Chapter 1: Samwell
“Don’t you have an agent for this?” Shitty asked, looking over his reading glasses at Jack. They were in Jack’s room at The Haus. Jack sitting backward in his desk chair and Shitty, wearing nothing but a pair of tighty whities and reading glasses, was on Jack’s bed leaning against the wall.
“I don’t like my agent,” Jack answered. He’d gone with the same agency his dad was with, but they’d given him, not his dad’s very experienced sports agent who Jack had known his whole life, but a new guy who wasn’t any older than Jack himself. This new agent, Brian, blushed and fidgeted every time Jack’s past came up in negotiations. As though he couldn’t bring himself to talk about “rehab” and “substance abuse problems” with a guy six inches taller and forty pounds heavier than himself. He also balked when Jack resolutely refused to sign with Las Vegas, despite the Aces offering a far larger signing bonus than the Falconers.
So, he had Shitty looking over his Falconers contract. “I want you to get out of law school soon so you can be my agent,” Jack said.
Shitty grinned, “You think I’m going to waste a Harvard education representing a bunch of jocks?”
“I’ve seen you smoke a forest of pot wearing nothing but a jock strap and you know everything about me. That breeds trust.”
“You should have an agent you can trust,” Shitty said thoughtfully. “You don’t think you can trust Brian?”
“Well, I couldn’t tell him the real reason I can’t play in Vegas.”
Shitty threw the contract aside and leaned forward. “What is the real reason you can’t play in Vegas?”
Jack paused. It almost sounded like Shitty was challenging him. “You know,” Jack said. “I can’t play with Kent.”
“Because you used to fuck him?”
“It was...” Jack sighed and stared at the ceiling for a moment. “It was more than that.” Jack didn’t even know how to explain it to Shitty, and Shitty was the one person Jack could tell anything. But there were a lot of emotions involving Kent, and they were all very confusing to Jack. Years of therapy barely touched the surface of his feeling toward Kent Parson. There were so many layers - jealousy, love, hatred, pride, and about a thousand other emotions that Jack could just never sort through. He didn’t even know how it was possible to love and hate someone so strongly at the same time.
“You know, you should try to work things out with him,” Shitty said. “If you’ll both be in the NHL, you’ll be facing each other.”
“That’s kind of why I’m staying in the Eastern Conference,” Jack said.
“And the other reason is…”
“There isn’t another reason,” Jack lied.
“Lie to me if you want, Jack Zimmermann, but don’t you ever lie to yourself.”
Shitty cut Jack off. Shitty was the only person who could get away with cutting Jack off, telling Jack hard truths. “You wouldn’t be the first Haus-mates who were lovers, you know.”
Jack stared out the window. He wondered, for the thousandth time, what exactly Bitty had overheard the night of the epikegster. He must have overheard something because since then, Bitty had gotten quieter, more thoughtful, around Jack. And he started baking pies specifically for Jack, not just the whole Haus.
Shitty waited for a moment for a response, but when he realized Jack was lost in his thoughts, he went back to studying the Falconers contracts. After a few minutes, he said “This looks good. You may not trust your agent, but he certainly isn’t trying to screw you over. And who knows, you can always buy him a bong and a jock strap for Christmas and maybe then you can trust him.” He handed Jack the papers.
“Thanks,” Jack mumbled as Shitty stood up.
“Mmm-hmm,” Shitty answered. He turned when he got to the door. “Just...fuckin’ talk to him already.”
Jack was left wondering who Shitty was talking about. Kent? Or Bitty?
The next day was Thursday. Bitty and Jack, being the only natural early-risers in The Haus, had their classes mostly in the mornings. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons it was often only those two in the Haus.
Bitty was baking in the kitchen. Jack waited until Holster and Ransom left for their noon classes before heading down to the kitchen. “Hey,” he leaned against the door frame.
“Hi Jack,” Bitty answered, his hands covered in butter for his pie crust. “What’s up?”
“I’ve officially signed with the Falconers,” Jack answered, scratching the back of his neck.
“Oh!” Bitty said, holding his hands to his face, remembering they were covered in butter and washed them quickly. “Oh my goodness, Jack. This is amazing news! I wish we had champagne to celebrate!”
Jack laughed at that then was genuinely surprised as Bitty came to him and enveloped him in a big hug. Jack hugged him back, his heart skipping a beat, and he leaned down and breathed in the smell of Bitty. Bitty always smelled good, like Ivory soap and butter and cinnamon.
Jack realized he shouldn’t love how his teammate smelled. Hell, he probably shouldn’t even know what Bitty smelled like.
“I’m going to bake some extra treats tonight. We’ve got to celebrate!”
Jack followed Bitty back into the kitchen and he leaned against the counter, watching Bitty get back to work on the pie. “What’re you making now?” he asked.
“Strawberry rhubarb,” Bitty answered. “There was a special on strawberries at the market and they looked….well, all right, for the season.” Bitty knew everything about when which fruits were at their peak. “But let’s not talk about pie, let’s talk about the Falconers.”
Jack smiled, “What do you want to know?”
“When do you report for training? Are you going to start? Why’d you choose the Falconers?”
“About a month after graduating. I don’t know. And...what was the third question?”
“Why’d you choose the Falconers?” Bitty asked again.
Jack shrugged, “Well, Providence isn’t too far from here. And I couldn’t be without your pies.”
Bitty smiled, but gave Jack a questioning look, “Really, though. Wasn’t Las Vegas offering you a lot more money?”
“I don’t need more money.” Bitty starting rolling out his pie crust. He didn’t say anything, and Jack knew that he was expected to go on. Finally he sighed, and shifted his feet a little. “How much of my conversation with Kent did you overhear?”
“Not all of it,” Bitty said, his cheeks flushed. “I wasn’t eavesdropping. I was coming up to my room to make sure no one was throwing up in it. And, you know.”
“I can’t play with Kent Parson,” Jack answered simply. “He was a really important part of my life, back then. But now he’s not and I don’t think being around him everyday would be good for me.”
“OK,” Bitty said. He was non-committal, non-judgmental in his remarks.
“We were sleeping together,” Jack admitted after a moment’s silence. “Me and Kenny.”
Bitty looked up and met Jack’s eye, “Well, goodness, Jack Zimmermann. You are full of surprises.”
“Does that surprise you though?” Jack asked curiously. “There were rumors about us-”
Bitty cut him off. “I grew up figure skating in Georgia. Do you think I knew anything about Quebec Junior Leagues and the rumors about the players?”
“I think Holster and Ransom figured it out. You’re attached to your phone, you must have Googled me.”
Bitty shrugged. Ransom and Holster had told him about the rumors, and when he overheard Jack and Kent that night, he figured they must be true. But still, he pushed it out of his mind because he wanted Jack to tell him himself. And, honestly, why get his hopes up? “You think I’m going around Googling my teammates?”
Jack shrugged at Bitty’s non-answer. Of course Bitty had Googled his teammates, but despite that, the rumors about Jack and Kent sleeping together had escaped his notice until Holster and Ransom talked about it. The first several pages of hits on Google were all about Jack being in rehab, Jack missing out on the draft, and Jack choosing Samwell, not about Jack fucking Kent Parson.
“So you’re going to Providence to avoid an ex-boyfriend?”
Jack made an impatient noise. “It’s not just that he’s an ex-boyfriend, eh? He’s a representation of a lot of things in my past.”
“Like rehab,” Jack answered. It was more than rehab, it was Jack playing in his father’s shadow, and the pressure to live up to expectations, and the pressure to just stop being so gay. If Bitty thought Jack put a lot of pressure on himself and his team now, he would have been shocked to have seen him in Juniors before years of therapy.
“I don’t know how to explain this.”
“Why I want to play for Providence.”
“For Goodness’ sake, Jack. You don’t owe me an explanation.” Bitty picked up his pie crust and carefully laid it in the pie plate. He began to crimp the edges.
“Yes I do,” Jack insisted.
“Because you’re part of the reason,” Jack flushed.
Bitty looked up from his pie crust, genuinely surprised. “Well then. Explain.”
Jack took a deep breath. “Samwell was good for me. It was the best place for me to be after, you know...rehab and trying to get back into the game. And I don’t really want to leave it all behind, I’m not ready to move across the country, Kent Parson or no. So, I kind of wanted to stay in the Eastern Conference.
“Also, Providence is a new team, an expansion team. And it’s just symbolically good for me. A team that doesn’t have any connections to my dad, it didn’t even exist when I missed out on the draft seven years ago. It feels like the freshest start possible.”
Bitty waited for the part about him. As Jack got more serious and earnest, his Quebecois accent became more pronounced.
“It’s not just Samwell I don’t want to leave behind,” Jack finally admitted. “It’s you.”
Jack didn’t talk a lot, particularly not about his feelings, and it kind of exhausted him because he knew he wasn’t very good at it. He just wanted Bitty to understand what he was trying to say without him actually having to say it.
Instead of answering, Jack leaned over and pressed his lips softly to Bitty’s.
Bitty was surprised. His hands, which had been busy crimping his pie crust became still as he breathed in Jack’s scent. He’d waited a year and a half for this kiss and now that it was here, his mind was racing and he didn’t know what to do. What do you do with your hands when you’re kissing someone a half a foot taller than you?
He couldn’t put his arms around Jack’s neck, that would make Jack have to bend over even further than he already was. Instead, he chose to snake his arm around Jack’s waist and pull him closer.
Oh my God, Jack Zimmermann, was a fantastic kisser. Bitty felt a jolt of gratitude toward Kent Parson for letting Jack practice enough to get this good.
Jack ended the kiss first. He pulled back and rested his forehead on Bitty’s. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“What?” Bitty pulled away and looked at Jack like he was crazy. “Why are you sorry? I’ve wanted that for a while now, but until recently, I thought you were straight.”
“I’m not,” Jack answered, unnecessarily. “I want this too, I’m just not sure that this timing is right. I’m going to play in the NHL, Bits. I can’t be out, and you deserve someone who can be out with you.”
Bitty rolled his eyes and grabbed his strawberry rhubarb filling. “I’m not even out to my parents, Jack. The only people I’m out to live in this Haus.” He began dumping the filling into the pie crust. “So if you want to start something in secret, I’m basically the best person to be in a secret relationship with.”
“But you’ll be out to your parents eventually.”
“Eventually. Far enough in the future I’m not even thinking about it.”
Jack cocked his head and studied Bitty. “The NHL is going to take a lot of my time.”
Bitty shrugged, “I still have two years of school.”
“You’re going to be named Captain next year,” Jack informed him.
Bitty dropped his spoon, “What?!”
“Coach is going to call you soon. The guys voted and you won unanimously.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I don’t know,” Jack admitted. “Getting the C is a lot of work. You’ll have classes, you’ll have practice and games and your Captain duties.”
“Are you trying to talk me out of kissing you again?” Bitty teased, he began rolling out more crust to make the lattice for the top of the pie.
“I don’t know what I’m doing. Warning you, I guess? If we start this, it won’t be easy.”
“My Maw-Maw used to say ‘All things are difficult until they become easy.’”
“Is it worth it?” Jack asked. “Wading through the difficult to get to the easy?”
“My goodness, Jack. Last year I couldn’t take a check in hockey. Now I’m getting the C. Seven years ago, you were in rehab. Now you’ve signed with the NHL. You tell me if you think it’s worth it.”
Jack watched Bitty thoughtfully, as Bitty began laying the lattice work on his pie. Jack’s heart was hammering and he felt sick and giddy at the same time. As much as the thousands of butterflies Jack’s stomach were fluttering (it felt like they were playing hockey in there), Bitty seemed calm, assured that they were doing the right thing.
Jack waited while Bitty finished up his pie and put it in the preheated oven before answering, “I think you’re worth it, Eric Bittle.”
Bitty looked at Jack, his eyes shining and bright, and said with a kiss, “I think you are too, Jack Zimmermann.”
Chapter 2: Providence
Jack goes to Providence - Bitty moves in - There's a coming out - There's a big interview on ESPN - Providence tanks.
The Falconers were a good, if not great, team. Jack fit in well there, and while he spent most of his first two years keeping Bitty a secret, eventually rumors got around the locker room that Jack was probably gay and his boyfriend was probably that tiny Samwell hockey player who hung around a lot and brought them pies.
Jack did his best to keep Bitty a secret in the beginning. Bitty wasn’t even out to his parents yet, and they sure didn’t need to find out on ESPN. Whenever there were team events where spouses and girlfriends were welcome, Jack brought Lardo. He let people think he and Lardo were a couple, never letting them in on the secret that really, she was both his best friend’s girlfriend and his boyfriend’s best friend. Lardo was happy enough to play the part of on-again, off-again girlfriend to help Jack out.
The rumors started in earnest in Jack’s second year. Once Ransom and Holster graduated, it was only Bitty coming to see Jack play on weekends at home when there was no Samwell game. And then it became a little more obvious, to some at least, that Jack would go back to his apartment on those nights with Bitty and not go out with the team like he’d occasionally do the year prior when it was Bitty, Ransom, Holster (and sometimes Shitty and Lardo) visiting.
In the middle of their second year, Pierre LaFleur, the Falconers goalie, was getting chirped because he’d publicly signed and tweeted a petition to have an ESPN announcer fired for going on a diatribe about how a gay athlete in the locker room would ruin team morale. LaFleur had signed the petition and then tweeted “If you think there aren’t already gay athletes in the locker room, you’re fooling yourself. Sign this petition to have Rick DeCosta removed from ESPN.” He also retweeted a bunch of other athlete’s tweets who’d signed the petition. The next afternoon, he’d tweeted again, “Teammates only care if you can play and that you work hard. Gay, straight or bi. It’s 2017, let’s get over it already.”
Jack paid close attention to the chirping, and was pleased to see that there was surprisingly little. A few questions for Pierre, who was happily married (to a woman), about who his boyfriend was, but it was really good-natured. No one was openly homophobic, and several people agreed with his tweets.
“I’ll sign the petition,” Jack’s linemate and road roommate, Chris “Fixer” Fixman, said. “I went to a lesbian wedding last summer. My Aunt’s. It was just like a regular wedding, but with 50% more lesbians.”
The jokes got crude, but still not homophobic, after that. “Were there lesbians making out?”
“Dude, my Aunt is in her mid-50’s and her wife is probably like 60. They’re old.”
“But did they have young lesbian friends? Maybe some nubile nineteen year olds dancing and making out during the reception?”
“Gross. Those are porn lesbians. My Aunt is, like, a real lesbian. You know, she and Auntie Margaret have been together since I was a kid and I was told that Margaret was Aunt Sylvia’s ‘special friend.’”
“I’ll sign it too,” Jack said quietly. A few guys exchanged looks, but no one asked.
“See?” Pierre said. “Guys, this isn’t the olden days anymore. We’re better than old fucks like Rick DeCosta.”
“Anyway,” Fixer added, “Look around. There’s a chance that one of us here is gay or bi. Would that really change your opinion of your teammate?”
“In the shower it might,” Jack heard someone mutter behind him. He didn’t turn around to see who it was, but kept his eyes forward, to Pierre and Fixer.
And anyway, who ever had said that was quickly shut down by whoever was next to him, “No one’s checking out your dick, you asshole.”
Overall, it was the kind of conversation that left him feeling like he might not have to spend his entire career in the closet.
Later that night, Jack signed the online petition even though ESPN had already suspended DeCosta and would probably fire him shortly. Jack didn’t write his own tweet about it, but did retweet the link with the site to sign the petition. He smiled when he noticed Bitty retweeted that about five minutes later.
The next day, Jack awoke to a text from Bitty. My parents know I’m gay.
Jack sat up quickly and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He must have been misreading that. He quickly typed back, What? How? Are you OK?
The answer came in less than thirty seconds. My mom retweeted that DeCosta petition and said that she signed it. I had a terrible moment of bravery and called them.
Rather than texting back, Jack called Bitty by Skype.
“Are you all right?” he asked immediately when Bitty answered.
Bitty laughed shakily, “Yeah. It was nerve-wracking but they’re OK, my parents. I have to say, they didn’t sound very surprised at all.”
Jack laughed a little, and leaned back against his pillows. “Did you tell them about me? About us?”
“Yeah” Bitty said. “Is that all right? I just figured your parents know.”
“It’s fine,” Jack assured him. “It’s good.”
Bitty paused, “I think they’re more concerned that you’re five years older than me. That you’re a professional athlete and I’m still in college. They think of you as a man and of me as a little kid.”
“They think I’m taking advantage of you?”
Bitty shrugged, “I don’t know. We didn’t really talk about it. My dad was uncomfortable the whole time, he was kind of quiet. My mom did most of the talking. She asked exactly how old you are, and wanted to make sure you weren’t, like, paying for shit for me. Like tuition or nice clothes or whatever.”
“God forbid,” Jack, who’d offered to help Bitty out financially several times, said dryly.
Bitty gave Jack a look. It had been discussed, and while Bitty may have been wildly in love with Jack, he still had his pride, and didn’t want to be treated like a boy toy, and Jack had no desire to be thought of as a sugar daddy.
They talked for awhile longer, mostly about the locker room reaction to the DeCosta petition. “Do you think there are people you can come out to?” Bitty asked. He was anxious Jack to have someone locally he could be open with.
“Maybe?” Jack scratched the back of his neck. “I don’t know. I’m in a comfortable spot right now. If it gets bad, maybe I will.”
Toward the end of the season, when the Falconers were getting ready to make the playoffs for the first time in team history, Jack came out to Fixer.
They’d just played a game in Calgary and were in their hotel room, and were watching TV quietly when a news report came on about a protest at a local school where the Principal had recently come out.
“Jesus Christ,” Fixer said angrily. “How can anyone fucking care if the guy is gay?”
Jack was leaned against his pillows, eating a bowl of Raisin Bran. “I am,” he said calmly and casually. He didn’t quite know why he was telling Fixer this.
Fixer wasn’t quite listening to Jack, still focused on the screen and he must have thought Jack answered, ‘I do.’ “You care that the principal is gay?” he asked.
“No,” Jack said, a little louder to get Fixer’s attention. “I am.” When Fixer looked blank, Jack added, “Gay. I am gay.”
Fixer looked at him critically for a moment, “I kind of figured you might be,” he said. “With Bittle, right?”
“Yes,” Jack said.
Fixer nodded, “Cool.” And he went back to watching TV.
Jack hesitated. This seemed almost too easy, too little drama. “Look, this doesn’t go out of this room, right?” Jack asked. “I’m not out to anyone else here except Georgia.”
Fixer looked at Jack like he was crazy, “Of course I’m not going to say anything to anyone. And when you decide to tell anyone else, I’ve got your back.”
Jack noticed Fixer said when he decided to tell someone else, not if. It was a distinction not lost on him. And really, if everyone treated it like Fixer had, he probably would tell more people.
Bitty moved in with Jack after graduation and they bought a house, a small Cape Cod with a recently remodeled kitchen, together. Despite the fact that Bitty himself was Samwell’s leading scorer, and as Captain led Samwell to two straight playoff appearances, Bitty was not recruited by any NHL teams. He was too little.
It didn’t seem to bother him, and he settled in to Providence almost immediately and found a job as an assistant to the head of the city’s youth club hockey organization.
Jack and Bitty talked about Jack being more out, but Jack wasn’t sure he was ready to be the face of gay hockey, or really gay professional athletes. He’d grown up knowing all about media scrutiny. He knew how the media could turn on a teenager with mental health issues, he couldn’t even imagine what they’d do to a full-grown man who loved men.
But at the same time, Bitty deserved some recognition. The wives and girlfriends of all the players had their own section for home games and Bitty would sit in general seats. Bitty was a secret, and the longer Jack was closeted, the more he felt like it was a dirty secret.
Jack did not want his coming out to involve a press conference. He knew if it was going to happen, and the more he thought about it the more he wanted it to, he wanted it to come out casually. And the secret to that, would be to rely on his allies on his team.
Jack let a few hints drop in conversation in front of people he was close with on the team. When LaFleur complained about his wife redecorating their house, Jack laughingly said he came home one day and didn’t recognized what Bitty had done to their bedroom. LaFleur gave him a knowing look. He made no secret that Bitty lived with him, and whether people took that as a roommate situation or a lovers situation, he never knew. Because no one would come out and just ask him.
One night while Jack and Bitty were getting for bed, Jack proposed. He didn’t have a ring, he didn’t even have a plan, it happened spontaneously.
“Lardo said she’s not planning their wedding to be during the season, or even the post-season,” Bitty was saying to Jack. Shitty and Lardo had just gotten engaged.
“Good. Because I wouldn’t want to miss seeing Shitty get married.”
“You can’t miss it, you’re the best man,” Bitty said.
“What? How’d you know this but I didn’t?”
Bitty smiled at Jack, “How do you not know it?”
“Shitty hasn’t asked me.”
“Goodness Jack. You think he wouldn’t?”
“Who’d be your best man in a wedding?”
Jack looked at Bitty silently for a minute, “Shitty, obviously.” He answered, then after a pause, added, “Hey, we should get married too.”
Bitty was pulling their sheets down on the bed, “Jack Zimmermann, are you proposing to me?” He looked at Jack with eyes wide and shining.
“I-” Jack cut himself off. He loved Bitty, more than he’d ever loved anyone. “Yes. I guess I am.”
He and Bitty climbed into bed, “Sorry it wasn’t very romantic,” Jack said because Bitty was being awfully quiet and Jack was starting to feel bad because this was Bitty and of course he’d want flowers and candlelight. “Look, just forget I asked. I’ll do it right next time.”
“Oh no you won’t,” Bitty said, pulling Jack on top of him, “This was perfect, and my answer is yes,” he laughed as he and Jack kissed on it.
“You sure?” Jack asked, his body hovering inches over Bitty’s. “I can do a whole thing with, like, dinner and a ring and candlelight.”
“I don’t need all that stuff. I like that stuff, but I love you more. And, forgive me, this is the most Jack Zimmermann-like proposal pretty much ever, bless your heart.”
Before Jack could answer, Bitty pulled Jack’s face toward him and kissed him, long and slow.
The Falconers made the playoffs, but were eliminated in the first round. Jack blamed himself, as he always did whenever they lost. And he was in a funk for days. A funk that even wedding talk couldn’t snap him out of.
Bitty was planning the wedding. Though technically, they weren’t planning a wedding. They were planning a party and their marriage celebration was going to be a surprise part of the party.
It was all a part of an elaborate plan. Because after he and Bitty got married, there is no way Jack would be able to keep his sexuality a secret from the world. Unless they got married in a very secret ceremony only attended by their parents. But Jack knew that’s not what Bitty wanted. Hell, it wasn’t what he wanted.
