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Graduation Day

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Jack wakes up to Beyonce.

Yup, I put it on him, it ain't nothing that I can't do

Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too

All up in the store, shorty, tricking if I want to

All up in the store, shawty, fly as we want to

He scrubs his hands over his face and grabs his phone off the night stand.

May 18th, 8:50am.

He had ten minutes left to sleep and he sighs like he’s not going to miss this.

Like he’s not going to miss hearing Bittle’s music from across the hall or hearing Shitty yell at the LAX house from the reading room or the sounds of Ransom and Holster moving around in the attic, heavy footed and unapologetic.

He’ll miss all of it.

Countdown ends and the first haunting notes of Halo begin to play.

Bittle changes it before the piano kicks in and Schoolin’ Life comes on.

This is for them 20 somethings

Time really moves fast, you were just sixteen

His window slides open and Jack can smell weed before Shitty rolls in.

Jack pulls back his legs right before he lands on them.

“Hey,” Shitty says, full smile and half dressed. “You’re up.”

“And you’re wearing more clothes than I thought you’d be,” Jack says as he nods to Shitty’s pajama pants.

“Oh yeah, well.” Shitty tucks his legs beneath him and settles in at the foot of Jack’s bed. “Bits and I struck a deal. I’d put on pants and he’d let me smoke on graduation day. I think I got the bum end of the deal because that was some weak shit.” He squeezes Jack’s ankle beneath the covers. “We’re graduating today. Can you fucking believe it?”

Jack shakes his head.

“Can’t believe it’s been four years since I forced you to be friends with me.”

“Yeah,” Jack says dryly, “neither can I.”

Shitty tips forward and Jack braces himself for a sloppy kiss but gets a surprisingly gentle kiss on his forehead instead.

“I gotta take a shower. You mind if I hop in there first or do you wanna?” Jack stretches and rolls his shoulders. He slept funny and this mattress has seen better days.

There’s a brand new king sized one waiting for him in Providence.

“You go ahead. Leave the water running so I won’t have to wait for it to warm up.”

Shitty hops off the bed and strips before he even gets to the bathroom.

He whistles while the water heats and Jack laces his fingers behind his head and stares up at the crack in the ceiling.

Ransom and Holster bound down the attic stairs and Bittle shuts off his music. His door opens and closes and Jack watches the shadow of his feet beneath his door.

Bittle pauses there for a moment before he moves away and hurries down the stairs.

Jack strips the sheets off the bed, balls them up, and drops them into an empty box. He shoves his pillows in after and that’s it.

Chowder has started to move in his own boxes but besides that Jack’s room is empty.

The posters and photos are down and tucked into boxes that are already waiting for him in Providence.

There are only a handful of t-shirts and a few running shorts left in the dresser.

The suit he’ll wear today is hanging in the closet but that’s the only thing.

His cap and gown are draped over his desk chair.

The room seems so much smaller now than it did when he first moved in.

“Alright man. All yours.” Shitty’s out of the shower and wiping his hand against the mirror to clear the fog.

“That was fast.”

“Less flow. Takes less time.”

Shitty’s already downstairs by the time Jack gets out of the shower.

He throws on a pair of shorts and a clean t-shirt. He puts the ones he slept in and the extras from the dresser in the box with the sheets.

He thinks about going for a run, just a quick one to work off some of his nerves, so he slips on his sneakers as well.

That thought it quickly derailed as soon as he smells bacon frying.

“Jack,” Bittle says brightly. He has a spatula in both hands and pans going on all four burners. His smile turns down at the edges as he looks at Jack’s shoes. “You’re not going for a run are you? I’m making breakfast.”

“He’s making a buffet,” Ransom says as he squeezes past him to grab a piece of bacon out of the pan.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Bittle tells him. “Just pancakes, bacon, hash browns, eggs, toast. There’s fruit salad on the table.”

“No pies?” Jack chirps.

Bittle looks down at the pan on the front right burner. “There are two in the freezer for you and Shitty to take with you.”

“Oh.” Jack leans over Bittle’s shoulder and looks at the stove. “Chocolate chip and blueberry pancakes?”

“You like blueberry and Shitty likes chocolate chip so…”

“You’re spoiling us, Bittle.”

“It’s my last chance to.” He admits quietly then takes a deep breath and smiles again. “Go on and sit down. Everything’s almost done.”

