “I love you like XO,” he sings, the tinny speakers of his phone blaring as loudly as they go.
“What does that even mean?” Jack asks as he sets the timer.
Eric just points a finger right back at him. “Don’t question Queen Bey,” he proclaims with a giggle, and goes right back to singing along.
Jack just leans back against the countertop and watches. It’s easy to waste time like this, watching Eric be loud and excited and – Eric, for lack of a better word. Jack could lose a lot of hours just watching him sing along to his phone and dance in his chair.
The singing’s interrupted, however, when his phone buzzes in the middle of Yoncé, and Eric pauses the music to read something, face falling into a frown.
“What’s that?” Jack asks, after a minute, and Eric looks up, startled.
“Oh, Mother just wants to know what my plans are for Spring Break,” he says with a shrug.
Jack blinks at him. “You don’t know yet?”
Eric fidgets with his phone. “Well, I mean – I’d love to go home, of course, but Georgia’s just – well. It’d be nice to do something different, you know? See a new place, or be with different people who didn’t know me back when I was in high school and embarrassing.” He sighs, and picks up his phone again. “Still, I should probably tell her to start looking at flights.”
“You could come to Montreal,” Jack bursts out, without even thinking.
Eric stares. Then, very slowly, he asks, “You – you’re serious?”
Jack nods. Even though he hadn’t even thought of it two seconds ago, the more he thinks about it, the more he wants it to happen, for reasons he probably can’t even explain to himself. “You should,” he says. “My parents would love to have you, and I could – I mean, if you wanted to see something new, I’d be happy to show you around.”
“And you – you want me to? To visit?” Eric asks.
Jack nods again. “Only if you want to, of course, but – I’d like it, if you came to see me.”
“Oh,” Eric says, cheeks slightly flushed. “Well – let me talk to my mother, but – I’d like to do that.”
“Great,” Jack replies, exhaling in a rush, and then the timer’s dinging, which means he can turn away before Eric can see how red his face feels.
The tourtiere is golden brown and smells delicious – not quite as beautiful as his grand-mère’s, of course, but when he cuts a slice for each of them, Eric barely hesitates before cutting off a bite and popping it into his mouth.
“This is delicious!” he says, mouth still slightly full, and then, after swallowing, “Is this what I should expect if I come up north?”
Jack nods, his own mouth full of stuffing. “Maybe not as fancy,” he says after he swallows, “but yeah, we could have more of this. Though you’ll have to try poutine.”
Eric just frowns at him. “I heard Rans talk about that – now who in the hell puts gravy on fries?”
Of course, Jack can’t let that kind of talk stand, and the rest of dinner is spent defending the honor of Montreal’s cuisine to Eric’s disbelieving ears. By the time the dishes are done and the leftovers are put away, Eric’s laughing.
“Fine, fine,” he says, turning to head up the stairs, Jack following on his heels. “I’ll reserve judgment until I’m there, but I make no promises that I’ll actually like it.”
“I’m not asking you to,” Jack replies, “I’m just saying you should try it first before saying it’s terrible, eh?”
Eric sniffs, but grins at him over his shoulder as he heads down the hall. He turns to go into his room, but at the last second he looks over his shoulder and says softly, “Thanks for the dinner, Jack.” Then, so quickly Jack almost doesn’t catch it, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Jack repeats back, watching as Eric closes the door behind him.
When he falls asleep, he’s smiling.
v. spaghetti with meat sauce
If Jack felt like Valentine’s Day came quickly, Spring Break comes even faster, right on the heels of papers and the due date for the first draft of his thesis and the start playoffs looming towards the end of March. It’s like he blinks and suddenly he’s in the airport, furiously texting the team while Eric fusses with his passport as they wait to board.
Everybody better be ready when we get back, he sends, and then he switches his phone off and drops it into his pocket. “You’ll be fine, eh?” he says, looking over at Eric. “It’s not like they’ll keep you out of Canada.”
“I’m allowed to be nervous,” Eric replies, glancing up at him. “It’s not like I’m a regular international traveler or anything. What if I fill out the forms wrong?”
“I won’t let you,” Jack promises. Eric smiles at that, quick and easy, and it’s almost too much to look at.
Apparently Eric had nothing to worry about – the flight goes perfectly smoothly, takeoff and landing just fine, and when Eric heads through security while Jack waits on the other side, it feels like no time at all until Eric’s heading back towards him.
“Made it through, then?” Jack asks. “Not smuggling any baked goods or anything?”
“You appreciate my baked goods,” Eric says haughtily, but he’s smiling, and he’s still smiling when they find Jack’s parents by baggage claim.
If Jack was feeling nervous about how Eric would get on with his parents, he shouldn’t have. Eric is perfectly charming, answering all of Jack’s mother’s questions in his Georgia drawl. Jack’s mom clearly likes him, judging by the periodic glances she gives Jack as she listens to Eric talk about the weather back home, and Bad Bob behaves himself and asks questions about things other than hockey, which is a miracle in and of itself. The good behavior lasts the entire drive home and even through dinner, all the way up until Eric makes his excuses to head up to the guest room and sleep, leaving Jack and his mom to do the dishes while Bad Bob takes a call from Uncle Mario.