And Jack felt ready for this. Bitty was a calming influence on Jack, and when he was with him, Jack felt like he could conquer anything -any homophobia his teammates, or reporters, or fans might throw his way.
So he may have been ready for it, but he wanted to do this his way. “I’m not having a press conference to discuss my sexuality,” he told Georgia. “No way in hell.”
“What do you want to tweet it?” She’d asked incredulously.
“No,” he answered. Then he thought. “Maybe. Maybe I just tweet a newlywed picture after we get married this summer. Even better, casually have my dad drop a tweet about our wedding.”
Georgia raised her eyebrows at him, “You’re learning to use Twitter to your advantage. Bitty must be rubbing off on you.”
So they made their plans, and it involved a few people and a lot of secrets.
Jack and Bitty’s party-turned-wedding was planned for the last week in June. It was going to be at their house, in their backyard. Bitty had taken over the entire planning, leaving Jack in the dark about all of it. The only thing Jack was in charge of was who knew about it actually being a wedding, and who was supposed to tweet what and when.
It wasn’t very big, their Samwell teammates, parents and close families, some teammates of Jack’s from the Falconers, and their neighbor, Elizabeth, who Bitty had befriended their second day in the house. The day of the party came. People thought it was a celebration of the end of the season. Most of the Falconers who lived outside Providence were still in town, though some were gone.
It was a gorgeous early summer day. Just over eighty degrees and with low humidity. Bitty decided that these lovely summer days more than made up for the snow. In Georgia, the idea of having an outdoor wedding in June would have been laughable.
Bitty had done all the baking, except the wedding cake, which Jack had convinced him to have a professional do. The rest of the party was catered.
And it was going well, there was some excitement that Bad Bob Zimmermann was there, because most of the Falconers had yet to meet him. The Samwell guys smirked to see professional hockey players acting slavishly toward Bad Bob, when they, mere amateurs, were used to him by now.
Just before dinner was served, Jack and Bitty disappeared upstairs to their bedroom to put on suits for the surprise wedding. They were both wearing navy jackets and white shirts. Jack was going tie-less, his crisp shirt unbuttoned at the collar, and Bitty had a red bowtie.
“You ready for this?” Jack asked.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Bitty smiled, straightening his bowtie.
Jack put his arms around Bitty and hugged him from behind. “I love you. And I want you to remember that when the media are hounding us and the homophobes come after you on Twitter and the comments section of your vlog.”
Bitty turned and pulled Jack in for a kiss, “I love you back,” he whispered. “Let’s go get married, and we can deal with that other shit together.”
They met Shitty, at the bottom of their stairs. Shitty, instead of being Jack’s best man, had gotten himself ordained on the internet and was going to be their officiant. “You guys look good,” Shitty said, smoothing his moustache. Bitty had begged Shitty not to marry them wearing a Grateful Dead tee-shirt and cutoff jeans. Shitty had obliged and was wearing, of all things, seersucker. Bitty’s eyes lit up and ran his hand down Shitty’s chest, “Goodness. We should have worn seersucker,” he said to Jack.
“Too late,” Jack said, taking Bitty by the elbow and leading him out the door. They met Bob at their door to the deck. He had his phone in his hand. “Ready for me?” he asked.
“Yes,” Jack said.
Bob pulled his phone out of his pants pocket and opened up his Twitter app and began typing.
“A beautiful day for a wedding. Congrats to my son, @JackZimmNHL on getting married this evening.”
“How’s this?” he asked, showing the phone to Jack and Bitty.
“Perfect,” Jack said. “Just remember to turn the volume down because your notifications are going to go crazy.”
Bob hit send, then patted both Jack and Bitty on their cheeks, rubbed Shitty’s shoulder and then headed down the deck stairs. Jack and Bitty followed Bob down the deck stairs and stood at the bottom, while Shitty stood a few steps above them.
“Attention,” Shitty yelled to the crowd in the backyard, cupping his hands around his mouth. “Gather round. We have an announcement to make.”
The people at the party looked up, confused. But when Jack’s parents and a few teammates dropped what they were doing and gathered around the deck stairs, the rest followed suit. Shitty waited until everyone was near. He announced, “Please, everyone silence and put away your cell phones. Because we aren’t just here for a party. We’re here for a wedding,” he pointed down to Jack and Bitty.
Jack’s stomach clenched as he heard a collective gasp go through the crowd. Only a few people had been aware this was coming - Shitty and Lardo, Jack’s parents, Bitty’s parents, LaFluer, and Fixer. Jack didn’t realize how nervous he’d be. Not that he was nervous to be marrying Bitty, he loved Bitty and was sure he’d love him forever. It was that he’d spent the last couple years loving Bitty, but not really talking about it. The teammates who were here knew he was with Bitty, but he just didn’t talk about him that much. Mostly because other people were around often enough who didn’t know he was gay, but there was also a part of him that wondered if people wanted to hear about Bitty. Even those who weren’t homophobic, were they still uncomfortable?
And here he was, in front of all of his friends and family, getting ready to declare publicly how much he loved Eric Bittle. His hands were sweating and he looked over at Bitty for reassurance. It worked, because Bitty’s face was joyous and relaxed and as happy as Jack had ever seen him look. Jack took a deep breath, and Bitty turned to him and gave him a radiant grin. Jack knew they were doing the right thing.
“I know,” Shitty continued, “It’s a surprise!” The crowd laughed and started clapping. When they quieted down, Lardo handed Shitty his notes. It was the full ceremony. It was going to be short - Bitty and Jack had written it together with a little help from Shitty who had a nicer way with words than either of them.
“We are gathered here today…” Shitty began. Jack let his mind wander a little bit throughout the ceremony. He knew all the words, he had it memorized. He let his thoughts drift to the day he first saw Bitty and he couldn’t believe how tiny, how terrified he was and he wondered how he was supposed to make a hockey player out of him.
And how it turned out Bitty was so much more than a kid who needed to learn hockey skills. He was a man who knew what he wanted and who loved people with his whole heart and who spread happiness through pie. Jack thought about how much better a person he was with Bitty. Like their neighbor, Elizabeth, who Bitty had befriended. If Jack had lived in this house by himself, he never would have tried to meet his neighbor. But Bitty did (he baked her a pie after they’d moved in) and they found a great new friend.
When they got back from their honeymoon, it was going to be hell, dealing with the press. But Bitty was so fucking worth it.
He started paying attention again when it was time to recite their vows. Bitty’s voice shook and he cried a little as he recited them. Jack tried to keep his voice steady around the lump in his throat and managed to not cry.
They kissed, and Shitty pronounced them married, and their friends and family clapped for them. Shitty handed his phone to Bob, who took a picture of the three of them.
Then Jack and Bitty sat on the second from bottom step side by side, fingers laced together and Bob took another picture of just the two of them. They also got pictures with Jack with his Falconer teammates, as well as all the Samwell players who were there.
The pictures were all a part of the social media coming out Jack had planned. He was going to come out with pictures on Twitter, then refuse to talk to anyone in the media until after he and Bitty were back from France. Georgia knew it, and she and the Falconers PR team were at the wedding on high alert.
First, Shitty posted the picture of the Samwell team to Twitter.
“All the guys in Providence for a wedding!” @JackZimmNHL, @omgcheckplease, @RansomSamwell, @HolsterHockey, @SamwellDex, @Nursey, @ChowChow
Then LaFleur and Fixer each posted a picture of the Falconers who were there to their Twitter.
“Some of the Falconers stayed in Providence for the wedding of @JackZimmNHL.”
“Congrats to @JackZimmNHL on getting married tonight!”
Then they all turned off their phones and ate dinner, and drank, and danced and generally had a great time. Right as the night was ending, when they were putting their guests into Uber cars to get them safely back to the downtown Providence Hotel they were staying at, Jack finally opened his phone and posted the picture Bob had taken of him and Bitty holding hands.
“I got married tonight. This is me and my new husband, Eric Bittle (@omgcheckplease). Thanks to our friends and family for being with us tonight.”
“You sure you’re ready for this?” Jack asked Bitty as his hand hovered over the Tweet button.
“Do it,” Bitty urged, “I’m tweeting right behind you.”
Jack hit post and immediately turned his phone off and watched as Bitty added the same photo and typed out on his phone,
“I exchanged vows with the love of my life, @JackZimmNHL, tonight. Two hours in, and marriage is amazing :)”
Bitty hit the Tweet button, and turned off his phone and followed Jack inside their house.
Later that night, after they’d made love and showered and made love a second time, they were cuddling in bed. “Should we turn on ESPN?” Bitty asked. “Do you think they know yet?”
“They definitely know by now,” Jack answered. “We can watch if you want.”
Bitty hesitated for a few moments, before picking up the remote and turning on the TV. He turned the channel to ESPN, where they were discussing tonight’s Yankees/Red Sox game. They watched quietly for a moment, when Bitty gasped, “You’ve got your own section on the bottom scroll,” he said.
Sure enough, at the bottom, after the MLB Scores, it said “Jack Zimmermann.”
“Shit,” Jack said. “I thought this would be buried.”
“The midnight Sports Center starts in less than five minutes,” Bitty said. “I wonder if you’re top story?”
They decided to wait to see what Sports Center said. As the MLB Scores scrolled along the bottom, the scroll about Jack simply read, “Jack Zimmerman, (Providence Falconers) comes out as gay on Twitter. Details to follow on Sports Center.”
“Details,” Jack said, disgusted. “I’m gay. Who needs more details than that?”
“Shut up,” Bitty poked him. “You’re a human interest story.”
“I’m not a story, I’m a person.”
“You know what I mean.”
Finally they heard the Sports Center music, and the blandly handsome Sportscaster (they all looked the same to Jack) said, “Tonight, the Yankees drop a big one to the Red Sox, a big basketball trade between the Clippers and the Timberwolves, but first, a developing story out of the NHL.
“Jack Zimmermann, of the Providence Falconers, is most well-known for being the son of hockey legend Bad Bob Zimmermann, and for his history of substance abuse problems that kept him from being drafted out of Juniors in 2007. Zimmermann went on to play at Samwell University where he lead his team to the Frozen Four in his senior year. But he won’t be known for any of that any more, because tonight Jack Zimmerman became the first openly gay player in the NHL when he tweeted out this picture of him and Eric Bittle, and announced that they’d gotten married this evening.”
The picture of him and Eric appeared on the screen, “That is a good picture of us,” Bitty said happily.
Jack snorted, “At least there’s that.”
The anchor continued, “There were other hints on social media tonight that Zimmermann was getting married, including a tweet from Bad Bob himself. However, there was no indication who it was Zimmermann was marrying until the tweet came from himself. His husband, Eric Bittle, who played on the same line as Zimmermann at Samwell, tweeted the same picture himself just moments later.
“Georgia Martin, the GM for the Falconers released a statement about an hour later. It reads,” And now a graphic with Georgia’s face and her words filled the screen, “The Falconers are proud to have Jack Zimmermann on our team, and we wish him warmest congratulations on his wedding to Eric Bittle. The Providence Falconers are a close-knit team and we stand behind Jack and support his decision to come out as the first openly gay player in the NHL. As such, we are donating a portion of the opening day tickets to Athlete Ally, an organization that supports LGBT athletes.”
The anchor continued, “In a phone conversation, Georgia stated that Jack Zimmermann would not be commenting until he returns from his honeymoon. Reporters from the Providence-area NBC affiliate caught up with the family of Zimmermann as they returned to their downtown Providence hotel from the Zimmermann/Bittle wedding.”
Now the screen showed Bob, Alicia, and Bitty’s parents getting out of the SUV Uber that Jack had put them in just hours earlier. “Fucking vultures,” Jack said angrily. “They got someone there is less than fifteen minutes.”
“Bob,” a young blond reporter shoved a microphone in Bob Zimmermann’s face, “Do you have a comment about your son’s wedding?”
Bob feigned a look of surprise. “It was a lovely ceremony and we’re glad to welcome Eric into our family.” Mr. and Mrs. Bittle were in the background, looking nervous, glad that Bob had years of experience handling media scrutiny.
“Do you support his decision to be open about his sexuality?”
“Of course,” Bob answered. He grabbed Alicia’s hand and they began to walk toward the front door of the hotel. Mr. and Mrs. Bittle following closely, looking very much like they did not want to be interviewed.
Nothing daunted, the reporter followed them, the camera shaking a little as the cameraman had to change course. “Were you surprised to find out he’s gay? That’s he was getting married?”
This question genuinely seemed to stun Bob and he stopped walking to turn back to the reporter. “Of course I wasn’t surprised he’s getting married. Jack came out to me and Alicia when he was still a teenager and we’ve known Eric for about four years now. None of this is a surprise to me because I know and love my son.”
The reporter began to ask another question, but Bob, in the manner of one who is used to dealing with the media and reporters put up his hand. “We really must be getting in now.” He guided Alicia and the Bittles in the hotel front door.
The reporter then noticed LaFleur and Fixer getting out of their Uber car and ran to them, “What can you tell us about Jack Zimmermann’s wedding?”
Both LaFleur and Fixer looked surprised, “It was a nice ceremony,” Fixer said blandly, “And a fun reception.”
“Do you support your teammate?”
“Why wouldn’t we?” LaFleur demanded and gave the reporter a look like they didn’t understand her question, and before the reporter could ask any more questions, they ran into the hotel lobby.
Bitty paused the TV, “Did you see my parents?”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “They were there with mine.”
“No. Did you see their faces?”
“Look,” Eric pointed the remote to the TV and rewound, “Watch them when your dad answers that last question.”
Eric hit play and watched as Bob said that he, Jack, had come out to his parents as a teenager. Mr. and Mrs. Bittle’s faces showed some kind of combination of surprise, maybe some shame, maybe a little annoyance. “They can’t believe you told them when you were still a kid, and I didn’t tell them until I was twenty-two.” Bitty paused, “Do you think they’re mad at me?”
“Why would they be mad at you?”
“Because you were a lot more open with your parents.”
“So?” Jack was confused. “We were raised differently, in different places. You grew up in rural Georgia and I was a kid when Canada legalized gay marriage. Plus your dad is scarier than mine.”
“Your dad is Bad Bob Zimmermann,” Bitty pointed out, laughing.
Jack shrugged, “Coach is still scarier.” Jack was well into his twenties by this point but Coach Bittle still left him feeling like a child at times. “Anyway,” Jack sat up, “I never really told you the whole coming out story.”
“Your parents weren’t fine, like, right away?”
“Not really,” Jack admitted. He faced Bitty. “Kent and I had gotten in this argument, because he thought when we got drafted we’d need beards, you know. We needed to get girlfriends and pretend to be straight. And I thought that’s dishonest, and we shouldn’t use anyone like that, because these girls might think we were in love with them or whatever. And it got really bad, it was our worst fight.
“So my dad came to see us play and I was really distracted, and I was drinking a lot at that point anyway, but so was Kent, so I never thought it was a problem. And that evening at dinner my dad kept hounding me because he knew something was wrong - he could tell by the way I was playing. So I broke down and told them I’m gay.
“And my mom was fine, tearful and said she loved me no matter what.” Jack stopped.
“And your dad?” Bitty prompted.
“My dad said if I cared about having a hockey career at all, I’d better hide it in the locker room and I might want to think about getting a girlfriend.” Jack answered flatly.
Bitty sucked in his breath, “Oooh. Babe, I never knew. Your dad is so open and friendly and casual about it now.”
“Well, about a week later I OD’ed on a bottle of vodka and anxiety meds. I think maybe dad thinks it was because he wasn’t supportive enough. And it’s guilted him into behaving. So,” Jack looked at Bitty and shrugged. “That’s what happened.”
“Was it because your dad wasn’t supportive enough?” Bitty asked quietly.
Jack shrugged again, “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I’ve been in therapy ever since and I’ve never quite figured out the answer to why I did it. And it’s been mostly better since then.”
“Dad sometimes still makes these weird little comments and I get angry then it goes back to being fine. But it hasn’t happened recently, because they love you so fucking much.” Jack lay back down and snuggled in to Bitty’s side.
Bitty cuddled in and twined their hands together, “This is a terrible conversation for our wedding night,” he said.
“Let’s go to bed.” Jack said. “We’ll deal with checking our phones tomorrow.”
As they lay down to fall asleep for the first time as married couple, Jack lightly chirped Bitty, “This is the longest I’ve seen you go without checking your phone.”
“Mmm,” Bitty agreed, snuggling into Jack’s side. “I’m sure not all of what we see is going to be nice. It makes it that much easier to hold off.”
They waited until the next afternoon to check their notifications on their phones. It had been nice, being able to be together without the distraction of twitter and texts and phone calls. Also, they were leaving for France in the evening and they hadn’t even begun to pack. Finally, after lunch, both Jack and Bitty reluctantly turned their phones on.
“Over a hundred texts,” Bitty reported, “Seven voice mails, and I don’t even know how many Twitter notifications.”
Jack looked at his phone, “I can’t count the texts, but definitely over a hundred. My voicemail box is full, I don’t know how many. Same with Twitter.” He sighed, and began to check his voicemail, because he knew that of everything he needed to check, voicemail would be the friendliest.
Sure enough, he had supportive messages from a lot of people. The Samwell coaches, Uncle Mario (“I’m so fucking proud of you, kid.”) The Falconers owner, and his agent, who sounded a little uncomfortable, but still said he was happy for him. Then there was a surprising message from Kent Parson, “Haha! Jack Zimmermann, you sly son of a bitch.” Which was the entirety of the message. Another message from his parents this morning telling them to have a good time in France, and that Bob would hold off the media until they were back. A similar message from Georgia.
His texts were mostly in the same vein. A lot of congrats, some surprised, some not. He had a few emails from reporters, which kind of annoyed him because he didn’t know how they’d gotten his email address.
Bitty was smiling, so his messages must have been mostly good. “All good?” he asked.
“Great,” Bitty said. “Kent Parson left me a weird message.”
“Huh,” Jack said. “Me too. What’d he say to you?”
Bitty went to his voicemail and put it on speaker. “Eric Bittle,” came Kent’s voice. “I can’t believe you managed to snag a fine piece of ass like Jack Zimmerman. Je suis heureux pour vous deux.”
Bitty looked at Jack blankly, who translated, “I’m happy for you both.”
“I didn’t expect that,” Bitty said.
“Neither did I,” Jack answered honestly. “This hasn’t been bad so far, eh?”
“We have yet to check Twitter.”
“I’m thinking I won’t,” Jack said, tossing his phone onto the table. “It could be ugly.”
“I want to know,” Eric said.
“You’re braver than I am, then. Go ahead and check. Tell me how it is.”
Eric opened his Twitter app, “I have twenty-five hundred notifications,” he said flatly. “Mostly likes on our picture.” He began scrolling and reading and he...he was smiling. “Jack. It’s all people who are happy for us!”
“Your followers are probably different than mine,” Jack said. He couldn’t help it, he opened up his own twitter app and started reading. Surprisingly, most of the Tweets were positive, but it was the ones that weren’t that Jack remembered, even years down the line.
After the tenth or so homophobic tweet, where he had to read about how he was a pervert, and shouldn’t be in a locker room, and shouldn’t have been able to coach the Pee-Wees, and frankly more than one that called Bitty a “flaming queen”, he threw his phone down in disgust. “I’m going to work on packing.”
“Jack, sweetheart,” Bitty followed him up the stairs to their bedroom. “It’s all right, you knew this was coming.”
“I know,” Jack said softly. “I just...I just want to play hockey, right? Things aren’t going to be the same for me, ever again.” At that moment, Jack’s phone buzzed. It was a text from Georgia, I know you probably don’t want to be bothered, but we need to talk about what press you want to do when you get back from your honeymoon.
Bitty took the phone and read the text, “You knew you were going to have to do press.”
“I know,” Jack said. “I’ve already thought about it.” He typed back to Georgia, I will do an ESPN interview - just one. And only with Chris Berman. And it has to be here, I’m not traveling to Bristol. Bitty gets to decide for himself if he’s going to be on camera.
“Why Berman?” Bitty asked.
Jack looked at Bitty, “After I OD’ed he called my dad to find out if he was OK. He didn’t ask for a story, didn’t ask for an interview. He just wanted to make sure that I was safe and the my parents were dealing with it.”
Georgia texted him back, I will set it up. Berman has already expressed interest. Would you be willing to sit down for the Samwell Alumni Magazine?
Jack sighed and rolled his eyes. He wasn’t in the mood for this, Twitter had seen to that. He texted back, Fine.
They spent one week in France. Other than visiting Jack’s family in Montreal, Bitty had never been outside the country. Jack was pretty sure his new husband enjoyed the pastries more than he enjoyed any other part of their honeymoon.
The best part of the honeymoon, for Jack at least, was that he spent no time thinking about coming home and having to talk to the press. By their last day in France, he’d had such a wonderful time, and was so deep into blissful newlywed territory, he didn’t think he’d mind a Berman interview much at all.
The interview was set up for their second day back in Providence. Bitty spent two days, first cleaning the house, then baking treats. “How many cameramen and sound guys do you think ESPN will send?” he asked Jack.
“You’re under no obligation to feed them,” Jack pointed out, knowing full well Bitty wouldn’t care.
In fact, when Berman showed up with several soundmen, cameramen, and production assistants, Bitty had baked enough pie for all of them to have seconds. Their interview even started late because Chris Berman had to try both the lemon meringue and the pecan. “How do you keep your weight down?” he joked, off-camera, to Jack.
“A lot of will power,” Jack answered, smiling fondly at Bitty, who was talking quietly to the boom-mic operator about the secret to his pecan pie crust, (“I put a shot of bourbon in the crust dough, instead of just water!”)
The interview went well. Georgia watched from the corner, and they got some shots of Jack and Bitty baking together, though Bitty had declined to be interviewed. But they would have to wait until the next weekend to see the finished interview, because this was going to air several times throughout Saturday and Sunday on Sports Center and ESPNews.
Jack and Bitty watched together, curled up in bed on Saturday morning. The interview started the Sports Center segment. It was packaged, as Bitty had suggested, very much like a human interest story.
“There was a surprise announcement in the NHL two weeks ago,” Chris Berman began, “When Providence Falconers offensive lineman Jack Zimmermann came out as gay.
“Zimmermann is no stranger to shocking the NHL. The son of hockey legend Bad Bob Zimmermann, Jack was only eighteen years old when he was projected to go first in the draft back in 2007. No one knew that Jack was struggling with mental illness and addiction issues, and just days before the draft he overdosed on alcohol and prescription medications. Jack Zimmermann watched from a rehab facility as his best friend and Juniors linemate, Kent Parson, was drafted first.