Holster pops up from behind the coffee table and slaps his hands against it. “Has anyone seen my phone charger? I can’t find the fucking thing anywhere and I’m not leaving here without it. This is an emergency.”

Bittle rolls his eyes at Jack as Ransom goes into the living room to help him.

Everyone looks like they’re still dressed in the clothes they slept in, even Shitty who is only wearing boxers with graduation caps on them and showing off to anyone that’ll look.

Lardo is the only one who looks presentable in dark wash jeans, a white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket. She has earrings in and heels on her feet as she sits on the counter and swings her legs.

“You look nice,” Jack tells her as he pours a cup of coffee for himself.

She rolls her eyes but hides a smile behind her own cup. “Figured I should dress up for my best guys.”

“Rude,” Holster says from the living room. He’s got both hands under the couch cushions and Bittle wrinkles his nose at him.

It makes Jack smile.

Shitty flies in and gets her in a loose headlock.

She shoves him off and laughs. “We’re also going to dinner with the grandparents so.” She shrugs and Shitty shakes his head.

“I told her to wear those pants that she always paints in. They’re all ripped and splattered.”

“Yeah,” Lardo huffs, “they’d love that.”

“I don’t give a shit what they think.”

“Well maybe I do.”

“Why?

They stare at each other and it’s just about to get awkward when Bittle elbows his way in with a plate of hash browns.

“Would y’all please sit down. Holster get your arms out from under there and wash them, please.”

Shitty backs away towards the table and bumps right into Bitty, knocking the plate out of his hand.

It shatters on impact and Shitty steps on one of the shards in his bare feet.

Bitty apologizes over and over again as Shitty hops over to the table.

“Aww, don’t worry about it, Bits.”

“I made you bleed on your graduation day.”

Jack grabs the first aid kit from beneath the sink and passes it to Ransom who immediately and dramatically snaps on a pair of surgical gloves and pops Shitty’s foot into his lap.

Bittle hovers over Shitty’s shoulder.

“Do you think he’ll be able to keep the foot, Dr. Oluransi?” Jack asks.

“No,” Ransom says, completely deadpan as he wraps a band aid around Shitty’s big toe. “We’re going to have to amputate. Take the whole foot off.”

“It was a good foot,” Shitty says.

“This isn’t funny. None of you are funny. Now I have to make more hash browns,” he grumbles.

Jack sits next to Bittle and eats three blueberry pancakes, four strips of bacon and almost all of the fruit salad.

Bittle passes him the bowl after he piles his third helping onto his plate and Jack takes it with a shy smile. Bittle knocks his knee into his under the table.

Everyone piles their dishes in the sink when they’re done and Holster, Ransom, and Shitty all head upstairs to finish packing. Lardo follows Shitty to help him and Bittle waves Jack off when he turns on the sink.

“Jack you can head up if you’d like. I can handle this on my own.”

“I’m all set.” He turns on the water and takes a plate from Bittle. “I only have one more box to put in the car and that’ll be it. All those boxes in there are Chowders.”

“He’s so excited about moving in.” Bittle steps up beside him and takes the clean plate from Jack so he can dry it. “It was so nice of you to give him your dibs.”

“He deserved it and I know how much you like him.”

“I love all of my Frogs equally.”

Jack hums.

“But I do have a soft spot for Chowder. It’s going to be strange living across from him though, you know, not having you and Shitty around. I mean, Shitty was the first person I ever told I was gay. Out loud. That’s a big deal.”

“I know it is, Bittle,” Jack says softly.

“And you, Jack. You’re just….you are…”

“Where the fuck is my charger” Holster yells from the top of the stairs. He bounds down them and flings open the hall closet. “I had it last night and now it’s gone.”

“Where was the last place you saw it?” Bitty asks.

“It was plugged into my phone and now it is currently not there.”

Bitty sighs. “Aren’t you going to miss this, Jack?”

You have no idea, he thinks.

They find his charger forty minutes later under the couch.

Bittle refuses to touch the thing so Jack has to pick it up so Holster can slide beneath it and grab it.

Jack’s parents show up fifteen minutes early with Georgia Martin in tow.

Bittle welcomes them as he herds them into the kitchen so he can feed them pie.

He blushes when Alicia tells him “this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

Jack blushes when Bob tells Bittle “now we know why Jack kept going on and on about you.”

Jack bounces from conversation to conversation.

Shitty tells Bob about Cambridge and Harvard.

Lardo explains to Alicia about the art piece she submitted as part of her final.

