Christmas in Providence
It was the smell that clued him in. As soon as he opened the front door, Jack was immediately engulfed by the smell of cinnamon and sugar. There was only one reason his apartment would smell so inviting.
"Hello? Bitty?" Jack called as he dropped his duffle bag in hall and entered the living room. He smiled as he took in the modest, but festive decorations now adorning the room and the plate of freshly-baked cookies on the table. "What's going on? I thought you weren't getting here until this afternoon?"
Bitty crossed the room to give his boyfriend a warm hug and kiss. "I had the feeling that you wouldn't have had time to decorate the place for the holidays. Ollie dropped off on his way home so I could bring all of this stuff with me, sneak in early, and make the place a little more Christmas-y." He grinned, a little bashfully. "Surprise?"
Jack tightened his embrace and smiled gently. "This is amazing, thank you." He pulled back a bit to look the shorter man in the eyes. "But you know you didn't have to do all this, eh?"
"Of course, but if this is going to be our only chance at spending Christmas together, Mr. Zimmermann, then I intend to do it right!"
Jack sighed, feeling warm and loved, as he always did in Bitty's presence, but a bit sad that they would have to spend another holiday apart. Since they had finally realized their feelings for each other, time together had become a precious commodity. Between Jack's rigorous schedule and Bitty's school and hockey responsibilities, phone calls and Skype chats were the norm, while they snatched brief visits whenever they could.
It was the weekend before Christmas and Bitty would be flying down to Georgia on Monday morning to spend the holiday with his parents. The Falconers had two more games against the Canadiens in Montreal, but at least Jack would have the chance to spend some time with his family before the road trip to Toronto and Detroit.
Unfortunately, this meant that Jack wouldn't be back in Providence until New Year's, so they decided to make the most of the time they had together before Bitty had to head back for his last semester at Samwell.
Bitty gave him one last squeeze before stepping away. "So, what would you like to do first? Food? Presents? Watch the Grinch?"
His boyfriend gave him an exasperated look. "The Grinch? The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Iconic holiday cartoon of our childhood? Green guy tries to steal Christmas from a little town of Whos?"
Jack just shook his head. "Of whats?"
"Oh no, we are not getting sucked into some sort of Who's on First routine." Jack continued to look confused and Bitty rolled his eyes. "Nevermind. I'll explain that one later. Food or presents, Jack, what's your pick?"
Jack's stomach chose that moment to grumble loudly. He grinned self-consciously, "I guess that answers the question, eh?"
Eric took his hand and led him into the kitchen. "We should probably try to use up as many of your perishables as possible before we leave." He opened the refrigerator, not noticing as Jack's face fell slightly before righting to a more neutral expression. "I was thinking sandwiches for lunch and then I can throw together the rest with some pasta for dinner." He turned around and tossed a yogurt container to Jack, who caught it deftly. "Why don't you start with that while I get the sandwiches ready. I know how important protein is to you." Eric winked at Jack as he reached into the dish strainer for a spoon.
Jack just cocked an eyebrow at him. "No chirping your boyfriend on Christmas, Bittle."
"It's not Christmas yet, so you're still fair game!" Bitty laughed, as he pulled out ingredients and began to build a couple of massive sandwiches.
Silence descended over the room, but it was comfortable, reminiscent of their many hours in the Haus kitchen--baking, studying, and just enjoying each other's company. Jack wouldn't trade his amazing life playing professional hockey for anything, but he couldn't help occasionally missing those days. He tried to shake off the bittersweet nostalgia while he ate his yogurt and smiled gently at the thought that in just a few months Bitty would be living here, making a home with him.
After lunch, they decided to hold off on opening presents in favor of cuddling on the couch and watching Christmas specials on Netflix. After the Grinch ("I'm still not sure what was going on, but the ending is nice." Bitty just facepalms.) and Charlie Brown ("The original, Jack, accept no substitutes!"), Bitty selected It's a Wonderful Life from the menu, then turned to Jack with an uncharacteristically shy look on his face. Jack's brow furrowed as Bitty took a deep breath, then plunged ahead.
"Y'see...In my family, we have this tradition that started...I have no idea when it started, actually, it was before I was born so maybe it was my grandparents who started it or even my great-grandparents...wait, when was It's a Wonderful Life released? Would my great-grandparents have been alive..."
"Right...right...okay, so like I said, we have this tradition where every Christmas we watch It's a Wonderful Life together. It's not like that movie has any particular significance but it's just a thing that we do every year, as a family, and I thought since you won't be there to experience the Bittle Christmas Extravaganza this year, we could watch it now...together. Start figuring out our own holiday traditions?"
Jack had a stunned look on his face, so Bitty kept rambling, "I mean, we don't have to stick with watching It's a Wonderful Life, we could choose another movie...or it doesn't have to be a movie! We could go ice skating or play shinny or MmMMMpph..." Jack interrupted the torrent of words with a heartfelt kiss and Bitty quickly relaxed into the tender hand that cupped his face. When they parted, Bitty couldn't help himself. "Necking and cuddling would do me just fine, too." His boyfriend huffed out a laugh.