“Zimmermann and Parson had been inseparable as Juniors, but their paths diverged in 2007. Parson has been with the Las Vegas Aces, where he’s won two Stanley Cups. Zimmermann went through rehab, a lot of therapy, coaching Pee-Wee hockey, and eventually going to play hockey at the small ECAC Samwell University, where he led the Wellies to two straight playoff appearances, and the Frozen Four in his senior year.
“We caught up with Jack at the home he shares with his new husband, Eric Bittle, in Providence last weekend. We talked about growing up in the shadow of Bad Bob, addiction, college, and his decision to come out publicly.”
The screen cut to a shot of Bitty rolling out pie dough, while Jack leaned his elbows on the counter watching him. It was very domestic set up. “They got a shot of your ass, at least,” Bitty joked.
Then they cut to Jack and Chris Berman sitting across from each other in their living room, Jack situated carefully and clearly uncomfortably in front of a bookcase with history books on one shelf, and Samwell trophies on another. “Tell us about how and why you decided to come out,” Berman started.
Jack had been around the media long enough to know that sometimes interviews were cut for time or edited and rearranged to make a better narrative, but Bitty was surprised, “That was later in the interview!”
“Well,” Jack said on TV. “It’s information that I really wanted to control. Eric and I were engaged, and we were going to get married, and I thought that is a story that might get leaked. So I decided to leak it myself.”
“So it was about trying to control your own story?”
“Definitely,” Jack answered. “I’m not an idiot, and I know there are people who don’t like gays and lesbians, and don’t want us playing in their league. But I wasn’t going to not get married just because people like that exist.”
“Are there homophobic players on your team?”
“Probably?” Jack says it like a question more than an answer. “But I’ve had a lot of support, too. I’ve been out to Georgia since I was at Samwell, so she signed me knowing I’m gay. And I’ve been out for a while to a few guys, Fixman, who’s my roommate on the road. LaFleur because he was really vocal about that whole DeCosta thing over at ESPN a few years ago.”
“So the homophobia is quiet?”
“Yes. But, you know, I’ve only been out out for a couple of weeks, and we haven’t skated since.” Jack shrugged a little, “I guess I’ll have to wait and see.”
“What are your expectations?”
“Well, the Falconers are a great group of guys. So I expect we’ll just go play hockey and it won’t be a big deal.”
“Do you think you’ll get more scrutiny than you did before?”
“I always got more scrutiny than the average player,” Jack answered. “Since Juniors, everyone wanted to know if I was going to measure up to my dad. Then in college and beyond everyone wants to know if I’d fall off the wagon.”
“Let’s talk about that. Let’s start with the legacy of Bob Zimmermann.”
“Right,” Jack nodded. “Well, it’s an impossible legacy to live up to. And it took me a long time to learn that. To learn that I needed to create something for my own that’s completely separate from what my dad did.” Jack chuckled a little, “I probably should have just played baseball.”
“But hockey’s in your blood?”
“Absolutely. I joke about baseball, but hockey is my first true love. Eric has called me a hockey robot.”
“Was the pressure to live up to your dad something that caused your addiction 2007?”
“No,” Jack said firmly. “I became addicted because that is very much in my personality to do things like that. I had a lot of injuries when I was seventeen, and a lot of stress, and I over-medicated for them to the point that I couldn’t stop over-medicating for them. So while I was always stressed and concerned about living up to my dad, addiction is just a facet of my personality, and I probably would have overdosed at some point even without my dad being Bob Zimmermann.”
“How about being gay? Was that a cause of stress?”
“Yes,” Jack answered. “That caused me far more stress than living up to the Zimmermann name.”
“What was it like, being a gay teenager in Juniors?”
“Scary,” Jack answered. “You’re afraid of anyone finding out, and you push yourself even harder to be the best player, because you just know you have to make yourself indispensable, so that it’ll be harder for them to kick you off a team for being gay. It invades every thought in your day. Even when you aren’t actively thinking about it, it’s always in the back of your mind. You think about how you answer questions about girlfriends, where you’re looking in the locker room, how to react when someone in the locker room uses the word fag, or uses the word gay in the pejorative. It’s everywhere and constant and there is no break from it.” Jack stops abruptly, because he’s never ranted like this to anyone. Not his parents, not his therapist, not even to Bitty. “When I was hospitalized, I was treated not just for my addictions, but I also had stress ulcers.” By the time Jack had finished talking, his Quebecois accent had grown more pronounced, as it often did when he spoke at length (rare) and earnestly.
“You were eighteen, and you had stress ulcers?”
“How did you tell your parents about your sexuality?”
“I told them when I was a teenager,” Jack answered vaguely.
“Were they supportive?”
“Yes,” Jack answered.
“How did they react?”
Jack hesitated, “You know, that’s kind of personal, and I don’t really want to get into those details. I’ll just say they were as surprised as anyone, but they were good. They - they’re good parents who just want their kid to be happy.”
“There is a clip of your parents after your wedding. They both seem really happy.”
Jack smiled, “Yeah. They love Eric.”
“You met Eric at Samwell?”
“Tell us about your decision to go to Samwell.”
“Well, I didn’t get drafted, obviously. But I still played. I still trained, even on my own. And I joined a club-league with some of the other coaches and dads from the Pee-Wee team I was working with. And,” Jack blushed, “They didn’t like me playing with them because I was a little more serious-”
“A better player?” Berman interrupted.
“I guess,” Jack said modestly. “So one of the guys knows Coach Hall at Samwell and contacted him and he came and watched me skate.”
“Did you try to get into any other colleges?”
“No. From the time I started thinking about college, I was pretty committed to Samwell.”
“But there are better hockey schools.”
“Samwell has a reputation of being gay-friendly and I didn’t want to go back to the locker room mentality that I’d left behind in Juniors.”
“Were you out to your team at Samwell?”
“For the most part. I never really kept it a secret, even if I didn’t talk about it a lot, but,” Jack laughed a little, “Of all people Eric was the last to catch on that I’m not straight.”
Chris Berman smiled at that, “How would you describe your time at Samwell?”
“It was amazing,” Jack said. “It was exactly where I needed to be at that time in my life. It was good for my hockey and good for me as a person. The longer I was there, the less I cared that I’d missed out on the 07 draft, and honestly, I stopped thinking about the NHL altogether and was kind of surprised when scouts came to watch me play.”
“And it’s where you met Eric.”
“Yes,” Jack nodded. “He was a Freshman when I was a Junior.”
“Was it love at first sight?”
Jack laughed, a loud genuine laugh, and managed to look comfortable for the first time during the interview. “Oh no,” he shook his head. “No, no, no. Not at all. We didn’t get along very well in the beginning. He’d come from a background in figure skating and playing in a check-less hockey league. I didn’t think he was a proper hockey player and I really resented having to teach him how to take a check. Then Coach Hall put us on the same line, and things started clicking. On and off the ice.” Even watching the interview a week later, Jack couldn’t believe he’d let Chris Berman get him so unguarded.
“Are there other gay hockey players in the NHL?”
“Sure,” Jack answered. “Just, statistically there would have to be, right?”
“Are there any that you know of?”
Jack paused before answering honestly, “Yes.”
“Do you hope to inspire any other professional athletes to come out?”
“I don’t know that I want to inspire anyone to come out. I only want an athlete to come out if he’s ready to. It’s probably hardest to be first, but I grew up around attention and media, so it was probably easier for me than it would be for another player.”
“How has the media attention been?”
“I don’t know, honestly. We posted that picture at our wedding, then decided to lay low for a while. We had a completely Twitter-free honeymoon. I’ve had people tell me to not read the comments on articles on sports websites, but that’s not the type of thing I’d be doing anyway. I’ve gotten a lot of support from people I know and love, and that’s really all that’s important to me. I don’t really care what a random-Joe from random-town thinks about me, my hockey career, or my marriage.”
“Are you happier now that you’ve come out?”
Jack smiled, a genuine smile. “Yes. I know it won’t be easy, and I might have a lot of negative attention for some time. But I wouldn’t even want to be married if I had to hide it from everyone. Eric is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I had to treat him like a dirty secret.”
The screen faded from Jack’s face, back to the studio, where Chris Berman continued to talk. “We reached out to Bob Zimmermann for an interview, but he refused to be interviewed, saying that Jack’s and Eric’s words could speak for themselves. He did reiterate that he and his wife Alicia are very proud of their son and their son-in-law.”
Eric turned the volume down. “So that’s it. What do you think?”
“It was fine,” Jack said. “Chris Berman didn’t let us down.” He paused and added, “But that won’t be it, will it? Do you think we can just hide out in here until the season starts and hope the media blows over?”
Bitty laughed “Bless your heart, you know that won’t happen.”
The media were everywhere, including on Jack’s front lawn. Elizabeth had to call the police to get them off her lawn at one point. But honestly, following Jack to the coffee shop or to the grocery store with Bitty wasn’t very interesting, and they did leave eventually.
Sports Illustrated contacted Jack about a cover story. He declined, (“I’d rather stories about me focus on my game play, not my personal life”) and though they still ran a small story on him, it wasn’t the cover.
The start of the season began with optional skates. It was a media circus, and while there was some grumbling in the locker room about the presence of reporters, most players just ignored them.
Jack kept himself sane by limiting his time on Twitter. He’d post occasionally, but never looked at his mentions. Bitty kept up on it (and read all the criticism, which he very helpfully never shared with Jack) and would tell Jack if there was something he should read. Jack also did not read any of the articles about himself, lest he be tempted by the comments section. Shitty and Lardo, as well as Fixer and LaFleur had warned him against that several times. It wasn’t difficult, staying away, because he just wanted to play hockey and come home to Bitty.
While Jack may have handled the media as well as he could have, the Falconers struggled that season. Several key injuries left them with a skeleton Defensive line having to rely on AHL call-ups who weren’t ready. Jack was the only reliable scorer on the team.
So when he was called into Georgia’s office about halfway through the season, he wasn’t surprised that the Falcs had decided to scrap salary and start trying to get early draft picks for the following year. They were going rebuild, and Jack being traded away had nothing to do with him being gay, but everything to do with the fact that they could get early draft picks next year for him.
The Penguins were on the cusp of playoff contention, but needed to fill some gaps in their offensive line due to injuries. They were going to take over Jack’s contract, with options for next year.
Jack was headed to Pittsburgh.
Chapter 3: Pittsburgh
Jack stays with Uncle Mario - Jack and Bitty go to a club - Jack and Bob have a heated exchange - Another player gets outed - Jack doesn't re-sign
Uncle Mario picked Jack up from the airport in Pittsburgh the following evening. Jack could have easily called Uber, but Mario had insisted, “No, we’re practically family.”
Even though it was after midnight when Jack’s flight got in from Boston, and that Mario got a lot of attention at the airport, he still came to get Jack. And Jack noted that and it made him feel...welcome.
“I have a guest suite at my house,” Mario said, as he drove from the airport, through the city and out to the suburbs. Fox Chapel, to be exact, where Mario lived in one of Pittsburgh’s biggest houses. Jack had been here before, as a kid, but it had been a while. “Sidney stayed there for a while after he came to play for us. You know, he was only eighteen and his parents didn’t want him living on his own. So when I say he stayed with me a while, it was three years.”
Jack laughed, “I didn’t know that.”
“He was twenty-one when he moved out.” Mario shook his head. “Look, stay with me until the end of the season. And if you re-sign with us, then you move out. The guest suite is its own apartment, so when Eric comes to stay with you, you guys’ll have some privacy.”
“Thanks,” Jack said, relieved. It was nice to not have to stay in a hotel, or to have to worry about finding and furnishing an apartment that he wasn’t sure he’d be staying in all that long.
“How is Eric?”
“Good,” Jack said. “He didn’t want to up and quit his job in Providence, you know. After this season there’s a chance I’ll sign there again. So,” He stopped.
Mario nodded even though they both knew re-signing with Providence, while possible, was unlikely. “Well, Pittsburgh’s glad to have you.”
“Will there be…” Jack didn’t know how to ask it. “You know, because I’m gay?”
Mario shrugged but said fiercely, “Not if I have anything to say about it.”
This calmed Jack. He’d gotten comfortable in Providence. His teammates had gotten used to him, they’d gotten used to Bitty being around. They’d gotten used to the media circus, where they’d been openly and loudly defending him. His coming out had gone as well as it could have, and he didn’t know if starting over in another city was going to start it all over again. Jack turned to Mario, “I don’t know if I ever thanked you for your voicemail after I got married.”
Mario smiled, “You’ve done really well, Jack. I’m proud of you and I know your dad is too.”
Mario’s house was huge. Jack had forgotten, or maybe he was just used to his and Bitty’s modest three bedroom Cape Cod. The guest suite was in a separate wing on the first floor and included a living area, bedroom twice the size of his and Bitty’s bedroom (with the biggest bed Jack has ever seen), a kitchenette and a bathroom almost as big as the bedroom.
So yeah, Jack could be comfortable here for the next few months. It was a nice apartment, with nice company. He always did love his Uncle Mario. But it wasn’t home. He spent the first night desperately missing Bitty in that comically large bed.
It felt the same in the locker room. There was some local press interested in Jack and his story, and there was a surprisingly large local gay scene in Pittsburgh that was very excited about the arrival of Jack Zimmerman. For the most part, the other Penguins were kind and helpful, but they hadn’t gotten the same easy camaraderie that he’d had with the Falcs. The Pens didn’t know Jack, they didn’t know he could be moody, even though he tried really hard not to be.
It got better though. In the locker room after his fifth game, less than three weeks into his arrival in Pittsburgh, Cal “Jordy” Jordan said “Yo, Zimms. LaFleur told me that your boy baked them pies, like, all the time. Where the fuck are our pies?”
There was some nervous laughter, like, was it OK to talk about Jack’s husband openly? But they’d just won their game, on a last minute goal by Crosby (with an assist by Jack), so Jack was in a good mood. “He’s still living in Providence. He’s coming here for the weekend homestand, and I doubt I’d be able to stop him making pies for you.”
“Sweet,” Jordy said, and he looked around at their teammates. “LaFleur says Eric Bittle’s pies are fuckin’ sick. They’ll be the best thing you’ve ever eaten.”
“No pressure on Eric or anything,” Crosby said, sardonically to Jack.
Jack shrugged, “LaFleur’s right though. They will be the best thing you’ve ever eaten.”
“Yeah,” Jordy pushed, “LaFleur said his pies are so good, it’ll make me want to turn gay, just to get more of Bittle’s pies.”
There was a pause, a long silent pause, as guys looked at Jack to see if he’d be offended by that. And Jack wasn’t, but he was trying to come up with something funny, something witty to say because that would break the ice and then maybe he’d feel more at home in this alien locker room. He smiled mildly, “His pie might turn you gay, but Bitty is still far out of your league,” he chirped his teammate.
The players almost visibly relaxed after that.
“No, but really,” Jordy stopped Jack on his way out of the locker room. “Are we going to get pie? Because that wasn’t a joke.”
Jack pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket, “This is the shopping list Bitty sent me so he’ll have ingredients for pie this weekend.” Jack looked at it, “Four pounds of butter. I’d say you’re going to have pie.”
“Sweet,” Jordy clapped Jack on the back and walked out the door. Jordy kind of reminded Jack of Shitty. Same moustache, even.
Jack went shopping, and got back to his apartment at Mario’s and called Bitty by Skype. He missed Bitty. Since Bitty had moved in a couple years before, they hadn’t gone more than a couple weeks without seeing each other, and even then that was only for West Coast roadies. The difference between then and now is that Jack was alone, not in a hotel room with Fixer. So he and Bitty were able to have Skype sex before Jack lay down for the night.
Bitty arrived late at night on Thursday. He was taking Friday off work and going to the Pens game in the evening, then spending Saturday with Jack, then the Pens had another game on Sunday afternoon, and he’d be leaving that evening.
Jack was waiting for him in the main part of Mario’s house. Mario and his wife had gone to bed, so they missed seeing Bitty’s wide-eyed stare at the mansion. They missed the Uber driver doing the same.
Bitty got in, and without a word, Jack led him to the guest suite, backed him up against the wall and ground his hips into Bitty’s and kissed him with a bruising intensity.
“Mon dieu, I’ve missed you,” Jack whispered, running his hands up Bitty’s shirt.
“Jack,” Bitty moaned, wrapping one leg around Jack’s waist, as Jack sunk his hips harder into Bitty’s pelvis. They were both hard already.
“You’ve got to see this bed,” Jack said, pulling back and leading Eric to the bedroom.
“My goodness,” Eric said as he saw the size of it. “We could sleep in different zip codes.”
“But we won’t,” Jack insisted, “I want to feel you when I sleep. It’s so god damn lonely here.”
They toed off their shoes, shed their clothes, and dropped on the bed together, kissing and groping and jerking and sucking as though they hadn’t seen each other in years, rather than weeks.
It took them all of five minutes for them both to be spent, panting and sweating against one another. “Well, that was quite a welcome to Pittsburgh moment,” Bitty laughed, kissing Jack on the nose.
Jack leaned up on his elbow, “It’s not the same without you here.”
“The house isn’t the same without you,” Bitty said. “Elizabeth has been over most nights for dinner. And Shitty and Lardo are coming next weekend to keep me company.”
“God. Shitty and Lardo. I wish I could be there.”
“You’ll be here, helping the Penguins get to the playoffs.”
“We’re gonna do it,” Jack said, sounding confident.
“Y’all are,” Bitty said. “I’ve watched every game. You play well with these guys. You have a what? Four game win streak now? That’s amazing.”
‘It’s a good team,” Jack acknowledged. “I like it here. It doesn’t feel like home, but it’s all right.”
Jack and Bitty snuggled into the covers, and despite the bed’s size, fell asleep curled around each other right in the middle of the bed.
They awoke still curled around each other, took a shower together where they had sex again, this time more slowly and patiently than the night before. Bitty wanted to get right to making pies.
He actually baked in Mario’s kitchen, rather than the guest kitchen. Mario’s kitchen had professional appliances and two double ovens. Bitty was practically overcome with emotion at how nice the appliances were.
Mario and his wife were in the kitchen with them, chatting about that night’s game, when Bob and Alicia Zimmermann showed up. They would be in Pittsburgh for the game, and were staying in yet another guest room of Mario’s for the weekend.
Alicia began helping Bitty with the pies, the two of them chatting like old buddies. Jack sometimes took a moment to step back from his life and really look at it. This was one of those moments, because he was suddenly overcome with warmth and happiness. He felt guilty, like he couldn’t properly enjoy it. Because what had he done to deserve a husband like Bitty? Supportive and loving parents like Bob and Alicia? Family friends like the Lemieuxs?
He must have zoned out, because Bitty said something to him, and when Jack didn’t answer, waved his hands in front of his face, “Yoo-hoo! Jack are you in there?”
Jack shook his head, “Yeah. I’m here.”
“I asked what you think Jordy would prefer. Peanut Butter pie or Key Lime pie?”
“I don’t know,” Jack answered. “He didn’t specify, he just kept talking about pie.”
“Hmmm,” Bitty said thoughtfully. “I’d better make one of each.”
They won their fifth game in a row. Spirits were high in the locker room, and were even higher when, after the press left and most players had showered, Bob Zimmermann came in with his son-in-law and they were carrying several pies.
“You beautiful son of a bitch,” Jordy shouted, hugging Bitty before leaning back and introducing himself, “I’m Jordy.”
“Eric Bittle,” Bitty shook Jordy’s hand. “I heard you like pie.”
Bob and Bitty set the pies up on a table, which was quickly mobbed.
“Hey,” Jack said softly to Bitty, pulling him away from the mass of pie-starved hockey players. “Thanks.”
“Sure,” Bitty said, watching the players and smiling.
“I’m going to jerk off thinking about this pie tonight,” Jordy announced, his mouth full of peanut butter pie.
“Goodness, that might be the highest compliment my pie has ever gotten,” Bitty said.
When Jack and Bitty left the locker room with plans to go out for a nightcap, they were stopped by a bunch of fans. Jack politely signed a few autographs, and looked sideways at Bitty who was talking to a few guys. When the crowd of autograph seekers died down, Bitty and the guys came over, “Jack, this is Craig, Logan, and Steve. They want us to go out with them tonight.”
“You haven’t been out to Pittsburgh’s gay scene yet,” Logan said.
“Well, I’m a married man,” Jack said, pulling Bitty close to him by the waist. “But since you’re here this weekend, Bitty, we can go if you want.”
“Really?” Bitty was surprised. Jack was more of a homebody, but the fifth straight win plus Bitty being here had made him warm and happy and more willing to go out. “Yeah,” Bitty said. “We’ll go with y’all.”
“Awesome,” Craig said.
“Swaesome,” Jack and Bitty said together.
Club Cruze was located not too far from the arena in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. There was a line to get in, but Craig pulled his arm, “Everyone in here has been waiting for Jack Zimmermann to make an appearance at one of the gay clubs since you got here. You aren’t waiting in line.”
The five of them made their way to the front of the line, where the bouncer was ready to tell them to get to the back of the line, until he saw Jack. His eyes grew wide, “We got Zimmermann!” he called into a walkie talkie, as he pulled a rope across to let them in, no cover charge.
It was dark and loud. The bar was in the center and huge, but not nearly as big as the dance floor which was teeming with men. Jack bought them all drinks. “Thought you were an alcoholic,” Craig said over the music in Jack’s ear and pointing to Jack’s vodka sour.
“I was in rehab for prescription drug abuse,” Jack explains. “Not alcohol, though I try not to drink too much.” He paused. “I’m actually kind of a lightweight when it comes to drinking, and I have to skate tomorrow so I’m not going to drink too much.”
Jack watched as the guys he and Bitty came with made their way to the dance floor. He and Bitty sat on stools at the bar, trying to talk to each other, but not able to hear very well over the music. “Want to dance?” Craig asked, coming back to them.
Jack could tell Bitty wanted to, especially when Beyonce came on, “Go ahead,” he said to Bitty. “I’m going to have another drink.”
The second drink was stronger, and the third stronger still, and Jack started feeling buzzed. He signed a few autographs, took a few selfies with people, but kept his eyes on Bitty. Craig was getting….a little handsy, and Jack decided it was time to make his way onto the dance floor.
When he stood up, he realized he was actually a lot drunker than he thought. But it was a lighthearted, fun type of drunk. Otherwise, he never would have danced like he did. It was nice to be out with Bitty and be able to hold him, to kiss him and run his hands down his body. Even among people he was out to, Jack always held back on being publicly affectionate with Bitty. The only people he really allowed himself to kiss Bitty in front of were Shitty and Lardo. Even in front of his own parents, he would hold Bitty’s hand or rub his shoulders, but he wouldn’t kiss. (And in front of Bitty’s parents, they never even touched, because Jack remained a little afraid of Coach.)
But this? Being out among other gay men in a bar where he was nicely buzzed and Bitty was shaking his ass off? He wouldn’t have been able to keep his hands off Bitty.