Ransom talks to Georgia about Med school until Holster steals her away to talk about what he needs to do if he’s considers going pro.

He doesn't even notice that Bittle has gone quiet until he catches him sneaking up the stairs.

Jack claps Shitty on the back when it's time for them to get dressed.

Ransom and Holster follow them up the stairs and Jack can hear XO playing from Bittle’s room.

It plays while Jack gets dressed.

We don't have forever

Ooh, baby daylight's wasting

You better kiss me

Before our time has run out

His fingers fumble with the buttons on his shirt like they’re too big and too clumsy to slide them through the holes.

He sits down on the bare mattress and takes deep breaths until he’s gotten himself together.

The last button slips through when he hears Shitty open and close his door and his footsteps skip down the stairs and it hits Jack that that’s the last time he’ll do that.

Once he steps out of this room that’ll be it.

He stares down at the two ties he’s left out, red and blue, for a long moment before he huffs and grabs them both.

Bittle tells him tocome on in as soon as he knocks.

He’s sitting at his desk with his laptop open but he spins around to face Jack.

Bittle looks….cute- handsome- all dressed up with his pocket square and red bow tie and Jack feels a little stupid asking him for help when he’s managed to pull himself together so effortlessly.

Jack holds both ties out and Bittle raises his eyebrows.

“Can you help me pick?”

Bittle smiles, soft and fond. “The blue one sweetheart. It’ll bring out your-it’ll look good.”

Jack nods and loops the blue one around his neck and wraps the red one around his hand.

“Are you filming? I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Oh.” Bittle spins halfway around. “You didn’t. It’ll need to be extensively edited anyways.”

Jack hums and Bittle turns back to him. “You better get that tie tied, Mr. Zimmermann. Your parents and Georgia are waiting downstairs and I don’t think the University is gonna wait for you even if you’re a big NHL star.”

“I’m not a star yet.” But he starts on the tie anyways.

Bittle taps the keyboard a few times then closes his laptop and stands. “It’s only a matter of time, Jack. I’ll be waiting for you downstairs.”

Bittle slips by him and Jack tosses the tie and the clothes he was wearing into the box and folds the flaps together so it shuts securely.

That’s it.

Once he closes the door behind him it’ll be like he was never even here.

Bittle is standing at the top of the stairs as Jack shifts the box against his hip so he can close the door.

“Don’t forget your cap and gown.”

Jack curses and ducks back into his room. He throws them both over the box. It’s a struggle to get the door shut and balance everything but he gets it done.

Bittle is trying to hold in a laugh when Jack looks up at him.

“Thanks, Bittle.”

“What are you going to do without me, Jack?”

Jack doesn’t have an answer.

 

Jack is not dead last in the alphabet.

He’s second to last.

Rebecca Zoch is the only one walking behind them as they take their seats.

She’s wearing heels and they sink into the grass. Jack has his back to her and he’s not quick enough to grab her when she trips.

A gasp ripples through the crowd and Rebecca looks to be on the verge of tears when they finally take their seats.

Jack wants to say something.

It’s not a big deal.

Don’t worry about it.

Freshman year I slipped on a patch of ice in front of the entire Lacrosse team and they laughed at me and we’ve been feuding with them ever since.

But he doesn’t know how to say any of that so he keeps quiet and tries not to notice when she starts to sniffle.

The hockey team is so loud when Shitty’s name is announced that Jack winces.

When they call his own name it’s even worse because Shitty stands on his chair and whistles at him.

Afterwards he takes so many pictures his face starts to hurt from his permanent smile.

Shitty hugs him hard when it's time for him to leave.

“Don't be a stranger.” Jack tells him and Shitty hugs him even tighter.

“Yeah right. Like you could ever get rid of me. We're fucking bonded for life.”

Bittle hangs around wringing his hands together and looking nervous.

He’s headed back to the Haus and then to the airport and then down to Georgia.

He hugs Jack with his arms around his neck and when he pulls back he studies Jack's tie. His bottle lip wobbles and Jack pretends not to notice for both their sakes.

“I guess the next time I see you will be on TV, huh?” “I’ll drive up before the season starts.”

“Oh, of course you will.”

“I want to come to a few of your games too. And I can get you guys into a few of mine if you’d like.”

Bittle is quiet for a moment, like he’s considering it, and Jack doesn’t get it. Free tickets to an NHL game. His NHL game.