"I think it's a good idea."
"The necking and cuddling? So do I!" Shaking his head, Jack softly elbowed him in the side.
"Traditions." He took Bitty's hand and threaded their fingers together. "And I'm honored that you want to include me in yours."
"Don't be silly, sweetheart, you're my family, too. You know that, right?"
"Oui...yes...It's just hard to wrap my mind around sometimes." He squeezed their hands together a bit tighter as he tried to find the words. "I just...with everything that I've been...I mean... How did I get so lucky, eh?"
Bitty responded with a tender smile. "I wonder the same thing every day." Jack leaned over to brush his lips against Bitty's--just a brief, chaste kiss, but full of so much love that Bitty had to blink for a moment and his voice was a little hoarse as he gave Jack his marching orders.
"Okay, I'm going to make us some popcorn, so you grab the drinks, and then we'll get this show on the road!" Jack just gave Bitty's hand one last squeeze before they turned to their appointed tasks.
After finishing the movie and dinner, Bitty decreed that it was time for presents. They exchanged packages and Jack encouraged Bitty to open his first. Bitty contemplated the squashy bundle as he carefully removed the ribbons and bright paper. The first thing he saw was an envelope that just said "Bitty". He glanced at Jack, suspicious of the look on his face. Pulling out the contents, Bitty let out an amused squawk and rolled his eyes.
"A 'Meat of the Month' club subscription? Really??" Jack couldn't help the smirk that pulled at one corner of his mouth.
"You've still got a few more months left of school and I wanted to make sure you--"
"--eat more protein," they finished together. Bitty laughed, "I thought you said no chirping your boyfriend at Christmas, Mr. Zimmermann!"
Jack just shrugged and nudged him, "Open the rest." Bitty shook his head and started to remove the tissue paper enclosing the rest of the gift. Once freed, he discovered it contained a scarf made of blue yarn, with little yellow accents. He rubbed the scarf against his cheek and marveled at its soft texture.
"I love it, Jack! And it's in the Falconers' colors, too, that's..." He took a closer look at the scarf. "Wait...this is homemade, where did you--" Bitty looked up to see the blush quickly suffusing his boyfriend's face and his eyes widened. "No...wait...did you make this yourself??" Jack ducked his head and nodded. Bitty's eyes widened even further. "Jack Zimmermann, you have hidden talents! When did you learn to do this?"
Jack lifted one shoulder in a half shrug, but when it became obvious that Bitty expected an answer, he cleared his throat and tried to explain. "When you're on the road, there's a lot of time to kill, eh? All those hours on buses and planes, long nights in hotel rooms...I found myself getting...um...fidgety, I guess? A few months into my first season, Janey, one of the wingers, noticed and told me that he used to be the same way until he started knitting and suggested I try it."
"Wow. And you did?" Jack nodded. "How did it go?"
Jack rolled his eyes and laughed. "Terrible, at first. Janey showed me the basics sent me links to videos online that explained more. I was still terrible. But it gave me something to do with my hands and something to focus on...and that helped."
Bitty fingered the edge of the scarf. "I can't believe I didn't know about this."
"Well, I didn't want to show my knitting to anyone until I got better at it--"
"Jack Zimmermann not wanting to appear capable of anything less than perfection?" Bitty interrupted. "Color me shocked."
"--so I could avoid the chirping," Jack finished, squinting his eyes at Bitty, who held up his palms in surrender. Jack's gaze softened as he fussed with the scarf, looping it carefully around his boyfriend's neck. "I was just thinking about you and how you are always cold in the winter. And I wished that I could be there to wrap my arms around you and keep you warm...but...well...I thought..." He looked up into Bitty's eyes, nervously playing with the fringe. "I thought if I made you a scarf, you could wear it, and even if I wasn't there it would be like I was giving you a hug to keep you warm." Bitty's head dropped to his chest and Jack was sure that he'd done the wrong thing. "I know it's really lame and you don't have to wear it if you don't want to-- "He started to unwrap the scarf when Bitty's hand shot up to stop him.
"Don't you dare, Jack Laurent Zimmermann. Don't you dare say that." He looked up at Jack, who was shocked by the stern look on Bitty's face and the tears in his eyes. "This is the best present that anyone has ever given me." He grabbed Jack's shirt to pull him in for a brief, but fierce kiss. "I love it. Thank you." He took a moment to compose himself and then prodded Jack. "Open yours now."
Jack paused to admire the beautiful wrapping job--not that he would expect anything less!--before removing the paper and lifting the lid of the box inside. There nestled in the tissue was a USB flash drive in the shape of a hockey jersey. Jack grinned as he lifted it out of the box and inspected the tiny details.
"That's a Falconers' jersey!" he exclaimed.