And it’s not like they were the only ones making out on the dance floor. There was a lot of grinding, a lot of kissing and a lot of groping going on. Bitty and Jack were certainly not alone.
When it got to be too much for Jack, when he realized he was half-hard in public, he ushered Bitty out of the club and into a cab to make it back to Mario’s. Even in the back of the cab, they had their hands all over each other, breathing heavily between kisses. The cabbie, who probably did not recognize Jack, very politely ignored them.
They made their way into Mario’s house, and ran together to the guest suite where Jack was fucked raw by Bitty.
The next morning, Bob woke them up with a loud knock. “Come eat breakfast with us,” he called through the door. “Alicia’s making crepes.”
Jack and Bitty woke and stretched their muscles. They threw on pants and t-shirts and made their way, bleary-eyed and hungover, out of the guest suite and into the main kitchen. “Morning,” Bitty yawned at the four in the kitchen.
“Looks like you guys had quite a time last night,” Bob said dryly.
“We went out after the game,” Jack answered.
“I know,” Bob said, and he turned the iPad Mario had been studying toward Jack and Bitty. There was a blurry cellphone picture of Jack and Bitty on the dance floor last night. Jack was shirtless and had Bitty pulled up close to him, his hands gripping Bitty’s ass hard, and they were kissing. Bitty’s hand was resting on the front of the bulge in Jack’s pants.
“Oops,” Bitty said, blushing all the way up to his ears.
“So?” Jack asked, challenging someone to say what was wrong with the picture.
“You should be more careful about where you go,” Bob said evenly.
“I’m an openly gay man, who went to a gay club with his openly gay husband. I fail to see what the problem is.”
“It’s not very decorous.”
“No, well it’s a gay pickup club. There wasn’t a lot of decorum by anyone, and if you think that,” he pointed to the iPad, “Is bad, you should have seen what was going on in the bathrooms.”
“You’re a public figure.”
“Public figures go out to clubs all the time.”
“Not,” Mario spoke up, “Public figures who’ve been in rehab.”
“Oh, well. I’m not an alcoholic. My problem was prescription meds, mostly anxiety pills. So.”
“The public doesn’t really know that,” Mario said gently.
“I hardly ever even drink,” Jack pointed out. “Even at Samwell, ask Bitty. I barely did the kegsters.”
“He didn’t,” Bitty said.
“That’s neither here nor there,” Bob said. “You should be going out with your team after games, and not to places like this.”
“Got it,” Jack said sharply. “I shouldn’t go someplace so faggoty.”
Alicia gasped as Jack turned to stalk out of the kitchen, “No,” his mother said. “That is not what he meant. Bob, tell him that’s not what you meant.”
“When have I ever used language like that?” Bob asked sounding angry. “Jack, come back here. You’re being unfair, I just want to protect your image.”
“My image is fine,” Jack said. “No one is going to care about this,” he waved to the iPad, “Because I’m already out, and it’s my husband that I’m groping in the picture. If anyone asks, I can deny being an alcoholic because I’m not one.” There was a moment’s pause. “I’m not fucking apologizing for being gay and hanging out with other gay people,” he said vehemently. “You will not make me do that.” Bitty was staring at Jack, eyes wide with shock at the ice running through Jack’s voice.
“You don’t have to do that,” Mario assured him, suddenly realizing this might be a Zimmermann family drama he’d been unaware of.
“I’m not making a statement either,” Jack said. “If you think a statement needs to be made, the Penguins PR can deal with it, but I won’t co-sign on it.”
“I haven’t talked to anyone else from the team yet,” Mario said, trying to calm everyone down. “Maybe we can just let this blow over.”
It turned out to not be that big a deal. Some grumbling on the internet that they didn’t think Jack was one of ‘those’ gays, who went to clubs and danced to techno music, they thought Jack was sensible and married and solid.
There was some chirping in the locker room, but nothing Jack wouldn’t have expected to give if a teammate had been caught dancing at a regular club with his tongue down the throat of a woman.
He’d talked to Shitty about it, who, as usual, was able to put it very succinctly. “Your dad really believes in the heteronormative values. You know, monogamy and marriage and the suburban ideal. As long as you’re with Bitty, you being gay isn’t such a big deal because you’re monogamous and you guys are married and that’s familiar to him because it’s what he and your mom have. But when he sees you go out to a gay club, a gay club where guys are getting blown in the bathroom no less, that changes his image of you and what it means to be gay. And it’s not just your dad. Those assholes on the internet are now complaining that you’re one of ‘those’ queers, because they thought you were a stay-at-home-baking-with-your-spouse type of gay. Not a shirtless-and-making-out-in-a-gay-club type of gay.”
After Sunday’s game, which was a loss, Jack was changing unhappily at his locker when Sidney Crosby came up to him.
“Have you been online?”
Sidney plopped down on the bench next to him. “You’re not the only out player in the league anymore.”
Jack stopped changing, his arms in his shirt, but it wasn’t yet pulled over his head. “What? Who?”
“Remember that anti-gay preacher out in Nevada who recently had the gay sex scandal?”
“Yeah,” Jack said, his stomach dropping because he knew what was coming.
“Kent Parson was one of the guys from Grindr he hooked up with. The news just broke while we were playing.”
“Shit,” Jack said. He quickly pulled his shirt on the rest of the way. “Fuck!” he hit his locker with the heel of his hand.
“It sucks,” Sidney said. “No one should be outted like that.”
“I need to call him.” Jack pulled out his cellphone and dialed. It went to straight to voicemail, which Jack had expected, and he left a message. “Kenny. Jesus Christ, Kenny. I’m so sorry. Call me if you need to talk.”
He hung up and looked at Sid, who was watching him carefully. “You call him Kenny?”
Jack gave Sidney a look, eyebrows raised, asking him to figure it out for himself.
“Right,” Sidney nodded. “You two used to…”
“Yeah,” Jack said miserably, “But that’s not public knowledge.” Because he and Kent used to be a lot of things. And since Jack had been in the league, they were at a standstill. They’d called a little bit of a truce, and the handful of times they’d faced each other on the ice it had been hard-fought, each of them with something to prove to the other. But they didn’t hate each other. They hadn’t ever hated each other, really. Not even when Kent showed up to the Samwell epikegster.
Bitty came in the locker room at that moment, and Jack could tell he’d heard the news. Bitty dropped a few more pies on the table and made his way over to Jack, “Did you call Parse?”
“I just did,” Jack said. “I left a voicemail message.”
“So did your dad,” Bitty said. He pulled Jack aside, “He’s sorry about yesterday morning. He didn’t mean-”
“I’m not talking about it.” Jack said. Bitty didn’t push it.
Jack got a call back from Kent while he was driving back from dropping Bitty off at the airport. “Well,” Kent said sourly. “You even managed to come out better than I did.”
Kent sighed. “I’m holed up in my house right now. I got permission to skip practice this morning, and the Aces are working on a PR statement as we speak.”
“You going to make your own statement?”
“If they want me to.”
“Jesus, Kenny. I don’t know what to say.”
“Tell me it’ll be all right,” Kent said softly.
“It will be,” Jack insisted. “Did you see the pictures of me and Bitty that were leaked yesterday?”
Kent scoffed, “Getting felt up by the person you’re fucking married to isn’t even close to blowing a homophobic preacher. And now that I’ve been outed like this, no one is even going to remember your pictures.”
“What were you thinking?” Jack asked.
“I didn’t know who he was.”
Jack was quiet for a moment. “Do me a favor.”
“Just listen. If you decide to make your own statement, don’t apologize for being gay. Please don’t do that. The preacher, what’s his name?”
“Steve Ganderson. Pastor at the Faithful Temple of God in Henderson Nevada, where they teach that all faggots are going to hell.”
“Listen, Steve Ganderson is the villain here. Do not let them paint you as the villain. So you wanted to hook up and you went on Grindr to do it. You’re gay, that’s where gay guys go to find hookups. We’re adults and there’s nothing wrong with hooking up, right? If a straight teammate had banged a married woman from Tinder, there wouldn’t be any kind of PR statement. So they’re calling you out because you’re gay.”
“You had total control of your outing,” Kent said.
“You need to take control of yours,” Jack said with an intensity that surprised even himself. “This is your fucking outing, not the Aces’, not the NHL’s. Own it.”
“You know I can be a dick to the media.”
“They love it though. It’s part of your charm.”
“OK. I actually….this actually helped, Jack. Thanks.”
“They’re going to ask me for a statement at some point. What do you want me to say?”
“That I’m the best lay you’ve ever had.” Jack could practically hear the smirk on Kent’s face.
“You know how I feel about lying,” Jack chirped.
“Well, then. Whatever they ask, just be yourself. I trust you.”
The Penguins had morning skate the next morning. While they were in the locker room afterwards, Kent Parson’s press conference came on the TV. Most players watched as they changed, but none watched with as much interest as Jack, who hadn’t even begun changing his clothes.
The Aces made their statement first, which was full of nice platitudes about supporting Kent and the diversity of athletes in the NHL. Then Kent came out. He looked handsome, handsomer than Jack had remembered. His blond hair was combed neatly, but for the small cow-lick in the back. He was wearing a blue and white striped button up shirt opened at the collar, and (this was new) a pair of dark framed reading glasses.
He started reading from some note cards. “I’d like to thank the Aces for their support of me during this time, and the NHL through the commissioner who got in touch with me and offered words of support. I do apologize to my team and teammates if any of my behavior caused any embarrassment-” he stopped and paused for a few moments. Then he threw the cards aside and looked straight at the press,
“But I’m not going to apologize for what I did. Because I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m gay, and there’s nothing wrong with that - it’s not something I need to apologize for. What’s wrong is that I was made to feel like I couldn’t be myself. A society that tells gay athletes that they need to hide and to be ashamed of who they are is what’s wrong. I was on Grindr anonymously because I have this job that I love, but it’s in an industry that constantly tells us it’s wrong to be ourselves. That I can’t be a good hockey player and love men at the same time. Well, I can. I’m proud to be gay and I’m proud to be a player in the NHL.
“The only people I really owe an apology to is the gay community. Because if I had known for a one second who Steve Ganderson really is, what types of hate he preached, I never would have swiped right on his profile. Steve Ganderson is a vile hypocrite, and I can’t even believe I’m the one who has to hold a press conference for being gay and he doesn’t. So really, my only sincere apology is to the gay community. I hope they can forgive me for having given any moment of...uh...happiness to a guy like Ganderson, and I hope they can forgive me for hiding myself.”
The Aces GM was standing behind Kent, eyes wide with worry because he’d gone off script. Jack was smiling. He loved what Kent said and was, weirdly, proud of him for getting through it without saying ‘fuck’ even once. Kent stood up, refusing to take any questions.
“That was nice,” Sidney said, clapping Jack on the back. “Also, the press are waiting to get in here to talk to you.”
“Why does that surprise you?” Sidney asked. “A second player came out, former linemate and best friend of the first player to be out. I think the press will be all over you.”
As he said it, the doors opened and a handful of journalists came in and crowded Jack by his locker.
“Do you have a statement about Kent Parson?”
“I-” Jack looked past them at Sidney who smirked and pulled on his stupid yellow Crocs. Sidney was the Penguins biggest star and it must have been a relief to him to not be the one hounded by reporters after a morning skate. “I’m real proud of Kent. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to do.”
“Are you and Parson still close?”
“We talk. We were friends in Juniors, but we went our separate ways.”
“In your ESPN interview after you got married, you mentioned that you knew of other gay NHL players. Were you referring to Kent?”
“I’m not going to answer that.”
“Were you two ever involved with each other?”
Out of the corner of his eyes, Jack noticed his teammates going still, so they could hear his answer. God damn gossips, he thought. “That’s a really personal question and I’m not comfortable answering it, because frankly, it’s not your business or anyone else’s.”
“How does your husband feel about it?”
“About what? Kent? Kent called both of us after we got married to offer his congratulations. That’s the only time Eric has ever really talked to him. But he’s obviously supportive of Kent and his decision to come out. But again, Eric’s opinion isn’t really relevant.”
“Do you have a statement about the photo that was released of you and Eric at Club Cruze this past weekend?”
“No,” Jack said. “I wish other club-goers had respected our privacy, but I recognize that things like this will happen.”
“Are you worried that the photo will harm your image? That little kids might see the photo?”
“If anyone is worried about kids seeing the photo, maybe the press shouldn’t have posted it. I really don’t have any other statement to make about that or about Kent.” He turned his back to indicate that the interview was done. One reporter tried to push him further about the photo, but he didn’t answer her, and when he began undressing, she left.
Kent, it turned out, had it fairly easy. The gay community in Las Vegas rallied around him, and when the Penguins went on their west coast roadie a month later, Jack was even loudly applauded. There were signs made out of Rainbow Pride flags that read “Aces Love Zimmermann.” It gave him a serious case of the warm fuzzies.
Bitty had flown out to Las Vegas, and he and Jack went to dinner with Kent. And despite anything bad that had happened a decade earlier, being the only two out players in the NHL was a reason for some serious bonding. They went to a steakhouse just off the strip.
“I should have done it years ago,” Kent said over dinner. “I can’t believe...I mean it’s Vegas. No one cares. I could have been a lot happier and I never would have even met Steve Ganderson.”
“Maybe Ganderson was a hidden blessing,” Bitty said.
Kent snorted. “No,” he assured Bitty. “That was still a giant fucking mistake.”
“What happened to Ganderson?” Jack asked curiously.
Kent shrugged, “No one knows. Hiding out in his Henderson mansion, I expect. Pretty sure he lost his flock and probably his wife and kids too. Fucker had it coming.”
Bitty raised his glass, “Well, here’s to the downfall of homophobes!”
They clinked glasses and drank. “You guys should come to the club with me tonight,” Kent said. Now that he was out, he was trying to hit all of the gay clubs in Vegas as quickly as possible.
“We had an embarrassing photo taken last time we went to a club,” Bitty reminded him.
“Ah,” Kent waved his hands dismissively. “That won’t happen here.”
“The team flies out tomorrow morning,” Jack said. “I have to get back to the hotel after dinner.”
Kent pouted, “Fine, hockey robot.” He turned to Bitty, “What about you, Eric? You can come with me, right?”
Bitty flushed a little, “Bless your heart you think I’d go out clubbing with you instead of going back to the hotel room with my husband who I haven’t seen in three weeks.”
“Fine,” Kent said. “But only because if it’s been three weeks, I know you both need to get laid. And badly.”
Jack finished out the season with Pittsburgh. Unlike Providence, they made it to the playoffs, as expected. In fact, they lost in the Eastern Conference finals to Tampa Bay. The Aces made it to the Western Conference Finals and lost to San Jose.
The day after their final loss of the season, Bitty and Jack was packing up his room at Mario’s house. Jack was morose, still sullen at their loss. Bitty was keeping up a one-sided conversation about their neighbor in Providence, Elizabeth. She’d been at their wedding, and she and Bitty had become really close.
Elizabeth was pregnant and due any day. “She’s thirty-eight years old now,” Bitty was saying. “She didn’t want to wait forever to have a baby, and she wants two kids. So she figured she’s not waiting for a husband to come along, so she went to the clinic and got artificially inseminated and she’ll do it again when this kid is one. I say good for her, she’ll make a great mama. Also, since we’ll be home for a while I told her we’d help her out with the baby a little. Not that we’ll be babysitting, heavens, not a baby that young. But I could make her dinner and maybe watch the baby sleep while she goes to have a shower. My mom said that’s really what new mamas need. Food and time to shower. I don’t know much about babies, but I sure can make her food.”
Jack punctuated Bitty’s ramblings with well-placed, “Rights,” and “Mmm-hmms.” Finally his phone buzzed. It was his agent. “Brian,” he answered.
“Jack, listen. I just got off the phone with the guys in Pittsburgh. They aren’t going to extend your contract. They have a couple offensive guys coming off of injuries and they’ll be ready to play come September. So for now you’re a free agent, and we need to talk about offers you’ll take.”
Jack sighed, “Is returning to Providence a possibility?”
Brian hesitated, “I...don’t think so. I’ll run it by Georgia, but they’re looking to build from the ground up. They’re trying to get a lot of young guys in.”
“I don’t know,” Jack said. He was still smarting from last night’s loss. “I prefer playing in the Eastern Conference. My home is Providence, so Boston maybe? New York?”
“I’ll try to keep you in the east,” Brian said. “Washington is looking for goal-scorers, so is Toronto. You’ll definitely get some offers in the next few days.”
“Sure. Thanks,” Jack said as he hung up the phone. He looked at Bitty. “I’m a free agent.”
Bitty frowned, “Oh, Jack.” Jack had really wanted to go back to Providence, or barring that, to stay in Pittsburgh. Now, his future was up to the hockey gods.
Chapter 4: Washington, DC
Jack & Bitty move to DC - Bitty has trouble finding a job - Jack finds another gay NHLer - Samwell reunion - The Choking Dogs are at it again.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Jack ended up in Washington, where he signed a two year contract. He’d be facing both of his old teams several times each year.
The day they moved back to Providence from Pittsburgh, their neighbor Elizabeth had her baby. Bitty baked a lot. They were going to spend a few days with Bitty’s parent’s in Georgia, and Bitty made enough food to get Elizabeth through a few weeks.
“The baby might be colicky,” Bitty said nervously to Jack the morning before their flight to Georgia. “I hate leaving Elizabeth alone with her without a break.”
“Bits,” Jack said patiently. “She’ll be fine. She’s a grown woman, and you said yourself that she’s great mama. She has other friends, and she told us her sister is coming in a few days, right?”
“Yes,” Bitty agreed. “I just worry about her and that precious thing.”
Jack couldn’t have hidden a smile if he’d tried. Seeing Bitty with baby Rose actually gave Jack a little pull in his chest. Bitty was a natural with babies. On the one occasion Jack had held a sleeping Rose, he’d frozen up and was afraid to move, afraid to jostle her little head too much. He felt entirely too big to be responsible for such a small creature. Elizabeth and Bitty had both laughed and taken pity on him, removing the baby, who never even woke up, from his arms.
They were in Georgia, eating dinner with the Bittles, when Jack got another call from his agent. “Lots of offers, but only a few serious ones. We’ve got Washington offering two years, Dallas offering three, but less money per year than Washington. Las Vegas said they have an open invitation for you - I’m not actually sure if they’re serious about that. But they really want to cash in on Parse and Zimms playing together.”
“Who else?” Jack asked.
“For the money you should be earning? No one. Philly’s offering a four year deal but only for a pittance. If you want the stability of a four year contract over the money of Washington’s two, you could go there. You’re pushing thirty now, Jack. Longer contracts aren’t going to come your way.”
Jack cringed. After Kent’s rookie year, he’d signed a ten year contract with Las Vegas. But then, he was only nineteen at the time. A twenty-nine, with a rehab stint behind him, he would never get a long-term contract. He’d been lucky to get a four year contract with Providence when he did.
“Washington,” Jack answered. He was pushing thirty, he might as well take the money.
Jack returned to the dinner table, “Washington. Two year contract.” he said to Bitty.
Bitty looked disappointed, “No Providence? No Boston?”
Jack shook his head. “Nope. We need to decide if you’re going to come with me.”
“Of course,” Bitty said, without thinking.
“What about your job?”
“There’ll be jobs in DC,” Bitty said. “I hated being separated for half of last year, I couldn’t imagine doing it for a full two. We’ll rent a place in DC, keep our house in Providence and live there off-season.”
Jack noticed Coach shifting a little in his seat. It must be weird for him to hear his son talk about having two homes as though it was nothing. Not for the first time, he felt guilty for out-earning everyone he knew, including his in-laws.
Jack and Bitty rented a townhome in DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. It wasn’t far from the arena, though Jack quickly learned that it may have been short in miles, the traffic in the city was awful. Eventually, he gave up driving and just decided to take the Metro. It was a short trip from Dupont to the arena, about five stops without having to switch lines.
For whatever reason, his taking the Metro absolutely endeared him to the fans, and a Twitter and Instagram hashtag soon appeared #ZimmsOnTheRedLine. People would sneak pictures of him (or sometimes outright ask him for selfies) and post them with that hashtag. Because he didn’t have the regular schedule of a 9-5 worker, he’d see all sorts of people, businessmen, high school students, people coming home from working night shift, people on the way to their nightshift.
Jack didn’t always love strangers, and he never had the easy manner of someone like Kent or Bitty, but he had a fondness for fans. So he put up with it and sometimes even managed to enjoy it. On the occasion that Bitty would take the subway with him, it was like the Twitter jackpot for their fellow passengers. #ZimmsAndBittleOnTheRedLine. Bitty’s hobby was checking the hashtag after Jack would leave the house. Most days he’d get a hit within ten minutes.
The season started quietly. There was no extra press for the openly gay Jack Zimmermann, much to Jack’s relief. Washington, DC was a city that seemed to care more about Jack’s work on the ice than who shared his bed. The Capitals were a favorite for the playoffs, possibly even the Stanley Cup finals. But Jack had learned in his first couple of months in the city, that Caps fans never got their hopes up high.
“The Washington Choking Dogs,” he’d heard more than one person (even die-hard fans) call them. Sometimes affectionately, but more often with disgust. Jack had to admit...they had a point. The Caps had a history of playing well up until the playoffs, then managing to lose spectacularly.
The rapport in the locker room was a little more relaxed in DC. Less chirping, definitely, but also a little less close-knit. Jack’s roadtrip roommate was a 22 year old rookie from Sweden named Alek Nordgren. He was their backup goalie, and he came out to Jack on their first night together in a hotel room in Nashville.
“You go to gay clubs with your husband, right?” Alek asked nervously. His English was good, but his accent was strong.
“Um, not really. Just that one time in Pittsburgh.” Jack was busy rooting through his bag for a toothbrush.
Alek’s face fell, “So you can’t tell me where the good clubs in this city are.”
Jack stopped, his hand in his bag and looked at Alek with eyes wide. “You’re gay?”
“Yes. I was so excited to learn I would be on the same team as Jack Zimmermann. I was thinking a few years ago that I can not play hockey very much longer because no one would want a gay man on their team. But I saw that you could do it and I said, yes I can do it too.”
Jack blushed, “That’s...that’s really nice to hear.” It wasn’t the first time he’d heard it. People would stop him on the street, or talk to him while he was signing autographs after games and tell him about being a gay athlete, or their kids’ experiences as gay athletes. He liked hearing it, but sometimes he didn’t know what to say, so he’d just nod and smile encouragingly, and thank the fans. Bitty was so much better at things like that.
This? This was a fellow professional athlete, a teammate, and that just seemed so huge to him, though Alek seemed very relaxed about the whole thing. Jack wondered if he wanted advice or something. “You aren’t ready to be public?”