“I think that would be great, Jack. I think the boys would really like that. Now you better get out of here before you make me miss my shuttle.”

“Text me when you land.”

Bittle gives him a little salute. “Okay, Captain.”

“I’m not your Captain anymore.”

He smiles softly at him. “You’ll always be my Captain.”

“I.” He pauses and swallows, tries to think of something more to say because there has to be more. It feels like there should be more. Bittle is looking at him like there should be more.

Jack doesn’t know what to say and Bittle nods.

“Have fun, Jack.”

Providence is a short drive but Jack feels every mile.

“You’re going to love this place, Jack,” Georgia tells him. “A lot of the players go here after games and for birthdays so the staff is very good at keeping your privacy. You know, keeping fans away from you while you’re trying to eat.”

“You’re going to cherish restaurants like this,” Bob says as he holds the door. “It’s always important to be friendly to fans but sometimes you just want to have a nice, quiet dinner.”

The hostess leads them to a table next to the window so they have a view of the river.

The lights of the city reflect off it.

It’s pretty.

Their waiters name is Daniel. When he puts the bread basket on the table it tips over and he scrambles to right it.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s my first dinner shift and it’s really crowded in here.”

He sounds so nervous and all Jack feels is sympathy.

“I’m not making an excuse or anything I just-.”

“Daniel,” Bob interrupts. “You’re doing just fine.”

Daniel visibly relaxes at his words and tone. That’s something both his parents have always been able to do. They’re warm and charming without even trying.

Jack is living proof that it’s not genetic.

The menu is small and expensive.

Jack can afford this now.

He’s always been able to but now he’s independently wealthy as Shitty put it.

But still.

Eighteen dollars for macaroni and cheese seems steep.

Jack gets the steak, medium rare. Alicia and Georgia get the scallops and Bob gets the filet mignon and a bottle of wine for the table.

Daniel reads their orders back to them to double check and gives them a shaky smile when they all confirm.

His parents and Georgia all pour themselves a glass of wine and Jack sticks to water.

No one asks him to have more.

No one asks him talk either.

All he really wants is to be quiet. To listen. Unwind from the day and his parents and Georgia seem more than happy to let him have that.

They talk hockey until their entrees arrive. Daniel doesn’t put a single plate in the right spot and they wait until his back is turned before they all make the switch.

“He’ll get there eventually,” Bob says as he takes his plate from Georgia.

The topic switches to things to do around Providence as they finish their meals and Daniel drops off a dessert menu which Alicia immediately picks up.

“It’s an underrated city, really,” Georgia says as she takes the menu from Alicia. “But there’s a lot to do here when you have time off.”

She orders the creme brulee and Alicia gets the chocolate mousse.

Jack doesn’t even look at the menu.

He has Bittle’s pie in the trunk of his car and he doubts that anything off the menu would be as good, no matter how much it costs, and orders a coffee instead. He’s so tired he doubts the caffeine will have much of an effect on him.

His phone buzzes as his mother holds the spoon out for his dad to take a taste.

“Flight got delayed so I just landed :)”

Alicia clears his throat and Jack jams his phone back into his pocket.

“Sorry. Bittle just landed.”

Her face softens.“Is he excited to be home? I’m sure his mother is thrilled to see him.”

“I guess,” Jack says.

“I can’t believe he came all the way up here for college,” Georgia says. “Scholarship, right?”

“Yeah,” Jack tells her as he takes another sip of coffee.

“He deserves it,” Bob says and nods towards Georgia. “You’ve seen him skate, haven’t you? He’s the fastest one out there.”

“Has he thought about going pro?”

“Who? Bittle?”

“Yes,” Georgia laughs, “he’s quick as hell and has good hands. He’d make a difference.”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Well what does he want to do after he graduates?” “I don’t know.”

Everyone is quiet and Bob gives him a funny look.

“He never really talked about it. I guess I didn’t ask him about it. I’m not sure if he even knows. He has a lot of interests so…”

They’re all still looking at him and Bob tips his head to the side.

This is the most Jack has talked since Bittle left him on the quad and he wishes he just stayed quiet.

“I guess he could do whatever he wants to do.”

“Well,” Georgia says slowly, “if you ever catch wind of him wanting to play after college let me know. I’d like dibs.”

Jack nods and downs the rest of his coffee. It burns his tongue.

Bob and Georgia fight over the check. Jack feels like he should at least try to get involved but he knows how quickly he’ll be shot down.