Bitty smiled and nodded. "It's a prototype for new merchandise. George sent it to me a few weeks ago and I knew it would be perfect for your Christmas present."
"Wait...so my present from you is really from George?"
Bitty dramatically held his hand to his heart. "You wound me, sir! Your present isn't the flash drive...well, it's that, too...but the real present is what's on the flash drive."
Jack arched an eyebrow at Bitty's obvious excitement. "This isn't...porn is it?"
"Oh for goodness sake, Jack, I'm not Shitty!" Bitty chuckled. "Just get your laptop, will you, so you can see for yourself."
Jack reached over to the side table and grabbed his laptop, opened it and plugged in the USB drive. It seemed to be full of video and audio files, all with names like "Cheer Up.mp4" and "Don't forget.mp3". Jack's forehead creased as he skimmed over the titles until he saw one that said "PLAY ME FIRST.mp4". He glanced over at Bitty who was practically vibrating with what appeared to be either giddiness or nerves...or maybe both.
Jack clicked the file and a video screen popped up and started to play. It was Bitty, in his room in the Haus, just like his video blogs. But instead of the standard "Hi, ya'll!", video-Bitty said--
--in a rather atrocious, but adorable accent.
"Toi pis moi...on va ben ensemble. J'taime et une chance que jt'ai. Je m'ennuie de toi et je pense que tu moi ennuie, aussi."
Jack just sat there, stunned, as video-Bitty continued talking in remarkably decent Quebecois French for a few more minutes, finally finishing with, "Tu files pas, tu m'appeles, d'accord? Inquiète-toi pas. Je t'aime."
Jack said nothing for several moment and just continued staring at the screen. Eventually, Bitty became a little concerned. He placed his hand on Jack's shoulder. "Es-tu correct?" Jack slowly turned his head and Bitty was horrified to see the tears running down his cheeks. "Oh lord, was it that bad? I swear I worked really hard on it, but I know my accent is terrible and I'm sure I messed up the grammar and--"
"Mon Bibitte," Jack whispered. "Mon Bibitte, tu...t'es tellement cute son accent. Quand...?"
"Ça fait va boutte que j'apprends le français québécois. Je..." He looked a little sheepish. "Sorry, I'm still not as good at speaking French as I am at writing it out. You remember that I took that French class, first semester of my junior year?"
"Oui...yes, to fulfill your language requirement."
"Yeah, well, I kept going. I thought...I feel a little ridiculous, but I had such a crush on you and I thought that learning French might help us communicate better. I didn't realize how hard it would be to actually get to the point where I could hold a real conversation."
"But you would have been learning standard continental French. Where did you learn the Quebecois?"
"Ransom helped me a bit, at first, but do you remember me talking about Marcie? The new D-man? It turns out he's from a place in northern Maine where they speak Quebecois French and English is actually their second language! He’s been helping me a LOT this semester, trying to teach me the 'right' way to say things. I couldn't have put all of this together without him."
"All of these files are of you speaking French?"
"Yeah, I was thinking about how much I missed you and wished that I could be with you. The phone calls and Skype are great, but I know there are times when you could use a friendly voice; someone to remind you that you are loved and are doing so well, and to reach out if you need help. So when you're lonely or having a bad day...it will kind of be like I'm there. I know it's not the same, but..."
Jack grabbed him into a fierce hug, buried his face in the crook of Bitty's neck and just breathed for a few moments, trying to process the enormity of his feelings for this amazing person. Bitty rubbed his back until Jack pulled away. "Are you okay?"
"I just can't believe you learned French for me."
Bitty smiled tenderly. "Je suis prêt à faire n'importe quoi pour toi, Jack. Je t'aime, eh?" Jack nodded.
"Je t'aime, aussi."
"Good..." Bitty got a mischievous look on his face. "And don't think I don't know what your cute little pet name means, mister! 'Little critter', indeed!" Jack laughed and the serious mood was quickly dispelled. "Joyeux Noël, Jack."
"Merry Christmas, Bitty."
Toi pis moi...on va ben ensemble. J'taime et une chance que jt'ai. Je m'ennuie de toi et je pense que tu moi ennuie, aussi.
You and me...we make a good pair. I love you and I'm lucky to have you. I miss you and think you miss me, too.
Tu files pas, tu m'appeles, d'accord? Inquiète-toi pas. Je t'aime.
If you don't feel good [if you're feeling down], you call me, okay? Don't worry. I love you.
Are you okay?
Mon Bibitte, tu...t'es tellement cute son accent. Quand...?
My "little critter", you...your accent is so cute. When...?"
Ça fait va boutte que j'apprends le français québécois. Je...
I've been learning Quebecois French for a while. I..."
Je suis prêt à faire n'importe quoi pour toi, Jack. Je t'aime, eh?
I'm willing to do anything for you, Jack. I love you, yeah?"
Je t'aime, aussi.
I love you, too.
Joyeux Noël, Jack.
Merry Christmas, Jack.