“Oh, no,” Alek shook his head. “Maybe at some time, but I’m not ready for that yet.”
“You might want to avoid the clubs then,” Jack advised. “Your picture can wind up outing you. You know what happened to Kent Parson.”
“But then how am I supposed to get laid?”
That was a good question. He thought he might have to ask Parse next time they talked.
Later that night when Alek had gone to get a snack, Jack called up Bitty and told him about it. “They have you sharing a room with a twenty-two year old gay man?”
“Yes,” Jack answered.
“Hmm,” Bitty said thoughtfully. “What color’s his hair?” He teased.
“Bits,” Jack said. “You know you’re the only one for me. Even though he is blonder than you are.”
About halfway through the season, Jack was getting more comfortable in DC. Bitty, unfortunately, was having trouble finding a job. He’s applied at the local ice rinks to work with both figure skaters or hockey teams. But it was well known in the area that his husband had only signed a two-year contract, and these positions would only be temporary.
The longer Bitty went without a job, the more depressed he became. He would go back to Providence about once a month to check on the house and to spend time with Elizabeth and the baby. Jack didn’t know how to pull him out of his funk.
The Caps were the beneficiaries of Bitty’s moods. Jack was bringing pies in nearly every day. And when the team nutritionist asked Jack to ask Bitty to cut it out, Jack couldn’t bring himself to say anything and found himself giving the pies away to the player’s wives to bring home.
It’s not that Bitty ever said anything to indicate he blamed Jack for him not being able to find a job, but Jack felt guilty nonetheless. Still, they carefully avoided ever talking about it, even when the tensions were simmering just below the surface of every comment, every kiss, every pie.
Then in January, Ransom sent a text to Jack and Bitty that he was going to be in DC for a job interview. Two minutes later, a text from Holster came that he was coming too. Then Shitty and Lardo decided to come and make it a whole weekend reunion. Jack hoped this would cheer Bitty up. Especially because it was a home game weekend for the Caps, so Jack would be here for it.
Ransom showed up by himself on Thursday after his interview, which was in the Maryland suburbs and quickly made himself at home with Bitty. Bitty had spent the whole day preparing baked goods for the Haus-mates.
Jack got home to find Bitty and Ransom curled together on the couch, a bottle of wine emptied and half a pie already gone. “Captain!” Ransom shouted, giving Jack a hug.
“Rans,” Jack said. He didn’t realize how happy he’d be to see him. He hadn’t seen any of the other since he’d played with Providence. “How was the job interview?”
“Swawesome,” Ransom answered. “I think I’m gonna be your new neighbor.”
“Yeah, but how’s Holster gonna deal?”
“He loves Boston. He’s gonna stay there.”
Jack started to say something about how hard it would be to separate, but he stopped himself. It’d been four years since Ransom and Holster had graduated Samwell. They weren’t kids in their early twenties anymore. They were adult adults. Even though Jack had just turned thirty, and he knew that time was marching on, it still shocked him to think of Ransom as anything other than a college student. Obviously he and Holster weren’t going to live together forever.
That thought made Jack melancholy. So even though he had a game the following night, he poured himself a glass of wine and joined Bitty and Ransom on the couch.
“This is much nicer than The Haus,” Ransom said, looking around.
“A rat-infested garbage can is nicer than the Haus,” Bitty said.
“You like DC?”
“Who, me or Jack?” Bitty asked.
“Both of you,” Ransom tousled Bitty’s hair.
“It’s fine,” Jack said. “I like the city, but I miss playing for Providence.”
“I can’t find a job,” Bitty pouted, his lower lip protruding adorably.
“I think Jack makes enough money you don’t have to-” Ransom cut himself off, as he saw Jack’s eyes widen and his head shake a little.
Bitty, buzzed on several glasses of wine, laughed instead of getting angry. “Ransom, let me tell you. I got a call from some producers at Bravo and they’re doing a show on the lives of Sports Wives. And they wanted me.”
“You’re a husband,” Ransom pointed out.
“Thank you,” Bitty stressed. “But seeing as how here I’m only seen as a housewife with a rich husband, when I had my own career in Providence, I’m not feeling very kindly toward DC.”
“You should start a bakery,” Ransom advised. “You always should have done that.”
“Where am I supposed to start a bakery?” Eric asked. “I never know where we’ll be living next year.”
“Well, you’re here for two-”
“Unless Jack gets traded.”
Ransom looked between Bitty and Jack, realized he walked himself right into pile of ongoing marital tension, and quickly and awkwardly changed the subject. “When are the others getting here?”
“Tomorrow afternoon,” Bitty answered. “Shitty and Lardo’s flight comes in around noon, Holster’s a little after that.”
“We going to the game tomorrow night?”
“Definitely,” Jack answered. “I got you guys VIP seats by the press box.”
“Nice,” Ransom said. “Anything else planned?”
“Lardo wants to go to the National Gallery of Art,” Bitty answered.
“Does she?” Jack asked. It was the first he’d heard of it.
Bitty went on as though Jack hadn’t spoken. “I figured we’d do that Saturday after Jack’s morning skate.”
“I reserved rink time for us after morning skate.”
“For all of us?” Bitty asked.
“Yeah,” Jack suddenly felt a little bit embarrassed. Like skating together was something they’d done in college, but now they were several years out of college and is that something they’d even want to do any more? Was going to the National Gallery of Art more important, more adult than having a skate together?
But his worries were for nothing, “We can do the museum afterwards,” Bitty said. “I haven’t skated with you since Providence, Jack!”
“This is gonna be swawesome,” Ransom said. “Like old times.”
It was like old times. Friday evening Bitty led Shitty, Lardo, Ransom and Holster on the Metro to the Caps game. They were all wearing their Samwell jerseys, Lardo in a Samwell hoodie. They got a few looks on the Metro, a couple of Caps fans who realized they must be Jack Zimmermann fans.
They were in a luxury box, with a full buffet behind them. There were a few other people in the box with them, including the Caps owner. Ransom and Holster got very quiet and wide-eyed when he greeted Bitty by name. They looked at Bitty reverently.
Still, they weren’t that reverent that they couldn’t start drinking heavily. And they were louder than anyone when the Caps went up 2-1 on a goal by Jack, and got louder still when Jack raised his fist to his old college teammates in the box.
After the game, Jack, Bitty and their Samwell teammates went out for dinner and drinks with a lot of the team to celebrate the Caps win. Jack and the rest of the Caps reined in their drinking a little, because they did have a morning skate the next morning. But the team was all too happy to ply Jack’s friends with drinks and talk drunken hockey with them. Shitty, continuing his streak, even got Alek to come out to him.
Jack watched Bitty, who was busy along with Shitty trying to teach Alek and the starting goalie how to do Beyonce’s Single Ladies dance. It was the happiest he’d seen Bitty since they’d come to DC.
The next morning, Jack awoke before the rest of the guys (in the Temporary Haus, they were calling it) to get to his morning skate. By the time they were done, Bitty and the others were in the stands, skated up and in their Samwell jerseys ready to go.
Jack got them sticks from the team extras, and pulled a puck onto the ice. He’d convinced Alek to stick around and act as goalie.
Jack was warmed up, so he and Alek chatted and watched as the others stretched out and began slowly skating around the ice. Then he joined in and they began passing the puck between them.
“No checking!” Bitty called, as he zoomed by Jack, getting the puck from behind him. Jack laughed as he chased Bitty down, but even after all these years, Bitty was fast. As his muscles warmed up, he got faster still, and so graceful that even Alek couldn’t keep his eyes off him.
They goofed around a little at first, then as Jack realized Bitty was skating all out, it became more serious. And they set up a little half-ice game. Jack and Bitty vs. Shitty, Ransom and Holster. Alek acted goalie for both, and Lardo was the ref. No checking, because only Jack was wearing pads, and frankly if he’d gotten injured in a pickup game with his buddies, he’d probably be let out of his contract.
It’d been awhile since Jack had played with people he loved, people he cared so much about. He didn’t know how to deal with his worries about Bitty’s happiness, but he knew how to skate, and he knew how to relate to other people on the ice.
“Yeah,” Jack called when Bitty scored against Shitty. They met in the center of the ice and kissed.
“Woo!” Holster called. “I expect that kind of celly when I score too, Rans.”
“Of course,” Ransom said, “Both me and Shitty can kiss like that.”
“Oh, I doubt either one of you can kiss like Jack Zimmermann,” Bitty called, and Jack actually blushed.
It didn’t even feel like college. Jack felt like he was eight years old again playing on the ice with other kids in his neighborhood. Before he knew he was gay, before he recognized the pressure of being Bob Zimmermann’s son, before he ever met Kent Parson, before the vodka and anxiety meds. He was just a kid who felt like his skates were a natural extension of himself.
They skated and showered and went to the museum and out to dinner, and followed the hilariously long and awkward hashtag #Zimms&BittySamwellReunionOnTheRedLine on Twitter. (There would even be an article on the Wonky Washington Gossip blog about them, and one of the photos and Tweets in the next Monday’s Style section of the Post.)
Only Shitty and Lardo stayed for the game on Sunday afternoon, Ransom and Holster flew back to Boston earlier that day. Instead of sitting in the luxury box, they sat in the stands with Bitty, all of them in Samwell gear, and cheered Jack on. Jack didn’t get any points, but the Caps still managed a 3-1 win over the Maple Leafs.
“Are we OK?” Jack asked Bitty that night when they were in bed. It was very quiet in the house with all their friends gone. They were alone, and Jack thought maybe he should talk to Bitty about his unhappiness in DC. But he didn’t know quite how to ask him.
“Yeah,” Bitty said softly. He snuggled into Jack’s side. He didn’t know how to talk about it any more than Jack knew how to ask about it. And anyway, things didn’t always need to be perfect. Most of the time, things were good enough. And sometimes, that was enough.
As the months wore on, Bitty fell back into funks on occasion. He still went back to Providence once a month or so, and every time he came back he was happy to see Jack, but despondent about leaving their Providence friends, particularly Elizabeth and her baby, behind.
Having given up on finding a job altogether, Bitty took a volunteer position at a local ice rink as a skating coach for kids whose parents couldn’t afford skating lessons. It was fulfilling work, but still they only needed him about fifteen hours a week.
The Caps made the playoffs Jack’s first year there. They lost in the second round.
Jack and Bitty spent the off-season in Providence. Bitty got a lot of baby time with Baby Rose, who was a year old and toddling around. Elizabeth, as she said she would, went to the clinic the day after Rose’s first birthday party (which Bitty, of course, baked the cake for) and got inseminated a second time. She announced her pregnancy to Jack and Bitty right as Jack was getting ready to return to DC for his first optional skate of the next season.
Bitty got to DC a few weeks later and announced to Jack immediately, “I think we should have a baby.”
Jack stared at Bitty, trying to decide if he’d heard him right. “You think what?”
“I want to have a baby.”
“Sure, Bits. Let’s go to the bedroom right now and I’ll get you pregnant.”
“Did you just use sarcasm, Jack Zimmermann?”
“I guess so? But I think having a baby right now is a terrible idea.”
“Because I’m a hockey player and I’m away from home more often than I’m here.”
“I could be a stay-at-home parent!”
“And you’d resent me for never being here. When I’d miss a kid’s first word, his first step. All that.”
“No I wouldn’t.”
“Bitty. I get it. You’re bored here. I know DC hasn’t been great for you, and you want this because you think it’ll fill something.”
“I want it because I want a baby. I’d be a good dad. You’d be a good dad.”
“You’re twenty-six years old. You don’t need to rush into parenthood.”
“Elizabeth waited too long,” Bitty started.
“Bitty, no.” Jack said forcefully. “I don’t want a baby. Not now, at least.”
“Can’t we just discuss it?”
“We are discussing it, and I’m saying that this is not a good idea.”
Bitty huffed, took his bags up the stairs and shut Jack out of their bedroom. Jack sighed and slid down the door and sat there waiting for Bitty to come out.
The next day, Jack left for the rink early. He drove instead of taking the Metro. He was going to call Shitty, but instead called his mom on the way to the rink, “Maman. Bitty said he wants to have a baby.”
“Oh no,” Alicia said. “No, that is such a bad idea.”
“That’s what I told him,” Jack said. “And now he’s mad at me.”
“Why does he want a baby?”
“He doesn’t like DC. He’s lonely and he’s bored because he can’t find a job.”
“Those are really bad reasons to have a baby.”
“I’ll talk to him.”
“No, Maman. You can’t. He’ll know I told you.”
Alicia scoffed, “He’ll probably tell me himself anyway. We skype once a week and bake together.”
Jack went silent for a moment. His mother and his husband had weekly skype and bake session. Why didn’t he know that?
“I’ll talk sense into him,” Alicia assured him. “You were born when your dad was still playing and it was so hard being home with a baby by myself. Babies aren’t very good company, so they’re a poor cure for loneliness. They’re demanding little shits and they don’t care if mom and dad haven’t had a chance to sleep or shower or brush their teeth.”
“I don’t want him to be mad at me.”
“If you don’t want kids, though, you need to be honest with him.”
“I never thought about it,” Jack said honestly. “And I wouldn’t mind kids, but that’s a future thing for me.”
“I think that’s the right choice. You’re only thirty-one. You still could play seven or eight more years and that’s a lot of a kid’s life to miss out on.” Alicia said calmly. “Be honest with him, and do take his desire for kids seriously, and he’ll take your desire to wait seriously too.”
Jack felt calmer. “Right. Thanks.”
“Not that it should sway you either way, but being a grandmother would make me really very happy.”
Things got better for a while after that. Bitty agreed to wait to talk babies in the future. “You can always spoil Elizabeth’s kids,” Jack stressed. They always seemed to have their big talks while Bitty was baking. Like Bitty needed something else to focus on when the talk got too intense.
“I will,” Bitty promised, as he slid a blueberry pie in the oven.
“Are we OK?” Jack asked.
“Yes,” Bitty said, resting his head on Jack’s chest. “We are. I’m sorry I dropped the baby thing on you.”
“I’m sorry I’m not ready.”
Bitty wrapped his arm around Jack and pulled him closer, “At least we don’t have to worry about accidental pregnancies,” he said, kissing Jack.
“We should use that to our advantage,” Jack said, pushing his hips into Bitty, who was leaning against the counter.
Washington lived up to their nickname of the Choking Dogs and lost in the first round of the playoffs. They had been the Stanley Cup favorites.
Jack and Bitty left for Providence two days later. Washington did not extend his contract, and Jack had no team for next year.
I live in the DC area, and Choking Dogs is a real nickname people use for the Caps. Because they are notoriously AWFUL in the playoffs. I think it was coined by Tony Kornheiser, or at least he was the first person I heard use it.
Chapter 5: Los Angeles
Bitty likes LA - The Kings are dysfunctional - They have the WORST team doctor
Jack’s time on the free agency market was short-lived. He got no offers for multi-year contracts, but the LA Kings were a basement-dwelling team with money to spend on talent. They offered Jack and numerous other players hefty one-year contract and Jack decided to take it.
It meant getting out of the Eastern Conference for the first time. Jack was worried about Bitty being so far from Providence, so far from his friends, but Bitty seemed ready for the challenge. “It’s just a plane ride away,” he said, unconcerned. “I bet LA will be awesome.”
Bitty was thinking of sunshine and movie stars and glamour. Jack wasn’t crazy about the idea of being on the West Coast, but after two years of worrying about Bitty, he found Bitty’s excitement to be contagious.
Right away, Jack knew it would be different. The apartment they rented wasn’t close to the arena, because the arena wasn’t located somewhere they wanted to live. And, unlike in DC, there was no public transportation, so there would be no Jack Zimmermann sighting hashtags. (Not that there would have been anyway. People in L.A. were surprisingly blase’ about seeing famous people.) The traffic was even worse than it was in DC, and Jack’s commute sometimes took upwards of an hour.
Jack figured out right away why the Kings had finished at the bottom of the conference the year before. The team was mired in dysfunction. The owner and GM hated each other. The coaches rarely talked to each other, and the GM hated them too. Even the local press, when they bothered to remember the city had a hockey team, seemed to have a chip on their shoulders when it came to the players.
“Don’t think you’re going to get some kind of preferential treatment here because you’re gay,” one reporter sneered to him during training camp media day.
“I don’t think that,” Jack said, his eyes wide with shock.
“Or because your dad is Bad Bob.”
Jack clenched his jaw. “I don’t think that. I’ve never thought that.”
“We aren’t going to give you adorable hashtags on Twitter.”
“Right,” Jack said. “I’m fine with that.”
It was hard, then, for Jack to give a civil answer when that same reporter did an about face and asked, in an excited and friendly voice, “Tell us how you feel about playing in L.A. About being in the Western Conference for the first time.”
“I’m excited for this new challenge,” Jack answered, his voice monotone. If the reporter was going to be a dick, he wasn’t going to give them much to use. “I just want to play the best hockey I can.”
There was a bakery in their neighborhood that hired Bitty to make pies for them. He’d applied for some jobs with local ice rinks, but the baker knew Bitty from his vlog, and because he was a Kings fan, he wanted to say he had Eric Bittle as one of his bakers. Knowing he was possibly only going to be in L.A. for a year, Bitty took it.
It helped him meet people in the city. In fact, he became very good friends with the bakery owner and her husband, which already made him happier than he had been in DC. Bitty being so happy certainly helped Jack feel better when he got home from another day playing for a team like this.
There was a season ticket holder who had seats right behind the L.A. penalty box. Jack quickly found out that this particular fan was mouthy and homophobic. Every time he’d end up in the penalty box, this guy would shout obscenities loud enough for Jack to hear, sometimes even banging on the glass. If there were others around him who didn’t like his language, they rarely stood up to him.
About a month into the season, Jack strained his back during practice. He ended up flat on his back on the ice, the spasming running through his body already.
The team doctor was an older gentleman, Dr. Sullivan. He was red-faced with wispy white hair and was a total grouch most of the time. He seemed to be openly resentful of his duties Some of the other players helped Jack off the ice and into the Dr. Sullivan’s small office off the locker room.
Dr. Sullivan silently performed a perfunctory exam, stopping only to ask a couple of questions. “It’s just a strained back,” he said. “I’ve got some medicine for you.”
He sat behind his desk and rooted through a cabinet behind it. He pulled out two bottles of pills, completely unlabeled. He slid them across the desk to Jack. “That one’s percocet. Take it when it hurts to bad. That one’s valium. Take it if you’re having trouble sleeping because of the pain.”
Jack stared down at the bottles silently for a few moments, before saying, “I can’t take those.”
Dr. Sullivan glanced through his file, “It doesn’t say you have medical allergies.”
“Right. But I have a history of prescription drug abuse,” Jack said. If Dr. Sullivan didn’t know that, he was the only person in the NHL out of the loop. “It’s in my contract that if I need narcotics, you need to monitor me taking them.”
Dr. Sullivan looked put-out. “I am monitoring you. I know how many are in that bottle and if you come to me next week asking for more, I’ll know it’s a problem.”
“No,” Jack said. “Look, that’s not how it works. You have to give me just enough to get through the day and you have to watch me take them.” He’d had enough minor injuries with the last three teams to know how this worked. It was, in all honesty, a little humiliating to have to be monitored that closely by the doctors, but it wasn’t like he could blame the teams for including this in his contract. He knew he was a risk.
“I’m a doctor. Not a babysitter,” Dr. Sullivan said gruffly.
“I don’t,” Jack paused. “I don’t need a babysitter. I’m just trying to stick to the rules set out by my contract.”
Dr. Sullivan opened the bottle and took out one percocet for Jack. “Here,” he handed Jack the pills. “Take this now,” he ordered. Jack dry-swallowed the percocet. “Don’t you have a wife at home who can help you not lose control around medicines?”
Jesus. Not only was the sarcasm completely unnecessary, but the one thing more well known about Jack than his past in rehab was that he’s gay, and Dr. Sullivan didn’t even know that. “Actually,” Jack said icily, “I have a husband. And it’s not his job to watch out for my medical needs. That’s your’s.”
Dr. Sullivan scoffed. (At what? That Jack had a husband? Or that Jack had that audacity to suggest that looking out for a patient’s medical needs was the job of a Doctor?) “Look. I can’t guarantee I’ll be here everyday. Take this and don’t come crying to me for more next week. Let your husband help you if you need it.”
Jack thought about arguing, but his back hurt so fucking bad. And even though he knew it was a mistake, that he should refuse, he swiped both bottles off the desk and shoved them in his pocket. Jack tried to stand and stalk away with dignity, but with his back injury, the best he could manage was to push himself shakily to his feet and shuffle away, hunched over. Even worse, he had to have Bitty come pick him up because he couldn’t even manage to drive.
Jack’s back healed relatively quickly, with a lot of rest and sympathy pies from Bitty. (“I shouldn’t,” Jack said every time Bitty placed another pie in front of his face, then would proceed to eat it all.) He was back on the ice in time for their first game against Las Vegas.
Bitty had the idea to invite Kent for late night dinner after the game. Jack wasn’t so sure, but Bitty insisted. Things between Jack and Kent were...better. They didn’t talk often, and when they played each other, they’d give each other begrudging smiles. But now that Jack was in the Western Conference, they’d be seeing a lot more of each other.
The Aces easily won the game. Kent had a goal and two assists. Jack had nothing because no one on the Kings had managed to score.
Still, Kent was a gentleman about it, which actually made Jack feel worse. He knew the Kings were a bad team, and he would have felt a lot more comfortable if Kent could have just chirped him about it a little bit.
Rather than going out to eat, Bitty cooked for them. This was L.A. and it was warm enough at night, even in October, that he could use the grill. So he made them steaks, garlic mashed potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts. Pie for dessert, of course.
“You never cook like this for just me,” Jack accused. Though he knew he ended up eating takeout because of his weird hours more often than not.
“You’d get spoiled,” Bitty answered, swinging his hip into Jack’s, and planting a kiss on his lips.
“Well I, for one, appreciate it.” Kent said. “A home cooked meal on the road? I never even get a home cooked meal at home.”
As they sat down, Bitty brought up the game. “Tough loss, Jack.”
“Not for me it wasn’t,” Kent winked at Bitty.
Both Bitty and Jack scowled at Kent, who simply smiled and took a long pull from his beer. “How do you like L.A.?” he asked.
“Me? Or Bitty?” Jack asked.
Kent raised one eyebrow. Jack had actually forgotten that Kent had a weird talent of raising one eyebrow to heights he’d never seen before. “There’s some disagreement?”
“Oh, I love this city,” Bitty said breathlessly. “I miss everyone in Providence of course, that’s still my home. But the weather, and the bakery.” Bitty sighed. “It’s just so nice."