There will be plenty of time for him to spoil his parents with fancy dinners in the years to come.

Georgia wins out, Jack’s not surprised, and she hands her card over to Daniel with a smug smile.

His apartment is too big.

But it’s beautiful and modern and has a Bitty approved kitchen.

Jack sent photos and Bitty sent back a dozen of those happy faces with the hearts for eyes. Jack assumed that was a good reaction.

Georgia stays for one drink before she hugs Alicia and Bob and points a finger at Jack and says “I’ll see you in two weeks for camp. Be ready to play.”

His parents don’t fly out for another four days but they’ve booked a hotel room.

“You can stay here if you want. That’s why I have a guest room.”

“You’re exhausted, sweetheart,” Alicia says as she kisses his forehead. “Don’t you just want to go to sleep?”

Jack sighs, heavy and grateful, and nods.

“That’s what I thought,” Alicia says with a smile. She hugs him then steps back then steps away so Bob can have a turn.

“We’re so proud of you,” Bob says as he squeezes him tight enough hurt. “We’ll see you in the morning for breakfast. Maybe go to the cafe Georgia recommended?”

Jack nods again as Bob pats his face.

His apartment is completely silent when they leave.

Jack hasn’t heard silence like this in years.

He’s not sure if he loves it or hates it. He might just have to get used to it.

The water pressure in the shower is something he loves right away.

The same goes for his new mattress.

It’s firm and supportive and he should fall asleep right away but he stays up watching the thin strips of moonlight that slip in through the curtains.

It’s almost 11:30 when he remembers that he didn’t set his alarm and when he grabs his phone he remembers that he never texted Bittle back either.

It’s probably too late for that. He’s probably, hopefully, asleep and Jack really doesn't want to disturb him for a one word response.

He’ll text him in the morning, along with Shitty and Lardo and the rest of the guys. Maybe they’ll just keep him in the group chat even though he’s not on the team anymore. Johnson still pops up occasionally.

He sets his alarm for seven. He wants to get a run in before his parents come back over. He wants to see the city on foot first thing in the morning. Maybe he’ll find a good route on the first try. If not he has plenty of time to figure it out.

 

 

Jack wakes up to Beyonce.

Yup, I put it on him, it ain't nothing that I can't do

Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too

All up in the store, shorty, tricking if I want to

All up in the store, shawty, fly as we want to

His shoulders ache.

There’s a crack in the ceiling.

Chowder’s boxes fill the room and his cap and gown are thrown over his desk chair.

His phone tells him it’s May 18th. 8:50am.

Something is off.

Across the hall Halo starts then stops and Schoolin’ Life comes on.

This is for them 20 somethings

Time really moves fast, you were just sixteen

Jack presses his head back into the pillow and squeezes his eyes shut.

Something is really off.

His window slides open and Shitty rolls in.

Jack pulls back his legs back and it’s like muscle memory. He’s done this before.

“Hey,” Shitty says with a full smile, like nothing’s wrong. “You’re up.”

Jack nods but he knows there’s more to that. There more that he needs to say. That he has said.

“You’re wearing pants,” he says. Those aren’t the words but the idea is correct.

“Oh yeah, well. Bits and I struck a deal. I’d put on pants and he’d let me smoke on graduation day. I think I got the bum end of the deal because that was some weak shit. Bro.” He squeezes Jack’s ankle and Jack has to force himself not to yank it back.“We’re graduating today. Can you fucking believe it?”

Jack shakes his head.

“Can’t believe it’s been four years since I forced you to be friends with me?” “No.”

Shitty tips forward and Jack is ready for the soft kiss he presses to his forehead.

“I gotta take a shower. You mind if I hop in there first or do you wanna?” Jack doesn’t say anything. He swings his legs off the side of the bed and looks down at his barefeet against the hardwood.

“Bro, you alright?” Shitty is hanging halfway out of the bathroom door.

“You didn’t answer me and you’re looking all serious. What’s up?” “I’m just…..” He shakes his head and then his shoulders, trying to get the ache out, trying to get things back into order. So they make sense again. “I guess I just had a really weird dream.”

“Like alien abductions weird or sex weird? Or both? I’m interested in hearing any kind of overlap between the two.”

“Realistically weird.”

He stops as Ransom and Holster run down the stairs of the attic.

Bittle shuts his music off then hesitates outside of Jack’s door before walking away.

“I knew they would do that,” he says. “That’s what they did, you know, in the dream.”