“What a nice boy,” his mom says, scrubbing out a pan, and Jack nods. “Your father seems to like him too.”
“Bitty – Bitty’s good,” he says, can’t think of what else to say without exposing the tight feeling in his chest and the warmth below his ribs.
His mom seems to get it anyways, just smiling at him quietly before drying off her hands and ruffling his hair, just like she did after games when Jack was five.
“I’m glad you invited him here,” she says, and then she goes off, leaving Jack holding a dishcloth in his hands, smiling down at the sink.
The next day, after breakfast and spending maybe too long watching the Food Channel together, Jack practically drags Eric downstairs to the weight room. “Of course your family has a weight room,” he says, shaking his head. “I shouldn’t even be surprised.”
“All the better to get ready for the playoffs,” Jack says. “I’ll even let you pick the music.”
“I should quiz you on it,” Eric says, but he cues up a playlist anyways, and Beyoncé – Jack knows this one by now – starts them off on reps.
An hour later, they head upstairs to find Jack’s mom in the kitchen, looking just about ready to leave. “Afternoon, Maman,” Jack says as he pours both of them glasses of water. “You going to the store?”
His mom hums. “How was your workout?” she asks, finishing up her shopping list and dropping it into her purse. “You didn’t work Eric too hard, did you?”
“Maman,” Jack complains, drinking down the last of his water. “It was fine.”
“I know your definition of fine. I’m asking if Eric is okay,” his mom replies, raising her eyebrows.
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about me, Mrs. Zimmermann,” Eric says, smiling at her charmingly from his seat at the counter. “I’m used to it.”
“I’m sure,” Jack’s mom says, raising her eyebrows at Jack. He can feel the tips of his ears burning. “Well, I’m off to the store. Call me if you need anything, alright?”
“Yes, Maman,” Jack says, “we’ll be fine. Honestly.”
His mom just turns to Eric. “So you can be the one calling me if the house burns down,” she says with a wink before heading out of the kitchen.
Jack sighs, resisting the urge to rest his forehead against the refrigerator.
“Your mom’s so nice,” Eric says, and Jack looks up to find him smiling, hair falling a little into his eyes thanks to the workout.
“She is,” Jack agrees, unable to help smiling back. “I – do you want lunch, or anything? I could make something.”
“If it isn’t any trouble,” Eric says slowly, like he needs to be persuaded into it, even though Jack knows he’s probably starving after the workout they did.
“Of course it’s not any trouble,” Jack replies. “I was just going to make, you know, pasta or something.”
“Oh,” Eric says with just a little bit of a drawl, “well, if it’s just pasta then,” but he’s smiling at Jack, biting his lip, and Jack has to go get things out of the fridge just so he’s not embarrassing himself.
The nice thing about cooking pasta is that it’s by far the easiest thing Jack knows how to make. Practically every hockey player learns, if not how to make it themselves, than to convince their billet moms to cook it for them – nothing’s better post workout than the combination of carbs and protein. Jack’s even gotten better at making the sauce, so he doesn’t just rely on the stuff in a jar.
“Are you tweeting this?” he asks as he browns the meat, stirring it with some chopped onions and celery. When he looks up, it’s to see Eric sliding something back into his jacket pocket and looking guilty. “You’re totally tweeting this.”
“Not really?” Eric half says, half asks, though judging by the look on his face he knows Jack doesn’t believe him.
“You should get off that thing more,” Jack tells him, pouring in the tomato paste and splattering some on his shirt. “Fuck,” he groans, because he should probably wear something while cooking, but also this stain might set and he’ll never get it out. Besides, it can’t hurt for Eric to see him shirtless, he doesn’t think, and before he can overthink it, he pulls off his t-shirt and tosses it towards the door to the garage.
“Um,” Eric says, sounding slightly strangled, “shouldn’t you – I mean, you’re cooking meat, and – you should have something on, you know? For safety.”
“Oh. I guess you’re right,” Jack says, pulling open the drawer that he’s fairly sure has all the aprons. After some digging, he manages to find one, dropping it over his head and tying the strings around his waist. “Better?” he asks, turning for Eric to see.
Eric’s cheeks are flushed as he nods. “Better,” he repeats back, still sounding a little out of breath. Then, “Um, Jack – you might want to stir the sauce.”
Jack turns back to the stove, where indeed he does need to give everything a stir. The water’s just boiling, though, which means it’s ready for the noodles.
Ten minutes later, noodles strained and sauce thickened, Jack’s plating up spaghetti for them both, piling it high to make sure they get enough carbs. “It’s hot,” he warns as he finishes grating cheese on top before sliding the plate across the counter.
“Thanks, Jack,” Eric replies, grabbing his fork and twirling some pasta around, popping it into his mouth quickly.