Kent looked at Jack, amused. “You don’t love it?”
“I’m on a basement-dwelling team where the coach and the GM are publicly feuding with each other and with the owner. There’s a homophobe with season tickets right behind our penalty box, and the L.A. media hate me. It’s been better.”
Kent reached over and ruffled his hair, Jack ducked out of the way. “You shouldn’t have ignored all those pleas to come to Vegas, eh?” he taunted.
Jack glared at the stupid familiar smirk on Kent’s face. Jack wouldn’t admit it, but that Kent was on a perennial playoff team and he was stuck with the Kings really ate at him. Jack was working hard to be less of a hockey robot, and more of a regular guy with a life outside of hockey. He didn’t want to be so singularly focused, he wanted to be more well-rounded. But no matter how much he told himself that being on a winning team wasn’t everything, he really fucking wanted to win.
“Oh, Jack still has a few years of hockey left in him,” Bitty said sweetly, patting Jack’s knee.
Jack gave a perfunctory smile. On the inside he was wondering, did he have a few years left? He pulled his back earlier in the season, and the little aches and pains that were part of life when you were a professional athlete were getting more difficult to ignore. He was thirty-one years old. Which meant he wasn’t the oldest player out there, but there were certainly guys who were a lot younger, who spent a lot less time on the massage therapist’s table or in the trainer’s whirlpool.
The Kings continued to play in the basement. Jack, although he wasn’t having the best season of his career, was their highest scorer and the only one who could regularly win face-offs, which had always been his specialty.
Four weeks before the end of the season, the Kings were playing San Jose (Chowder was in the stands with Bitty watching the game) and Jack took a hard check into the boards. As he went down, he felt something snap.
It was a broken collarbone. Dr. Sullivan splinted it and gave Jack a sling in the locker room. He also slipped him another two bottles of percocet and valium. Jack pocketed them, though he’d barely taken any of the last bottle.
Jack stayed the next four weeks to watch his team flail and flounder. The day after the season ended, he and Bitty went home to Providence.
Chapter 6: Las Vegas
Zimms and Parse together again - Jack misses Bitty - A third player is outed - Playoff run - Bad News
Jack moped around the house in Providence. He was listed as a free agent again, but most teams were waiting until after the playoffs to make offers on anyone. He hated the restless feeling he got, not knowing what to expect the following year. Having ended last season playing for an awful team and with an injury was probably not helping him in free agency anyway.
Jack’s shoulder was mostly healed, though he still had some pain. He hadn’t gotten cleared to do more than skate yet, but he was gaining back most of his range of motion. He’d also managed to get healed without taking any of Dr. Sullivan’s Valium and only a few of the Percocets.
The Stanley Cup finals were Las Vegas against Boston. Bitty and Jack went to all of the games in Boston, including the seventh game, which Boston won. They took a depressed Kent out that night to help him get over the loss. Jack, who had zero Stanley Cups to Parse’s two, had trouble feeling too much sympathy.
Since Jack’s shoulder wasn’t feeling awful, they went out to a gay club. Jack wasn’t sure when this had happened, but at some point when the lived in L.A., Bitty and Kent had become really good friends. There were a lot of stares and whispers when Bitty and Kent went to the dance floor together and left Jack at the table. Providence wasn’t a very big city, and Jack and Bitty were well-known in the gay community. Jack smirked, because people probably had a very wrong idea of what was going on with Bitty dancing with another man.
Jack just didn’t like to dance as much as Bitty or Kent did. He needed to be a lot drunker to feel loose enough to get on the dance floor. Which happened eventually, and at which time Kent disappeared into the bathroom with a guy he’d met about zero point two seconds earlier.
The next morning over crepes, Kent announced, “I’m sick of bathroom handjobs.”
“Then stop going clubbing,” Jack answered, spreading Nutella on a crepe, wrapping it up and eating it in about two bites. Bitty hated it when Jack ate his crepes like that.
Kent scowled at Jack, “You have no idea. You found Bittle when you were, what? Twenty-three? For shit’s sake, he was only twenty-two when he married you. You don’t know what it’s like to try and meet someone at my age.”
“Right,” Jack said sarcastically. “The ripe old age of thirty-one.”
“Fuck you,” Kent smiled. “I’m ready to settle down.”
“Guys at clubs usually aren’t,” Bitty pointed out. “Or guys on Grindr either.”
“I can’t just put a profile on an online dating site,” Kent complained. “It’s going to be bathroom handjobs for me forever.”
“You should ask out Alek Nordgren,” Jack said, without thinking.
Kent put down his fork, cocked his head and stared at Jack. “The Caps backup goalie?”
“Shit,” Jack said. “Forget I said anything.”
“Are you telling me you know another gay NHLer and you never told me?”
“I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone.”
“Bittle, did you know this?” Kent asked.
“I sure did,” Bitty answered. “I’m the husband. I get all the gossip.”
“Well, shit. Maybe I will ask him.”
“I wasn’t supposed to tell,” Jack said. “Don’t tell him I told you.”
“Sure,” Kent assured Jack, though he said it with a wink and Jack knew it was a hundred percent bullshit.
Bitty started working as an assistant to a figure skating coach. This man had coached an Olympic athlete in his native China, and had recently moved to Providence and attracted several local figure skaters. It was work Bitty loved, and he hoped to become a coach on his own some day.
Jack’s agent called him halfway through the summer. “I’ve got offers for you,” he said happily. Jack was relieved that anyone was interested in him. (“You’re being ridiculous,” Bitty kept assuring Jack every time he’d get nervous that no team would want a thirty-two year old with a broken collar bone.)
He went through all the offers he’d gotten, about seven teams in all, before he hesitated. “Vegas is offering to go half a million up on your highest offer for a one year deal.”
“What?” Jack said.
“They really want the Zimms and Parse duo on the ice together. I know you’ve turned them down before, but I know you and Kent have….patched things up. So,”
“Shit,” Jack said. Because for the first time in years, the idea of playing hockey with Kent Parson sounded appealing. Still, Bitty had his coaching job here in Providence, and he wasn’t sure he’d like to move to the west coast again. “Let me think about it, eh?”
Jack talked to Bitty about it, “I don’t really want to be that far from Providence,” Jack said. “I might take the Toronto offer.”
“Why would you do something like that?” Bitty asked. “Go to Vegas. I’d love to see you and Kenny on the ice together!”
“Right, but you have your job and I don’t want to take you away from it.”
“Jack,” Bitty said. They sat on the couch and Bitty held his hand, “I love that you’re trying to be less of a hockey robot. And it means so much to me that you’d be willing to take less money and play on a bad team because I love my job in Providence.”
“But?” Jack asked.
“But the Aces are a Stanley Cup contender. From the video I’ve seen, you and Kenny made magic on the ice. When I married you, I knew you were a professional athlete and that you could very well be moving all over the country and I’d have to chose to follow you, or spend a lot of time in Providence by myself. I followed you to DC and to LA. It’s only one year. I’m going to spend it in Providence, but you’d better be spending in in Las Vegas.”
“One year,” Jack said.
“Or more, if they want to re-sign you,” Bitty pressed. “We can make it work.”
“I really want to play with him again,” Jack admitted.
“Then do it, for goodness sake.”
“Yes,” Bitty said impatiently.
Jack kissed Bitty. “I was thinking I’m at the tail end of my career. We could probably talk babies after this season.”
The Aces were thrilled to get Jack. The PR team went on a media blitz, promoting the Zimmerman Parson duo returning to the ice together for the first time in over a decade. Before the season even started, Jack and Kent were the cover story for Las Vegas Magazine, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal had a sports reporter designated specifically to news about Jack and Kent.
The day after Jack signed with the Aces, every last season ticket space was snatched up. For the first time in Vegas’s history, every home game was projected to be a sellout.
A few weeks later, Sports Illustrated came out to Vegas to do a report on him and Kent. SI would occasionally contact Jack about a story, or for a comment whenever there was gay athlete news, but he’d rarely give them anything. This time, the Aces pushed hard for Jack and Kent to be cooperative. Given that Jack’s two experiences with heavy media coverage were for his overdose and for coming out, this experience was a pleasant surprise. While him and Kent being gay was certainly a part of the story (and no matter how many times they were asked, both Jack and Kent deferred when asked about whether they used to date) reporters were more interested in them playing hockey together again.
The only problem was that Jack’s shoulder wasn’t healing very well. The break had healed, but he was having residual pain. Usually he could play through it, after all it was his less important left shoulder. But he found himself complaining to the Aces staff physician.
Her name was Dr. Kowalski, and she was a forty-year old no-nonsense lesbian. The team loved her, because even though she was technically supposed to treat their hockey-related injuries, there were other illnesses that came with being a successful professional athlete in a city like Las Vegas (namely gonorrhea and crabs) and she treated those quietly and respectfully. A quirked eyebrow here and there when an athlete would insist they had worn a condom, but something must have happened.
“You have a history of prescription drug abuse, correct?” she asked Jack matter-of-factly when he went to see her for his ongoing shoulder pain.
“Yes. But it’s been years. And I’ve avoided taking narcotics almost entirely in the last decade.”
“Well, I injured my back last year. And then I broke my collarbone, and that’s what’s still bothering me. And the team doctors usually supervise me, when I need to take meds. It’s actually in my contract.”
She nodded, satisfied. “I’ll monitor what you take here, and give you only what I think you’ll need when you’ll be at home.”
“Right,” Jack said.
“I still want you to increase physical therapy and decrease your playing time for the next couple weeks.” Jack sighed, and Dr. Kowalski gave him a severe look. “It’s up to the coach, ultimately. But when he asks, that’s going to be my recommendation.”
Jack left with a prescription for ibuprofen (she’d give him something stronger later if he needed it), a referral to the physical therapist, and a brace to wear when he wasn’t playing. The season started in a week, and he really wanted to match Kent for ice time.
Not that he was feeling competitive with Kent...except that he kind of was. Without Bitty there to keep Jack from falling into hockey robot mode, Jack didn’t have anything else to think about besides being a better player than Kent. It didn’t help matters that Kent lived in a penthouse condo on the twentieth floor of a high rise in downtown Vegas, and Jack decided to rent an apartment in the same building. Jack’s apartment was only one bedroom, and it was on the third floor.
They saw each other every day. It was like Juniors again. Except this time, Kent was the bigger success. And as much as Jack wanted to just be happy for him (and he was happy for him) he was also a little jealous.
He was trying to explain all this to Bitty one night by Skype, but Jack sometimes struggled to explain himself very well in words. “I want to be better than Parse,” he admitted.
“A better person? Jack, I like Kent but I think you already are.”
“No,” Jack said. “A better hockey player.”
“You should concentrate on playing well with him.”
“I know. I don’t want to compete against him. But I want to be better.”
“The biggest successes compete against themselves, not their opponents.”
“Parse isn’t my opponent, he’s my teammate. And I get that I’m not competing against him. But I feel competitive with him.”
“Aw, Sweetheart. Are you being a hockey robot?”
“Yes,” Jack admitted.
“Well, I’ll be in town for your home opener. I’ll make you think about other things than hockey,” Bitty said wickedly.
“Is that a promise?” Jack asked, smiling.
The Aces won their home opener. Jack’s shoulder was feeling a little better, and he was put on the same line as Kent, though he switched to third line in the third period to rest his shoulder. While he and Kent had been working well in practice, when they took the ice for the game to cheers more thunderous than Jack had ever heard, they clicked.
It was like old times. Exactly like old times. He and Kent seemed to have a sixth sense about where they were going to be on the ice and what their next moves were. Three minutes into the game, Kent scored on an assist by Jack. With thirty seconds left in the first period, Jack scored on an assist by Kent. The Aces went on to win 3-0.
Jack felt lighter after their first win than he had in years. Even with playoff wins with Pittsburgh and DC, this felt right. He may have been a hockey robot, but sometimes he didn’t get emotional from playing. In fact, he hadn’t since Samwell. And right now, he fucking loved this game. Why had he and Kent taken so long to play together again?
Jack hadn’t even begun to change his clothes when he and Kent were mobbed by reporters in the locker room. “Jack, talk to us about your first game back with Kent.” “Jack, how were you able to set up that goal for Parson in the first period?” “Jack, what do you think of the Aces’ chances this year?” Jack gave answers that were bland platitudes, just like his dad had taught him from a young age.
Kent, however, was a media darling for a reason. His relationship with the media was a give and take. He gave them attitude, sometimes with a wink but just as often it was real, and they took it and loved it. Kent also loved getting interviewed in the locker room and being filmed shirtless. He smirked his way through the answers to questions much more personal than what they’d asked Jack. “What am I doing after the game? Why, are you asking me out?” he flirted with a female reporter, who blushed even though she knew full well he’s gay. “This is just the first game. You haven’t seen anything me and Zimms can do yet.”
Bitty snuck in the locker room and delivered several pies to the food service table in the corner. Kent told everyone loudly, “Zimms’ husband made us pie. You guys have to eat it, you’ll fucking love it!” The reporters were still there and swung their cameras to Bitty who was blushing hard as he lay down his last pie. He scurried over to Jack and tried to hide behind him.
They didn’t have any questions for him, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal posted an adorable picture of Bitty leaning against Jack’s locker, and Jack leaning over talking to him, their faces close.
In their second month of the season, the Aces had the best record in the league. “The season is young,” Jack kept blandly reminding the media while Kent would say, “I’ll eat this fucking puck if we don’t take it all this year.”
When the Caps came to town, Alek was goalie because their starting goalie was injured. “I’m going to ask Alek Nordgren out tonight,” Kent told Jack. Their game was being televised in Prime Time, so it was a late game and the Caps wouldn’t be leaving for a game in Phoenix until the following morning. “I could take him clubbing.”
“I thought you were sick of clubs,” Jack said.
“I’m sick of handjobs in club bathrooms,” Kent corrected. “Anyway, he’s young. Younger than Bitty even. Don’t you think a young guy would rather go out to a club?”
Jack sighed, “You don’t even know him. That’s completely not his personality at all.”
“So no club?”
“No. Take him out to dinner. Better yet, ask him before you plan anything. Maybe he’s got a boyfriend.”
The game was chippy. In the second period, a fight broke out between two Caps defenders and two Aces defenders. Gloves were dropped and punches were thrown. Both goalies dropped their gloves too, and skated toward the center of the ice. Kent skated right by his other fighting teammates, and grabbed Jack’s arm and pulled him toward Alek.
Jack grabbed Alek’s arms and held them behind his back, while Alek struggled to free himself. Kent threw a fake punch in Alek’s shoulder, then leaned in next to his ear and said, “Hey. You wanna go out to dinner with me after the game?”
Alek shook himself free of Jacks’ arms and turned to shove him, “You told him.”
“It was an accident,” Jack shoved him back into Kent’s arms.
Kent put his arms around Alek and tried to pull him to the ice, “You wanna fight Jack over this?”
“I don’t want to fight at all. I can’t believe you guys are fake-fighting me just so you can ask me out.” Alek panted, managing to get Kent into a headlock. “Of course I’ll go out with you tonight. My hotel room is 1308.”
A ref came over and split them apart. As Jack and Kent skated back toward the boards, they fist bumped each other lightly.
The Aces won that game in an overtime shootout. Before that it had been a hard game, with both goalies having given up only one goal each. “I hope he’s not one of those guys who gets bitchy after a loss,” Kent said quietly to Jack in the locker room.
“What, like every other fucking hockey player you know?”
Kent smirked, “I’ll just have to find a way to cheer him up.”
The next morning, Jack was awoken by his phone ringing before seven in the morning. “Bits,” he said into the phone. “Remember the time difference.”
“Oh, hell. That means you haven’t seen the news yet.”
Jack sat up and rubbed sleep out of his eyes, “What? Of course I haven’t. I’m still asleep here.”
“Check Yahoo Sports, then call me back.” Bitty promptly hung up.
Jack opened the app on his phone. The very first thing he saw was a picture of Kent Parson and Alek Nordgren canoodling against what looked like the outside wall by the valet stand of the Wynn Casino. “Merde!” He said loudly. God, what a couple of idiots. Kent Parson was a Vegas area celebrity and often had paparazzi following him. He knew that and still put Alek in this position.
He reluctantly read the article, which was short.
The NHL has a third openly gay athlete. Alek Nordgren, 25, the backup goalie for the Washington Capitals and starting goalie for the Swedish National Team, was spotted out in Las Vegas with Kent Parson, 32, Offensive lineman for the Las Vegas Aces, late last night after the Caps’ loss to the Aces.
Nordgren and Parson were spotted at Morton’s Steakhouse after the game, then they went to the Wynn, where they played some table games in the high rollers section. When approached after this photo was taken, Nordgren confirmed that he is gay. He stated that some of his teammates already knew, and that they had been very accepting. The Capitals and the NHL have yet to be reached for comment.
The third gay athlete in the NHL is Jack Zimmermann, 32, who also plays in Las Vegas. Zimmermann, the son of “Bad Bob” Zimmermann, a hockey legend in the 1980’s, was the first player out of the closet five years ago.
There are now openly gay athletes in the MLS, the NBA, and in minor league baseball. Gay athletes are no longer an enigma, and as time goes on and acceptance becomes the norm, more athletes will feel comfortable coming out.
The Capitals’ loss last night was a tough one. Nordgren gave up only one goal before giving up three shots in the overtime shootout. Aces’ goalie, Vance Ellory, also gave up one goal in the game, but only two shots in overtime. The Aces and the Caps are currently at the tops of their respective conferences. Much of the Caps success can be attributed to Nordgren, who replaced the injured Mike Shapp in the second week of the season, and has since boasted eight wins in twelve games, two of which were shutouts.
Jack had promised himself years earlier that he’d never read the comments section on sports articles, and he kept that promise still. He closed the article before reading any of the 484 comments posted.
That article was not as bad as it could have been. People coming out was almost blase’ now, a non-story. And if what this writer wrote was true, it sounded as though Nordgren hadn’t been forced out of the closet the way Kent had.
Jack texted both Kent and Alek, You up?
Then he called Bitty back. “I texted them,” he assured him. “I’m going to head up to Kent’s apartment if he’s awake and I’ll call you back.”
When he and Bitty hung up, Kent texted him back, Yes.
Jack texted back, I’m on my way up.
Jack peed and pulled on a pair of sweatpants and headed to the elevator to Kent’s twentieth story penthouse. He knocked on the door and waited. A tousel-haired Kent, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer briefs, opened the door, looking very much like the cat who swallowed the canary. “What do you want at this time of day?”
“Have you seen the news?” Jack asked, as he brushed past Kent and stepped into the apartment. He picked up Kit Purrson and gave him a scratch behind the ears.
“Hmmm,” Kent tapped his finger to his cheek, “Whatever could it be about?”
“Jesus, Kenny. Please tell me you didn’t out Alek by being stupid and careless.”
“You worry too much,” Kent said, dismissing Jack with a wave of his hand. “We saw the paps outside Wynn and it was him who leaned into me. Intentionally, I might add.”
“You can ask him yourself,” Kent said, pointing to the bedroom door, where a sleepy-eyed Alek came wandering out. His blonde hair was even messier than Kent’s. He was also wearing only boxer briefs, but was pulling on a pair of dark jeans. Jack was sure they’d been naked just minutes before he got there.
“You made the news,” Jack said to Alek.
Alek grinned and said in his thick Swedish accent, “I figured yes, we would be on the news. I thought maybe I should talk to the team about it, but last night the timing just seemed….” he drifted off and shrugged. “Anyway. I’m officially more than six hours late for curfew, so I better go back to the hotel.”
“Want a ride?” Kent asked.
“No, I think I better show up alone. An Uber is coming in a few minutes.”
He finished dressing and grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge before leaning in for a kiss from Kent and walking out the door. Kent looked at Jack, smiled, and play-fainted on the couch. “Jesus, Jack. I like this guy a lot.”
“He’s OK with being out?”
“He’s fuckin’ fine with it,” Kent assured him. “He wanted to come out, but wasn’t sure how to do it, so he did it last night.”
“All right,” Jack said.
“And hey, look at this.” Kent pulled up one leg of his boxer briefs and showed Jack the inside of his thigh. There was a row of hickeys deep on his inner thigh. “He’s amazing in bed.”
“Super happy for you, Kenny,” Jack said, and he ruffled Kent’s hair playfully as he headed toward the door.
Kent jumped up from the couch. “Where’re you going?” he asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet a little. “Stay for breakfast.”
“I need to call Bitty back,” Jack said. “He’s worried about Alek.”
“Here,” Kent tossed Jack his laptop. “Skype him while I make us some eggs.”
Bitty answered the Skype call immediately, “Why are you calling me from Kent’s computer? Is everything OK?”
“Don’t worry,” Jack said. “Alek outed himself on purpose. He’s very happy about it, and Kent is...well, he’s extremely happy about it.”
Kent stuck his face in front of the camera. “Bittle. I need to you send me congratulatory pie. I got laid so hard last night.”
Bitty laughed, “I don’t know what kind of pie is appropriate for ‘just got laid after a year long dry spell.’”
“Strawberries are an aphrodesiac, right?” Jack asked.
“Ooh, send one to Alek before we play in DC,” Kent waggled his eyebrows. “Get him ready for my visit with him.”
“I don’t know what that word means,” Kent said, in a mock dignified voice, heading back to the stove.
“I wish you were here,” Jack said. “Kent is making eggs for breakfast.”
Bitty wrinkled his nose, “Kent puts too much hot sauce in his eggs.”
“No such thing!” Kent shouted over Jack’s response.
Bitty laughed again, “What time is your skate this morning?”
“We got the morning off,” Jack answered. “Because of the hard-fought win last night, so we don’t skate until after lunch today.”
“I have to go now,” Bitty said. “I need to meet Chen at the rink in a few minutes. I’ll talk to you tonight?”
“Yeah,” Jack said quietly. “I love you.”
“I love you too. I’ll be there weekend after next, right?”
“I can’t wait.”
Jack closed the laptop. He loved talking to Bitty, but hated the melancholy feeling he got afterward. They’d talk when Jack was driving to the rink sometimes, and that was better, because then at least he had hockey to distract him from being without his husband.
Kent knew Jack well, and gave him a few silent minutes to mull over the thoughts in his head. Finally he slid a plate of eggs in front of Jack and said, “The long distance thing is hard?”
“Yeah,” Jack admitted. “It wasn’t as bad in Pittsburgh because it wasn’t that far from Providence. He could easily fly in for a night. I thought because we made it work for almost six months in Pittsburgh, it wouldn’t be that different here.”
Kent chewed thoughtfully. “Is it worth it?”
“Absolutely. In the long run, it’ll be worth it. Bitty’s got this job that’s going to help him become a figure skating coach. That’s something he’ll be able to do long after I can’t play anymore. It just...it sucks in the meantime.”