“They go down the stairs all the time.”

“But I had that whole conversation with you. About Bittle letting you smoke if you put pants on. I dreamt that.”

“Freaky shit, man.”

“Yeah. I knew you were going to kiss my forehead too.”

“My love for you is so predictable. I gotta step up my game.”

“This wasn’t a part of it.” Jack waves his hands between them. “We didn’t have this conversation in the dream.”

Shitty hums. “You sure you don’t want to hop in the shower first? Might help wake you up.”

“You go. I have to finish packing.” “I still have so much to do.”

“I know. You told me that already. But later. After breakfast.”

Shitty tips his head to the side and narrows his eyes.

“Bittle is making pancakes. Blueberry and chocolate chips because those are our favorites.”

“You dreamt about pancakes? Fucking sweet.”

He whistles as he starts the water and Jack pulls the sheets from his bed and drops them into the box.

“Jack,” Bittle has a spatula in both hands and pans going on all four burners. He looks down at Jack’s shoes and frowns. “You’re not going for a run are you? I’m making breakfast.”

He’s not. He knows he’s not.

“He’s making a buffet,” Ransom says.

“It’s not that big of a deal. Just pancakes, bacon, hash browns, eggs, toast. There’s fruit salad on the table.”

Shitty elbows Jack in the side. “Blueberry and chocolate chip. Just like you said.”

Bittle frowns at him. “How’d you know I was doing that? I didn’t even know I was doing that until I started.”

“He dreamt it,” Shitty says. “Ain’t that some shit? I dream that I’m driving and all my teeth fall out and this guy gets pancakes.”

“You dreamed about my pancakes?”

“It’s not a dream,” Jack says, louder than he means to. “It’s not like that. It’s like deja vu, I guess. And it’s not just the pancakes it’s all of this. It’s like I’ve done it before. But not this, this is new.” He looks right at Bittle. “Do you know what I mean?”

Bittle looks right back. “Are you okay, Jack?” “You know,” Ransom interrupts and shoves a too hot piece of bacon in his mouth. They all wait for him to finish chewing. “You ate a lot of pie last night and then you went to bed. Sugar can give you some fucked up dreams.”

Holster groans from under the coffee table. “When I was little sugar gave me terrible nightmares.” He shudders. “But it was sugar so you know, I kept eating it. Where the hell is my charger? I can’t find the fucking thing anywhere and I’m not leaving here without it. This is an emergency.”

“Maybe it was the sugar, bro.” Ransom slaps him on the back and tries to snag another strip of bacon. Bittle slaps his hand with the spatula and he goes into the living room to help him.

Jack frowns at them but tells Lardo she looks nice as he makes a cup of coffee.

She rolls her eyes but hides a smile behind her own cup. “Figured I should dress up for my best guys.”

“Rude,” Holster says with both arms under the couch cushions.

Bittle wrinkles his nose.

Shitty gets her in a headlock and she shoves him off with a laugh.

“We’re also going to dinner with the grandparents so.”

“I told her to wear those pants that she always paints in. They’re all ripped and splattered.”

“Yeah, they’d love that.”

“I don’t give a shit what they think.”

“Well maybe I do.”

Bittle gets between them with a plate of hash browns.

“Would y’all please sit down. Holster get your arms out from under there and wash them, please.”

Shitty backs up and bumps into Bitty.

He drops the plate and Shitty steps on one of the pieces.

Jack stands, completely frozen in place as Shitty hops over to the table and sits.

Ransom sits next to him as Bittle apologizes over and over again.

“Don’t worry about it, Bits,” Shitty says.

“I made you bleed on your graduation day.”

Lardo shoves him out of the way so she can grab the first aid kit from beneath the sink.

“I think we’re gonna have to amputate,” Ransom tells them, serious as ever. “Take the whole foot off.”

“It was a good foot,” Shitty says.

“Not funny. Neither of you are funny. Now I have to make more hash browns.” He stops and looks up at Jack. “You okay, Jack?”

He watches Ransom wrap a bandage around Shitty’s big toe. “I had a feeling that this would happen.”

“Well you could’ve fucking told me, bro,” Shitty yells.

Bittle starts apologizing all over again.

Jack eats three pancakes, four strips of bacon, and two helpings of fruit salad.

Bittle tells him to just take the bowl and knocks his knee into his. Jack presses back into it and Bittle stares down at his plate.