They eat in near silence, Jack leaning against the counter and Eric on his stool, both of them too busy trying to eat as much as possible to talk. Finally, after they’ve finished, Eric stands up and puts his plate in the sink.
“Was it okay?” Jack asks, and Eric nods.
“It was great,” he says, and then, “I – I wanted to say thanks. For doing all this stuff for me.”
“What, cooking?” Jack asks. “I mean, it’s not as good as yours –“
“No – well, not just that,” Eric interrupts. He pauses, sucking in a breath, and goes on, “I mean, the cooking for me, and the extra practice, and inviting me to your house – you don’t have to do all that.”
Jack frowns. “But I want to,” he says, because he does.
“But –“ Eric frowns, “I just – you didn’t have to bring me up here, I mean, that’s a pretty big deal, and I’m not sure I know what –“
“I wanted you here – I want you here,” Jack says, mouth moving before his brain can catch up. It’s not like it’s wrong, though – he wants Eric all the time, in a million small ways. He wants to make Eric smile at him and go faster on the ice and get along with Jack’s parents. He wants to have Eric looking at him surprised and pleased, to hear Eric’s voice and get his text messages with their thousands of smileys. He wants Eric enough that his mouth dries out and his chest aches, and something about that must come across in his voice, because Eric looks back at him, mouth slightly open and cheeks red, and he looks –
He looks like he wants Jack too, and when he says, “Really?” his voice cracks, so hopeful that even if Jack was thinking about stopping himself, he wouldn’t.
It takes exactly three steps to draw even with Eric, to put his hand on Eric’s face, and he waits until Eric nods to lean down, heart pounding so loud he wonders if Eric can hear it.
Eric tastes like spaghetti sauce, and kisses sweet, like the pie he leaves on the counter of the Haus. His skin is soft under Jack’s fingertips, and even just this, lightly kissing him, seems like enough to make Jack want to never do anything else. That is, until Eric shifts, and then the angle’s better, the angle’s perfect, and Jack has a hand on Eric’s waist and another on the back of his neck before he’s thinking about it. Eric’s hands are warm and he makes small noises into Jack’s mouth and it’s enough to make Jack’s breath catch and his hands shake.
Jack doesn’t know how long he kisses Eric barefoot in the kitchen until Eric’s leaning back to pluck at Jack’s apron. “You should get this off, it makes you smell like tomatoes,” he says, nose wrinkled.
“Okay,” Jack says quickly, because that means that Eric wants to keep kissing him, Eric wants to keep touching him, and Jack’s not going to stand in the way of that. He pulls the apron off over his head and tosses it towards the garage, where it lands next to his t-shirt. “Do you want to – couch?”
“Please,” Eric replies, grinning at Jack even as he takes a second to stare. Jack grabs his hand, Eric’s fingers curling around his own, and pulls him into the living room. His parents won’t be home for hours, and he thinks his mom knows anyways, and Eric’s smiling at him too wide and disbelieving and happy for Jack to care right now.
Soon enough Jack’s sitting on the couch, tugging at Eric’s arm. Eric goes easily, no resistance at all to the way Jack’s moving him around, getting on his knees and settling on Jack’s lap, arms looped around Jack’s neck. He’s still smiling, and Jack leans in to kiss it, just once, like he’s wanted to for – he doesn’t know how long. Months, probably.
“I see why you brought me here,” Eric says, laughing a little as Jack brushes a kiss to the dimple in his left cheek. “You had ulterior motives.”
“I didn’t invite you here just to kiss you,” Jack says, even though it’s hard to concentrate with a lap full of Eric on the couch. “Honest.”
“Sure,” Eric replies, raising his eyebrows.
Jack splutters. “I didn’t,” he insists, turning to rest his forehead against the curve of Eric’s neck, because – because he wants to. “I’d want you to visit me, even if I didn’t want to kiss you. I – I like having you around, Bitty.”
Eric laughs, pulling away a little so Jack has to look him in the eye. “Well,” he says, “I’m glad you invited me.” He pauses, licking his lips, and then adds, “Also that you want to kiss me. That part’s alright.”
The chirp startles a laugh out of Jack from somewhere in his stomach, enough to make Eric laugh too. “I’ll show you alright,” he promises, and then he has a hand on the back of Eric’s neck to pull him closer, and he’s kissing him over and over, until he can’t taste anything but Eric.
vi. pad thai
After they win the Championship, Jack takes Eric to the Thai place on University Ave. It’s small and the lighting’s warm and Eric’s grinning at him across the table, talking about his food seminar and his parents coming up to see the game and how he thinks their moms are going to brunch tomorrow. Eric orders Drunken Noodle and Jack orders Pad Thai and they split it across the table, and Eric despairs of the iced tea because “condensed milk? That is not how you sweeten a tea, I swear,” and Jack just grins at him.
“Having a nice night?” Eric asks, “because if you’re laughing at me, I swear –“ and Jack has to laugh out his denial even as Eric sucks at his tea like he’s offended. He laughs again, chest warm and cheeks hurting from laughing, and it’s good, it’s good, it’s good.