“So do you think it’d be stupid for me an Alek to be in a long distance relationship?”
Jack put his fork down and studied Kent’s face carefully. “You practically just met him. Bitty and I were already married when we made a go of it long distance.”
“This one feels right,” Kent said.
“I don’t know that I’m the best person for advice. But if it feels right, you should go for it. It took me forever to work up the courage with Bitty. I was just months from graduating before I made my move.”
Kent scratched his five o’clock shadow thoughtfully. “The Caps are playing in Phoenix tomorrow night. I might go.” The Aces weren’t playing again till the day after that.
Jack smiled, “I think you should.”
He nodded, suddenly full of affection toward Kent. They’d been kids when they were together. This thing they had now, this friendship, was so much more stable. Jack was so grateful to Kent for continuously insisting on the Aces offering him a deal, and not giving up every time Jack said no.
This was good. He belonged here. It had been since Samwell and Providence that he’d really felt that.
The Aces continued their hot streak. Bitty came to stay with Jack every few weekends, and always came to any game within a couple hours flight from Providence. It wasn’t perfect. Jack wanted to sleep curled up against Bitty every night. But that made the nights they were together that much better.
Jack’s shoulder kept giving him problems. It hurt consistently now, but never quite bad enough to take time off for it. He tried to avoid going to Dr. Kowalski for it, out of fear that she would make him go get a scan, or worse, tell the Coach to cut back his playing time.
In the meantime, he pulled out the bottles of Dr. Sullivan’s narcotics and took one here or there. Not a lot, not in a way that he worried himself, but just often enough to avoid Kowalski’s office.
Several weeks before the playoffs started, Bitty came for a long weekend visit. He was coming in Thursday morning and staying through Sunday evening. It was their longest visit all season.
Friday morning, Bitty, still on East Coast time, woke up before Jack and went to the bathroom. “Jack,” he whispered a few minutes later, shaking Jack’s shoulder. “Jack. Wake up.”
Jack rolled over, “Hmm?” he asked groggily.
“What’s this?” Bitty asked.
Jack opened his eyes and squinted at what Bitty was holding. It was the bottles of pills from Dr. Sullivan. Shit.
Jack sat up, “It’s not what you think,” he said quickly, which he realized was stupid because that is exactly what someone who had something to hide would say.
“I think it’s unlabeled bottles of pills. But I don’t know what they are or where they came from,” Bitty said. He kept his voice even to avoid it sounding like he was accusing Jack of anything.
Jack paused, trying to decide how honest to be. “Two of them are Percocet, two are Valium.”
“Valium?” Bitty voice raised an impressive octave. “Isn’t that what you OD’ed on?”
“Fifteen years ago.”
“Is it a problem that ever goes away?”
“Considering I got those from Dr. Sullivan in L.A. and I’ve only taken a few of the Valiums, I’d say yes it is a problem that goes away.” He failed to mention that the few Valium had all been taken in the last two weeks when his shoulder pain kept him awake and anxious.
“Aren’t the team doctors supposed to be monitoring you taking these?”
“Dr. Sullivan was…..not the best doctor. He accused me of needing a babysitter.” It sounded lame to Jack even as he said it.
“How many of the percs have you taken?” Bitty opened the bottles and looked inside. “This one is almost empty.”
“I got some when I pulled my back, but most of them were taken when I broke my collarbone.”
“You were prescribed maximum strength ibuprofen for that,” Bitty pointed out.
“It wasn’t enough, Bits. It really fucking hurt.”
“But it’s healed now. So….. if we throw these away, you won’t have a problem with it?”
Jack didn’t answer.
“Fuck, Jack!” Bitty shouted. Jack sat up straighter. Bitty rarely swore, so when he did (and broke out a fuck, no less) Jack knew he’d better pay attention. “This is not good. You aren’t supposed to even have narcotics. And you’ve had these for over a year and I didn’t even know it? You’ve been fucking hiding this from me.”
“I’ve been….” Jack drifted off. He couldn’t even deny it, because he had been hiding them from Bitty. “I’m still having residual pain in my shoulder from my collar bone break.”
“What about Dr. Kowalski?”
“It’s not bad enough to go see her. I can manage it.”
“With these?” Bitty held up the bottles. “With the same drugs you’ve had proven problems with?”
“Bitty. I just need to get through the season. I’ll get my shoulder checked when we’re back in Providence.”
“Fine. You can get through the season without these, right?”
“No. I don’t think I can.”
“Jesus Christ.” Bitty snapped. He grabbed his phone and shut himself in the bathroom with the pills.
“Bits,” Jack called, pounding on the door, “Let me in, let’s talk about this, eh?” Jack could hear Bitty talking to someone on the phone, and Jack considered he could be talking to Dr. Kowalski, he was going to kill Bitty for treating him like a child.
A few minutes later, the front door opened and Kent called out, “Bittle? What did you need?”
“You called Kent?” Jack shouted through the door, just as Bitty opened it and came walking out. Bitty’s face was red and he looked like he’d been crying.
“Hey, I don’t want to get in the middle of a lover’s quarrel,” Kent, said seeing both of their faces. He held his hands up like he was surrendering. “My parents did that to me enough when I was a kid. I like you both. I won’t take sides.”
“Jack had these,” Bitty said, handing the bottles over to Kent.
Kent looked confused. “Where’d you get these?” he asked, as he opened the bottles and peeked in.
Jack looked away, refusing to answer, so Bitty answered for him. “The fucking team doctor in L.A. was giving them away like candy.”
“Are these fucking Valium?” Kent asked seriously.
Jack still refused to answer.
“Valium and Percocet,” Bitty answered for Jack again.
“You asshole,” Kent fumed.
“My shoulder-” Jack started.
“No. Fuck you. I don’t want to hear about your shoulder. Do you realize the last time I saw you with Valium, you’d stopped breathing. Jesus Christ, Jack. I thought you were dead! Those were the worst minutes of my fucking life, and I’ve spent the last fifteen years reliving them over and over in my head, wondering what I could have done differently. Wondering if I could have saved you, if I could have treated you a little differently or if I should have taken your love of this,” he shook the bottles of pills in Jack’s face, “more seriously. You can’t possibly be this fucking stupid to be keeping pills - narcotics in an unmarked bottle - around. How long has this been going on?” Kent demanded.
“Just since last year,” Jack assured him, shaken to his core after having heard Kent’s speech. Because he hadn’t thought about his overdose in a long time. He’d worked through it, somewhat, in therapy, but mostly he thought it was just something he’d probably outgrown. He’d never stopped to consider Kent’s perspective on it.
“Your parents paid a lot of fucking money to put you in rehab and years of therapy after that, and this is what you do with it? You hide pills from your husband? Your friends? What the actual fuck, Jack.”
“I’m not-” Jack paused, trying to gather his thoughts. “I’m not going to OD again. I hurt my back, and Dr. Sullivan wouldn’t monitor my meds like in my contract. He gave me these, and I’ve had them for over a year and have hardly taken any.”
“If you need narcotics, you need to go see your current doctor,” Kent said. “You need to see Dr. Kowalski and you need to file a fucking complaint with the Kings about Dr. Sullivan.”
“I’ll go see someone after the season,” Jack promised. “I need to get through the playoffs.”
“We’re all hurt, Jack,” Kent spat. “It’s been a long season and we’re all banged up. You don’t get to keep secret drugs from us. You don’t get to almost die on me and fifteen years later act like that’s not a big fucking deal.”
Kent marched into the bathroom and began dumping the contents of the bottles into the toilet. “No!” Jack said, without thinking.
Both Kent and Bitty turned to stare at Jack, surprised by the vehemence with which he was trying to save the meds.
“Yes,” Kent said, as he dumped the last bottle and flushed. “Are there more?”
“No,” Jack answered dully.
“I don’t believe you,” Kent said, and he started rooting through the medicine cabinet and under the sink. “Check the closet, Bittle,” he ordered.
Bitty started patting down the pockets of Jack’s clothes and poking through boxes on the floor of the closet. Jack sighed and sat on the bed. “There are no more,” he assured them, feeling exhausted all of a sudden.
He flopped back on the bed and rubbed his face in his hands. How had this happened? All he’d wanted to do was play through the playoffs and everything ended up pear-shaped. It’s not like he went seeking narcotics. He had honest-to-goodness pain that he wanted taken care of, and a doctor, an actual physician, gave them to him. Granted, Dr. Sullivan was a lazy practitioner, but it’s not like Jack was buying Percocets off the street.
And this thing with Kent? It was the first they’d ever talked about his overdose. Jack had spent so much time leaving it in his past that it hadn’t occurred to him that Kent still worried about it. He knew his parents still worried about it, but they were parents. They were always supposed to worry about it.
Even though Jack’s honest belief was that both Bitty and Kent were probably over-reacting, he decided to not say that and to diffuse the situation by apologizing. “I’m sorry,” he said, sitting up.
Kent had finished searching the bathroom and was helping Bitty root through the closet. “I’m sorry,” Jack repeated. “I swear there are no more.”
Bitty and Kent turned and looked at Jack, sitting sadly on the bed. “You promise?” Bitty asked.
“Oui,” Jack said earnestly. “Je promets. Je m’excuse.”
Bitty looked to Kent for translation, “Yes. I promise. I apologize.”
Kent stood up and walked over to Jack and knelt in front of him, “I will personally kick your ass if you do something like that again. I will tell Dr. Kowalski if you do something like that again.”
Kent searched Jack’s face for a moment, before patting him on the knee and standing up. “I’ll leave you two to it.” He walked out the door.
Bitty sat next to Jack on the bed, “I’m not sorry I called him down.”
“I know you’re not,” Jack assured him. “I’m not mad at you, Bits. I’m mad at myself.”
“What were you thinking?”
Jack shrugged, “I wasn’t. That time I overdosed and the time in rehab almost seems like a lifetime ago. I feel really far removed from it.”
“It’s always there,” Bitty said. “It’s always gonna be there, especially to Kent, to your parents.”
“I get that now,” Jack said. He pulled Bitty down to the bed with him, and spooned him. “Still,” he confessed. “My shoulder’s been giving me a lot of problems.”
Bitty rolled over and looked at Jack, “Why didn’t you just tell anyone?”
“I don’t want to be pulled from the game. Especially not now that we’re heading into the playoffs.”
“Will you talk to Dr. Kowalski about it?” Bitty begged. “Let her help you find a way to get through the season.”
Jack said nothing. Because he’d had a way to get through the season, which Kent had literally just flushed down the toilet.
Jack managed on ibuprofen, massage therapy, and extra whirlpool time as Vegas made their way easily through the playoffs. Finally, he had to go see Dr. Kowalski when he had trouble turning over at night.
“A broken collarbone shouldn’t be this long and painful to heal,” she murmured, pushing on Jack’s shoulder and raising his arm over his head. He cringed and pulled his arm back down. “I want you to get an MRI. I think it’s healing poorly and has possibly caused some ligament damage.”
“Can it wait until after the season?”
“What have you been taking for it?” she asked.
“Ibuprofen.” He never did tell her about the bottles of Percocet and Valium that were flushed down the toilet.
“I can give you something stronger, but I’ll need to monitor your usage,” she reminded him.
“That’s fine,” Jack answered, thankful that he might be getting real relief.
She handed Jack a percocet and watched him take it. “I’m going to give you ambien instead of Valium to help you sleep.”
“Fine,” Jack agreed.
“Why don’t you get the MRI before the end of the season. If you think you can play through the pain to the finals, at least you’ll know what’s wrong and can start working on it right as the season ends.”
If the season ended with anything other than Jack finally hoisting the Stanley Cup (with his good arm, of course), he’d probably be too depressed to even care about his shoulder.
Dr. Kowalski wrote him a referral to a local radiologist for shoulder imaging. Jack pocketed it, took the Ambien and one extra percocet she offered him and left.
The Aces made it through every round of the playoffs. They’d won their conference championship in only five games, giving them a lot of extra time before the Stanley Cup Finals. While they were waiting, the Caps and the Bruins had to finish out the Eastern Conference Finals. This set Kent on edge, because Alek was now the Caps’ starting goalie and if they won, he’d be facing his boyfriend in the Stanley Cup finals. Because that’s what they were now, long-distance boyfriends. The Bruins ended up winning, and for a second year in a row, the Aces would be facing Boston in the Finals. Though this time, Vegas had home-ice advantage.
Jack took that time to go get an MRI on his shoulder. The radiologist (who he had to also sign an autograph for) said he’d send Dr. Kowalski his report in a few days, and he should follow up with her.
Bitty came into town, and was planning on staying with Jack throughout the entire Stanley Cup Series. Chen had allowed him time off from coaching duties, because even he recognized that your husband playing in the Stanley Cup Finals was a big fucking deal.
Jack was in hardcore hockey mode. Bitty could barely get him to relax at night. The trainer had forbidden Bitty from baking pies for the team (“They don’t need to be weighed down going into the final,” he’d said) so Bitty was often left with little to do, besides bake pies for random neighbors he’d met in the building, and eventually going to the casinos and playing penny slots with Alicia once she and Bob got into town.
Bitty went to the rink to watch the team practice the day before the Finals started. There was a lot of press there, but Bitty managed to pull a hat low over his eyes keep away from them. There was a weird amount of interest in a player’s husband, more than there was for another player’s wife.
After team practice, Jack showered and was getting dressed, when Dr. Kowalski came looking for him, “Jack, why don’t you come to my office?”
Bitty looked at Jack, “I’ll meet you out there?”
“You can come as well, Eric.”
“Oh! I uh-” Jack shrugged at him. “OK, I’ll come.”
They followed her into her office, and she shut the door behind them. They sat down in the two chairs in front of her desk and waited. Dr. Kowalski looked nervous as she sat down and pulled her chair in close to the desk. She cleared her throat and looked over a few sheets of paper. “We got the results of your MRI back yesterday,” she began.
Jack’s stomach dropped. He could tell by her voice that it was bad. “Am I going to be able to play through the finals?”
“I think so,” she said. “But we have a very big problem that you’ll need to get taken care of as soon as the finals are over.”
She paused for so long that Bitty finally spoke up, “What is it?”
“Jack, you have a growth in your shoulder.”
“What? What kind of growth, like cancer or something?”
“It looks like a bone tumor on the MRI. The good news is that those are rarely cancerous, but you will need to get it biopsied to know for sure. The bad news is that even though it is probably benign, it will need to be removed surgically.”
“But there’s a possibility it’s cancer?” Bitty asked.
She hesitated, “Yes.”
Jack’s vision swam, and his heart started beating rapidly, his breathing became shallow. “Jack?” Bitty said, sounding panicked. “Jack!”
“Put your head between your knees,” Dr. Kowalski ordered.
Jack followed her instructions and started to feel a little bit better. Dr. Kowalski and Bitty were kneeling beside him, reminding him to breathe in and out. He felt his heartbeat slow and become more regular and finally was able to sit up.
“So what do I do?”
“Do you have a doctor at home in Providence?”
“No,” Jack shook his head. “I’ve only seen team doctors since I signed.”
“I’ll help you find a doctor in Providence. After the season, you’ll need to see him or her about getting a biopsy on that shoulder. Then whatever that shows, your course of treatment will need to be decided then.”
“It won’t hurt to continue playing on the shoulder?” Bitty asked.
“I’m playing,” Jack said firmly.
Bitty gave the doctor a pleading look. She raised her hands a little, “He’s been playing on it. I don’t think an extra couple of weeks is going to hurt him, honestly.”
“I’m playing,” Jack repeated. He’d been almost singularly focused on hockey this year and he was going to see it to the very end, even if he was on his god damn deathbed. “And I’m not telling anyone about this, eh?”
“Your parents,” Bitty said. “Kent?”
“Shitty and Lardo?” Bitty begged. He didn’t want to be the only one to shoulder (no pun intended) this burden for Jack.
Jack thought for a moment. “We’ll tell Shitty when he comes in tonight.” Shitty and Lardo were staying with them for the first two games in Vegas. “No one else, please Bits. If I don’t talk about it, I don’t need to think about it. And I can’t think about this for the next two weeks.”
“That’s called denial, Jack.”
“I know. I know it is and I know it’s wrong. But just give me these two weeks. Let me think about nothing but hockey for two fucking weeks and then I will not think about anything besides my shoulder and my tumor and getting better.”
Bitty nodded, “OK. I’ll think about your shoulder for the next two weeks while you think about hockey.” He turned to Dr.Kowalski, “Can you help me find the names of doctors in Providence? What websites do you recommend I look up for bone tumors? If Jack needs more narcotics, I’ll monitor him. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” He tried his hardest to sound a lot more confident than he felt.
As they drove away from the rink, they were mostly silent. Jack asked, “Can you drop me off at home so I can nap when you go pick up Shitty and Lardo from the airport?”
Bitty, who was driving, looked sideways at Jack. He wondered if he should argue with him, tell Jack that he shouldn’t be alone right now, or whether he should respect Jack’s wishes. After a moments silence, he answered, “Of course.”
He pulled up in front of the building and Jack slid out. He leaned back in and said, “You can tell them. Tell Shitty and Lardo. I don’t think I can get the words out.”
Bitty nodded, “I love you.”
Jack smiled sadly. “I love you too. We’ll get through this.”
As Jack lay down for a nap, he made a deal with himself. He decided that if his biopsy would just come back cancer-free, he wouldn’t care about anything else. He wouldn’t care if his hockey career was over. He wouldn’t care about whether he’d ever won a Stanley Cup. He wouldn’t care that Bitty had called Kent in an argument over his pills. He would just be so relieved to not have cancer.
Bitty had about a half hour wait at the airport. He didn’t want to think about anything, so he picked up a few trashy magazines at the Newsstand while he waited. Celebrity gossip was always a guilty pleasure, but at that moment, he could barely concentrate.
“Bitty Bittle!” Bitty heard Shitty’s booming voice long before he saw him.
They were a breath of fresh air, Shitty and Lardo. Bitty ran toward them, and Shitty hugged him hard, picking him up off the ground. Lardo and Bitty kissed and hugged, then they waited for their luggage, chatting happily about the upcoming Finals.
When they finally made it to the car, Bitty waited to start it. “I have something to tell you,” he said. “Jack and I got some bad news today.”
“What is it?” Shitty asked. Lardo leaned forward from the back seat.
The words caught in Bitty’s throat.
“Hey. Is everything OK?” Lardo asked.
Bitty shook his head. “Jack,” his voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “Jack has a bone tumor growing in his shoulder.”
“Shit,” Shitty whispered. “Fuck. Is it cancer?”
“We don’t know. We just found out, like, two hours ago. He’s going to finish the season then get it biopsied when we get back to Providence. The doctor said that bone tumors are usually benign, so.”
“Usually benign,” Shitty sounded relieved. “That’s good.”
“What can we do?” Lardo asked.
“Nothing, right now. Jack’s at home napping. He’s insistent that we don’t tell anyone. Not even Bob and Alicia, not even Kent, until after the series. Maybe not even until after the biopsy. Even if it’s benign, it’ll still need to be removed.”
“OK, well. We had our own news to share,” Lardo said. “We’re moving to Providence in a few weeks. Shitty got a job at the Providence area ACLU. So we’ll be in town to help you with whatever you need.”
“That’s awesome,” Bitty said. “Congratulations, Shits.”
Shitty cocked his head at Bitty, “You seem to be handling this surprisingly well.”
“If I start crying, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop, so I’m working hard to not start.”
“Let me drive,” Shitty said. “I want you to have a good cry on the way home.”
Bitty gave a dry laugh, but Shitty insisted.
“You just want a chance to drive Jack’s car.”
“Damn right,” Shitty said, sliding into the driver’s side and adjusting the seat and mirrors. “I grew up with money, and the one thing I miss about having it is sweet-ass cars like this Jaguar.”
He pulled away quickly and smoothly, “Cry if you need to,” he ordered Bitty.
“I think I’m OK now that y’all are here,” Bitty said, as the tears spilled over.
Once the games started, it was surprisingly simple to fall into the habit of forgetting about Jack’s tumor. Not only was Jack spending most of his waking hours on the ice, Bitty was watching most public skates, all the games, and spending a lot of time with Bob and Alicia. Plus Alek came into town to watch the games, and he and Bitty hung out a little bit too. Both Alek and Bitty were in demand by the media for interviews. Alek was a lot more relaxed about giving interviews, as upset as he was about not having made the Cup Finals.
Bitty managed to get an appointment with a surgeon scheduled for Jack. Game seven of the series was on a Saturday, and Jack’s appointment was on the following Wednesday. “No rest for the weary,” he said when Jack balked at the fast scheduling.
The Aces won their first two games in Vegas. Jack was playing the best he ever had. The Parse and Zimms magic that had been on display all year in Vegas had a fire under it now that the Cup was on the line. In the first game alone, Jack had five points and Kent had three in their 6-3 win.
The third and fourth games were in Boston. Jack managed to get tickets for Shitty, Lardo, Holster, and Ransom. They sat in the box seats with Bitty and Alek, along with Bob, Alicia, and the Lemieux’s. Bitty was so nervous about the games, he forgot to be nervous about Jack’s health until he overheard Bob and Mario discussing Jack’s form. “It looks like he’s favoring his right shoulder,” Bob observed.
Mario had agreed, “He broke his collarbone a year ago, right? He probably readjusted his grip and hasn’t fixed it. He could get a stronger slapshot if he’d fix it.”
Bitty met Shitty’s eyes, but neither said anything.
The Aces dropped the third game, but won the fourth. They were up 3-1 in the series, and only needed one more win to get the Cup.
It was back to Vegas for the fifth game. If the Aces could win, it would win them the Stanley Cup. The night before the game, Jack refused to allow anyone besides Bitty into the apartment. He said he needed his rest and to relax, but really his shoulder was causing him so much pain. He’d barely done more than skate at practice.
“Here,” Bitty handed him two Percocets.
“You need them,” Bitty said quietly. It was true. Bitty had gotten into the shower with Jack, not for sex like they usually did when they showered together, but because Jack couldn’t raise his arm enough to even wash his hair. “Take them, and try to get some sleep.”
Jack swallowed the pills with a small dixie cup of water. “Are we going to talk about this ever?”
“After you win the Cup,” Bitty said.
Jack smiled, “Don’t jinx me.”
Jack’s arm was clearly bothering him during the game. He managed an assist to Kent, but no other points. Between periods in the locker room, Dr. Kowalski gave him more pain pills. Still, he only got a few minutes of playing time in the third period. It was clear to everyone that he was struggling.
The game was tied 2-2 going into the third. Emotions were running on high on the bench, on the ice, even in the stands. Bitty and Alek were in the box with Bob and Alicia, none of them were talking, all leaned forward in their seats, hands gripping the arms of their chairs.
It happened in a flash. With only thirty seconds left in the game, Kent Parson got the puck from between a Bruin’s legs and flew down the ice on a breakaway. He may have been thirty-two, but few players could skate as fast as Parse. He flicked the puck and it flew by the Bruin’s goalie’s left shoulder and into the net.
To say the roar in the area was deafening was an understatement. The noise didn’t stop for the next minute as the Bruins pulled their goalie and played with an empty net. But it wasn’t enough.
The Aces had won the Cup.
Chapter 7: Home
Jack has surgery - Jack retires and Bitty worries about how Jack's handling it- Jack and Bitty think about the future
It turned out to be a great thing that the Aces won the Cup in only five games. It gave Jack an opportunity to join in the week long celebration in the city. The night they won, Ceasar’s Palace closed off their buffet for the team and their families to come eat for free, as long as they brought the Cup with them.
Fans were able to stand and gawk at the Cup, and at their favorite players, increasingly inebriated as the night wore on. Even Jack, who’d spent the last couple weeks in an ongoing state of tension about his shoulder, let go of some of his anxiety by pounding shot after shot with Kent and Bitty, and could barely make it back to the hotel room at four a.m. that Bob and Alicia insisted he and Bitty get. Bitty, always a giggly and touchy drunk, wasn’t in much better shape and was shamelessly flirting with all of Jack’s teammates. They’d all had his pies, though, and were delighted to flirt back if it meant he’d bring more of that pecan pie next year.
Would there be a next year? When the Aces staff had presented Jack a few days earlier with a three year contract, he’d been tempted to sign it. But he had to be honest and told them about the tumor. He signed a commitment, but not yet a contract for the following year.
The parade was held just days before Jack and Bitty had to leave for Providence. The team met up at a hotel at the start of the parade route, and Kent began harraunging Jack about signing for next year already. “I can’t,” Jack said. “I’m having surgery in the off season and I don’t know if I can come back from it.”
Kent looked at him, confused. “What’s wrong?”
Jack pulled him aside and said quietly, “This isn’t public knowledge, and please don’t freak out. I have a bone tumor in my shoulder.”
Kent ignored Jack’s request and proceeded to freak out in a way he hadn’t since the time he’d found an eighteen year old Jack not breathing next to an empty bottle of vodka and Valium. “What the fuck, Zimms? You have cancer?"
Which, unfortunately, got the attention of their teammates, and Jack had to calm everyone down and explain that he didn’t know, but it probably wasn’t cancer. That didn’t really make anyone feel any better, and even though it isn’t what Jack wanted, the team seemed mildly subdued during the parade.
All in all, it was nice to return to Providence on the high of winning the Cup.
The surgeon scheduled Jack’s biopsy less than a week after his initial appointment. A biopsy wasn’t major surgery, and Jack handled it fine.
He handled it even better when it came back negative for cancer. There was a whole thing, with the name of the tumor, and where in the bone it was and how he’d probably had it for a long time, but it was dormant until he’d broken his collarbone, blah, blah, blah. But he wasn’t really listening, because all he heard was that he didn’t have cancer and that felt better than winning the Stanley Cup.
Still, the tumor needed to be removed, and his surgery was scheduled for later that month.
If Bitty was worried that he would be alone in caring for a convalescing Jack, he didn’t have to be. Not only did Elizabeth make several weeks worth of frozen meals for them, but Bob and Alicia came into town. Shitty and Lardo were living there by now and stopping by regularly. Kent even flew in to deliver the Stanley Cup to Jack, whose days with it were immediately post-surgery. (Alek came with him, but refused to be within twenty feet of the Cup, and never ever looked directly at it. It was such a problem, he wouldn’t allow Kent to keep it in their hotel room, so Kent handed it over one night early, and Jack and Bitty had sex right next to it in their bed.)
The morning of the surgery, they made quite a group in the hospital waiting room. It was nerve-wracking, but knowing it wasn’t cancer made it much more relaxed. A bone tumor isn’t the easiest thing in the world to remove and the surgery took most of the day. Kent took the Stanley Cup to the pediatric unit to allow some sick kids to touch it. The kids were mostly excited that Jack Zimmermann was right now in the very same hospital they were in. Kent reminded himself to tell Jack to come visit the kids before he got released.
The surgeon finally came out and pulled them into a small conference room to talk to them after a long day of waiting. “He’s fine. He’s in recovery,” the doctor assured Bitty, Bob, and Alicia, the only ones who came into the room. “He handled the surgery perfectly. We were able to resect the whole tumor. There’s a slim chance it could grow again, but I don’t think it will.”
“And it’s definitely not cancer?” Bitty asked.
“Definitely not,” the doctor assured him. “But if you’re worried, just be sure that the tumor still goes to pathology for further study.”
“When will he feel better?”
“He should be waking up any minute now. He’ll have to stay here for a few days. I’ll remove his stitches in about ten days and after that he’ll start physical therapy.”
“Do you think he’ll play again?” Bob asked.
“Bob,” Alicia frowned at him.
“You know that’s going to be the first thing Jack wants to know,” Bob said defensively.
The doctor hesitated, “If this were a tumor I removed from a normal person, I’d say that everyday activities could be resumed eventually. But not in the case of an athlete in a high impact sport. I don’t think he’ll play professional hockey again. The tumor needed to be resected from nerves, and I needed to shave off quite a bit of bone. His left shoulder is going to be weaker than his right for the rest of his life, and will always be at a greater risk of injury on impact.”
Bob and Alicia looked stunned, and Bitty wondered exactly what Jack had told them. “He knows,” Bitty assured his in-laws, “Jack was well aware this is what might happen. It’s why he didn’t re-sign with Las Vegas.”
“How is he handling it?” Alicia wanted to know.
“Well,” Bitty said, “Probably better than he would have if he hadn’t won a Stanley Cup.”
The doctor smiled, “He told me before he went under anesthesia, that he’d bring the Cup to my office for his follow up visit. I’m a Falcs fan, but I’ll take it.”
Bob looked concerned, “I’m worried about Jack’s...uh...mental well being if he doesn’t have hockey.”
Alicia turned to him, “He alive. He doesn’t have cancer. Please don’t act like his life is over because he can’t play in the NHL anymore, especially in front of him.”
“There are other jobs in hockey,” Bitty said quietly. “The other day I saw him reading an article about the jobs elite athletes have held after retirement.”
“I think he knows,” the doctor said. “I know he tried to be tough and not let it show, but the tumor I took out was unusually large. It must have been extremely painful, and I can’t imagine with that amount of pain, he wouldn’t have known his career was in trouble.”
Alicia held on to Bob’s hand, “Just like when he was eighteen, we’ll get through it together.”
They gave a quick update to Kent, Shitty and Lardo who were still in the waiting room. Kent swore loudly when Bitty told him Jack would not play hockey again. Then Bitty, Bob and Alicia were allowed in the recovery room to see Jack as he was waking up.
He was groggy and confused, but still reached out with his right hand to hold onto Bitty’s fingers. “Hey,” Bitty leaned over and pushed Jack’s hair out of his face. “You got through it.”
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Five in the evening,” Bitty answered.
“Can I go home now?”
Bitty laughed, “Not tonight. I’ll make you a maple pie when you do get home in a couple days.”
“I like your pie,” he murmured.
Alicia moved to the other side of the bed and kissed Jack on his forehead. “Maman,” he whispered.
“I love you, baby,” she said. “I’m so glad you’re OK.”
“I want to go to sleep,” Jack said.
The nurse interrupted, “I need to finish up your recovery check, then we’ll get you upstairs to a room and you can sleep.”
Jack gave a half-hearted thumbs up to the nurse. “Go home,” he said to Bitty. “Sleep at home tonight and come back tomorrow.”
“No,” Bitty said firmly. “I’ll stay with you tonight.”
Jack shook his head, “No. Go, keep the others company. I just want to sleep.”
“You won’t sleep well,” the nurse said to Bitty. “We’ll be in and out all night checking on him and his vitals.”
Bitty looked uncertain, “You sure?” he asked.
“Go,” Jack tried to wave Bitty off, but was having trouble lifting his arms. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Bitty leaned down and kissed Jack gently on the lips, “I’ll be back in the morning.”
Bitty, Bob, and Alicia went back to Jack and Bitty’s house, where Kent and Alek were waiting for them. They had dinner, had a lot of drinks and went to bed. Bitty had been in their bed by himself a lot this last year. He was used to having it all to himself. But knowing that Jack was in the hospital and not in his apartment in Las Vegas, and hearing the soft noises of Kent and Alek making love in the room next door, made Bitty’s stomach gape with loneliness. He cried himself to sleep, thinking about Jack and how Jack would react to the end of his hockey career.
Several days after Jack came home from the hospital, Bitty listened in as Jack called the Aces’ GM to tell them he wouldn’t be able to sign with them, and that he wanted to announce his retirement. The more even Jack’s voice remained, the more composed he was, the more Bitty worried about him. Jack couldn’t be handling it this well, could he?
Bitty knew he’d need to talk to Jack about that, and because Bitty had problems sitting down and making eye contact and talking, he decided to bake a pie. He got out the ingredients as he overheard Jack say, “I can’t make it to Vegas for a press conference until after I heal more. We can do it from here, or you can have me on by satellite.”
Jack hated press conferences.
Finally, he hung up and came into the kitchen. “What are you making?”
“Blueberry,” Bitty answered. “Hey I wanted to talk to you.”
Jack sat on a stool at the kitchen island. “What?”
“Are you OK?”
Jack half-shrugged with his good right shoulder. “It’s hard to tell yet. I won’t be able to try to move my arm until the stitches come out.”
“Not that,” Bitty said. “I mean, you can’t play hockey any more and you seem really…..OK with it.”
“I’m not OK with it,” Jack said. “But I swore to myself that if I didn’t have cancer, I would make myself be happy enough with an eight year NHL career. I have a trip to the Frozen Four and a Stanley Cup. Do I want to keep playing? Absolutely. The best year of my professional life was last year. But I’m trying to make myself happy with that one year and not think about what I’m not getting next year.”
That was an amount of perspective Bitty hadn’t expected from Jack. “That’s nice. But you know, it’s OK to be more upset about it.”
“I know,” Jack said. “And that will probably come when next season starts. But right now, I’m still feeling the relief from a negative biopsy.”
Bitty smiled and met Jack’s eyes, which looked sadder than his words. “All right,” Bitty agreed, because God knows he was still feeling that relief too. “When’s your press conference?”
“Don’t know yet,” Jack said. “In the next day or two.”
“What are you going to say?”
“I don’t know,” Jack said again. “PR’s going to write a statement for me.”
“What are you going to do next year?” Bitty asked, concentrating hard on his pie dough.
Jack was silent for a moment, “Physical therapy,” he answered. “Find a job?”
Jack added thoughtfully, “Have a baby?”
Bitty jerked his head up and held Jack’s gaze. “Are you serious?”
“I don’t even know how we would have a baby,” Jack laughed, “But I assume you did your research.”
“I did!” Bitty said. “We can adopt or we can use a surrogate. I have folders of information on this.”
Jack chuckled, “I knew you would.”
“Are we really doing this?” Bitty asked. “You aren’t just sad because you can’t play next year?”
“Yeah,” Jack said, getting up from his stool and standing behind Bitty. He leaned down and kissed Bitty’s neck and grabbed a bit of raw pie dough, which he popped in his mouth. “I figured a baby would be part of my post-hockey life. And my post-hockey life is here. So, let’s do it.”
Chapter 8: Sports Illustrated December 2024
In December 2024, Sports Illustrated named Jack Zimmermann and Kent Parson Sportsmen of the Year. This is the accompanying article.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Sports Illustrated, Sportsmen of the Year
Aces in the Hole
Every athlete has his or her own personal history. Sometimes there are two athletes whose personal histories go so deep with one another’s that it’s hard to separate the two. That’s the case with Jack Zimmermann and Kent Parson.
It seems to be a given that on a year when we would give the Sportsman of the Year award to two people, that it would have to be these two. As teenagers, they rose through the ranks of Junior Hockey together. They formed an offensive duo on the ice that was magic, especially for their young ages. Off the ice they were best friends.
Projected to go first and second in the 2007 NHL draft, Jack Zimmermann and Kent Parson seemed to have it made. Just days before the draft, it all came crumbling down for Zimmermann, when he overdosed on Valium, which he had been prescribed for anxiety, and an entire bottle of vodka. His near-lifeless body was found by Parson.
Parson went first that year and signed with the Las Vegas Aces. Zimmermann went to rehab. Parson won the Calder that year. Zimmermann spent hours in therapy. The next year Parson won his first of three Stanley Cups and a Hart trophy. Zimmermann began coaching Pee-Wee Hockey. The year Parson won his second Stanley Cup, Zimmermann was a 22 year old Sophomore playing hockey at the tiny ECAC Samwell University.
The only similarities, it seems, between Parson and Zimmermann is that they were both athletes with the same secret, that they are gay. Zimmermann came out by choice in his third year in the NHL after he married his college sweetheart, Eric Bittle. Parson came out the following year, not at all by choice, after a sex scandal involving a notorious Vegas-area pastor. While being the first two prominent athletes out of the closet is certainly admirable, Zimmermann and Parson are not being named Sportsmen of the Year because they are gay and athletes. It’s because they are amazing athletes who embody everything that Sportsmen of the Year are supposed to.
Kent Parson added a fourth Art Ross trophy to his collection this year. The first time he won, he won it with a yearly points total of 160. This year, with Zimmermann on his line, he had 200, which puts him in the top five of all time. Zimmermann played nearly as well, garnering 120 points of his own, with less playing time than Parson. Zimmermann has also become known as the NHL’s Faceoff man, winning a whopping 70.4% of all faceoffs, making him the all-time faceoff leader.
Between the two, it’s no surprise that the Aces had a regular season record of 55-19-9. It’s no surprise that they made it through each round of the playoffs, including the Stanley Cup Finals, in only five games.
It was as though the entire history of Zimmermann and Parson was leading up to the moment they won the Stanley Cup.
It’s a good thing they won it this past year, because Zimmermann shocked the hockey world once again when he announced his retirement just weeks after the season ended. The shoulder pain that had kept him from getting as much playing time as Parson turned out to be a benign tumor in his clavicle. Despite the fact that it is non-cancerous, the surgery to remove the tumor has left him with a left arm weakened by nerve damage and at high risk for permanent injury upon impact.
Zimmermann is quieter, more thoughtful, than the brash and bold Parson. While Zimmermann answers questions from reporters slowly and takes great pains to be diplomatic in his answers, Parson is often truculent and flippant with the media. When the two are interviewed together, it’s easy to see why they play hockey so well together. Even in speaking, they bring out the best in each other. Parson gets Zimmerman to stop hesitating before answering questions, Zimmermann challenges Parson to think before he talks.
I met up with Zimmermann and Parson in Zimmermann’s home in Providence, Rhode Island to interview them together about being named Sportsmen of the Year.
Reporter: Congratulations on being named co-Sportsmen of the Year.
JZ: It’s a real honor.
Reporter: Tell us a little about how you came to play together again after all these years.
KP: I was always after the Aces suits to try to sign Jack. But Jack….I don’t know. He just wanted to do his own thing.
JZ: Providence was my absolute first choice when I signed out of college.
Reporter: Why is that?
JZ: (long pause) I’d just played four years at Samwell and I had gotten a lot better, not hockey better, but mentally healthier there. I wanted to stay close to the area. And I liked the idea of playing for a franchise that didn’t exist when my dad played hockey.
KP: Don’t let him fool you. He didn’t want to leave his boyfriend.
JZ: (blushes) Well….
Reporter: Is that true?
JZ: There were many reasons I chose Providence. And yes, that Eric was still at Samwell when I graduated was just one of those many reasons.
Reporter: How about after Providence?
JZ: I played a half season in Pittsburgh, two in Washington, one in L.A. before I decided to take the Aces up on their offer.
KP: It only took him seven f**ing years to come to his senses.
JZ: (Shrugs) I guess.
KP: He was afraid of playing with me again.
JZ: No I wasn’t.
KP: Sure you were.
JZ: Afraid of what?
KP: C’mon Zimms. Last time we played together you…”
Reporter (to Zimmermann): Is this about your overdose in 2007?
JZ: A little bit?
KP: A lot of bit.
JZ: It’s just really personal.
KP: I’m the one who found Zimms. Back when he OD’ed. I’m the one who thought he was dead and who called the ambulance and who waited in the hospital for Bob and Alicia. Zimms didn’t want to play with me ever again because it meant remembering that, right?
KP: Yeah, I knew I was right.
Reporter: What about you, Kent? Did playing with Jack mean that would be something you’d remember?
KP: (Shrugs) I think about it all the f**ing time anyway. When I found him, I didn’t know I found Jack, I thought I’d found Jack’s body. You don’t just forget that. I wanted him to come to Vegas so badly because I knew we could make great hockey happen. To me it was never about his overdose.
Reporter: What was it like, finally getting to play with him again?
KP: Amazing. Really f**ing amazing. Me and Zimms, we’re like two sides of the same coin, and we’ve always had an on-ice connection that could trump anything that had happened off the ice. Only I knew that and Zimms didn’t.
JZ: (laughing) You’re arrogant. My decision not to go to Vegas wasn’t all about you.
KP: (turns to face Jack) Liar.
JZ: Sure, Kenny. Everything I’ve ever done in my hockey career has been about whether or not you wanted me to do it.
KP: Stop being sarcastic. It doesn’t suit you well.
JZ: (laughs and shakes his head) I had a lot of reasons for choosing Providence at the beginning of my career, none of which were about what Kent Parson wanted. My reasons for choosing Las Vegas later on, were somewhat about playing with you again, but I had my other reasons.
Reporter: Like what?
JZ: Mostly that Vegas was a Cup contender. And also money. Not to be so blunt, but I had a feeling my career was winding down. Injuries were becoming harder to deal with, so I took the biggest contract offered to me.
Reporter: You turned out to be right about your career.
Reporter: How is your health now?
JZ: My shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore, but it is very weak. I can’t raise my left arm above my shoulder and if I try to grip anything to hard with my left hand, I get a pain shooting up. (Jack runs his right hand fingers from the tips of his left hand up to his left shoulder) I’m in really intensive physical therapy right now, trying to gain back some strength and range of motion, but it will never come back fully.
Reporter: What are your plans now that you’ve retired?
JZ: I’ve been pretty focused on my health. I recently agreed to an assistant coaching position for the Women’s Hockey team at Providence College next season.
KP: Really? Aren’t they a Samwell rival?
JZ: (Laughs nervously) Yeah. I might have to switch allegiances.
KP: What will you do with all this sh*t? (Parson motions toward a shelf in Zimmermann’s living room that has Samwell trophies of his and his husband’s, as well as their jerseys framed in a shadow box.)
JZ: Well, Eric lives here too. I doubt he’ll be willing to switch allegiances.
Reporter: Jack, you’ve had a reputation of being pretty one-track minded when it comes to hockey. You seem to be handling the news that you won’t be playing anymore pretty well.
KP: Hockey Robot, he’s called.
JZ: A few things happened. I think I hit thirty and the realization hit me that I’m not going to play forever. There’s something about that jump from your twenties to thirties that makes a professional athlete take stock of their career. You just have to start thinking about the light at the end of the tunnel. Also, I have Eric, and he’s been real good about not letting me be the hockey robot. He makes me think about things other than hockey and he makes me realize there is life after the NHL.
KP: God, that’s so sweet I think I just got diabetes listening to it.
JZ: (glares at Kent) Really though, the main thing that happened was my injury. There were a few weeks where I knew I had a tumor, but I hadn’t gotten it biopsied. I actually found out about the tumor the day before game one of the Cup. We were in a state for a couple of weeks of not knowing if I had cancer or not. That I don’t have cancer kind of gave me (pause) perspective. I’d rather not have cancer or an NHL career than have cancer.
KP: Thirty-three year old Jack Zimmermann is an entirely different creature than eighteen year old Jack Zimmermann.
Reporter: How so?
KP: Eighteen year old Jack Zimmermann didn’t have perspective on anything. He couldn’t deal with being gay, with being Bob Zimmermann’s son, with having the whole wide hockey world watching him without winding up in rehab.
JZ: Could we not? Could you let me leave some private things private?
KP: (Pokes Jack in the side) Sure Zimms.
Reporter: Are those things you don’t like to talk about?
KP: He basically likes to talk about hockey and Eric Bittle.
JZ: They’re my two favorite things.
KP: (mocking) I’m so hurt.
JZ: You too, Kenny. You’re one of my favorite things.
Reporter: Kent, you still have three years left on your contract with the Aces. Are you starting to think about your career winding down?”
KP: (Shrugs) I feel good. I feel healthy. I feel like I could play forever and win another ten Stanley Cups.
JZ: You’re jinxing yourself. Or else, you’re in deep denial.
KP: (scowls) I know I can’t play forever. But while Zimms has been out gathering all kinds of weird perspective, which is so unlike him, I’ve been thinking about hockey.
JZ: So you’re the robot now.
KP: F*ck yeah I am.
(Zimmermann and Parson get into a conversation about a lot of things, namely whether Zimmermann’s newfound perspective was bad for his hockey career and if Parson’s single-track mind is bad for his mental health. There was no consensus, and due to some revelations in the conversation, they requested that this portion of the conversation be entirely off-record.)
In 2008, Jack Zimmermann was probably jealous of Kent Parson. But more than a decade later, both men are at different stages in their lives and both seem to be very comfortable, not only with where they are, but the separate routes they took to get here.
Hockey will miss Jack Zimmermann next year, possibly more than Jack Zimmermann will miss hockey. And no matter how many times Parson tries to couch his responses in toughness, I think he is the person who will miss Zimmermann on the ice most of all.
Cover: Parson and Zimmermann with the Stanley Cup
Far Left: Parson and Zimmerman taking the Stanley Cup to the Pediatric Unit at Providence Medical Center two days after Zimmerman’s career-ending surgery to remove a shoulder tumor.
Center: Parson and Zimmermann celebrating a goal.
Right: Parson and Zimmerman in Juniors in 2006, ages 17.
Top: Jack Zimmermann and Eric Bittle on the day of their wedding.
Middle: Jack Zimmermann and Eric Bittle before their Frozen Four game in 2015, which they lost.
Bottom: Kent Parson and Alek Nordgren at an Athlete Ally event in early 2024.
For more outtakes of photos, including candids of the cover shot, as well as outtakes from the interview, please visit si.com/sportsman2024
I actually wrote this article first, then built the fic around it. The redacted part of the article is crap I actually deleted because it read an awful lot like a couples therapy session, LOL.