The boys and Lardo all head upstairs to pack and Bittle shakes his head at Jack when he turns on the water.

“Jack you can head up if you’d like. I can handle this on my own. Jack?”

Bittle puts his hand on his shoulder and Jack jumps.

“Oh, sorry honey, are you okay?”

“Yeah. I just…”

“Deja vu?” He asks with a tip of his head.

Jack nods. “I’m packed. I have one box left.”

Bittle’s eyes go wide as he turns on the water. “You mean those are all Chowder’s?” Jack nods as Bittle picks up the sponge. He should be the one washing.

“He’s so excited about moving in. It was so nice of you to give him your dibs.”

“He deserved it. I know how much you like him.”

“I love all of my Frogs equally. But I do have a soft spot for Chowder. It’s going to be strange living across from him though, you know, not having you and Shitty around. I mean, Shitty was the first person I ever told I was gay. Out loud. That’s a big deal. And you. Jack. You’re just….you are…” Bittle touches his wet hand to the inside of Jack’s elbow. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

Jack leans heavily on the counter. “I just can’t shake this feeling.”

“Is it stress? Or maybe Ransom is right and it’s the sugar. You didn’t hit your head and not tell anyone did you?”

“No. I don’t think so. Everything just feels so-.”

“Where the fuck is my charger” Holster yells.“I had it last night and now it’s gone.”

“Where was the last place you saw it?”

“It was plugged into my phone and now it is currently not there.”

Bitty sighs. “Aren’t you going to miss this, Jack?”

He shakes the water off his hands and wipes them on the back of his shorts as he goes to help Holster.

It’s under the couch, Jack thinks- he knows- but he doesn’t want to believe it.

His parents show up fifteen minutes early and it’s not a surprise.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” Alicia says and Bittle blushes.

“Now we know why Jack kept going on and on about you,” Bob says and even though Jack has heard it before he still feels his face heat up.

Jack lets the conversations flow around him.

Shitty and his dad talk about Harvard.

Lardo and his mom talk about her art.

Ransom talks to Georgia about Med School and Holster talks to her about going pro.

When he and Shitty go upstairs to get dressed XO is playing from Bittle’s room.

We don't have forever

Ooh, baby daylight's wasting

You better kiss me

Before our time has run out

He gets his shirt buttoned and looks down at the ties.

Bittle picked the blue one but he still grabs both of them and walks across the hall.

He’s in the same button down, blazer and bow tie that Jack expects him to be in.

“You need help picking one out?” He asks and Jack nods dumbly. “The blue one, sweetheart. It’ll bring out your-it’ll look good.”

Jack doesn’t hang around. He takes his tie and into his own room and packs up his box.

Bittle has to remind him to grab his cap and gown and gown and asks him “what are you going to do without me?” as they walk down the stairs.

Jack still doesn’t have an answer for him.

Rebecca Zoch trips while walking to their seats.

The hockey team is obnoxious when Shitty’s name is called.

Shitty stands on his chair and whistles when Jack’s name is called.

He hugs everyone and tells Shitty not to be a stranger.

“Yeah right. Like you could ever get rid of me. We're fucking bonded for life.”

Bittle sticks around. He’s headed back to the Haus before his shuttle to the airport.

He hugs Jack tight and there are tears in his eyes when he pulls back and lets his fingers run down the length of his tie.

“I guess the next time I see you will be on TV, huh?” “I’ll see you before then. I’ll come back and you could come and see me. I can get you guys tickets to our season opener.”

“I think that would be great, Jack. I think the boys would really like that. Now you better get out of here before you make me miss my shuttle.”

“Can you text me when you land?”

Bittle gives him a salute. “Okay, Captain.”

“Not your Captain anymore.”

He smiles softly. “You’ll always be my Captain.”

“I.” He stops and tries to figure out what to say. The dream he had- the deja vu he’s having isn’t filling in that part so he doesn’t say anything.

Bittle nods but he doesn’t smile.

“Have fun, Jack.”

He gives his father the keys to his car and rests his head against the passenger side window the whole way into Providence.

“You’re going to love this place, Jack. A lot of the players go here after games and for birthdays so the staff is very good at keeping your privacy. You know, keeping fans away from you while you’re trying to eat.”

“You’re going to cherish restaurants like this,” Bob says, holding the door so everyone can file in. “It’s always important to be friendly to fans but sometimes you just want to have a nice, quiet dinner.”

They get a table by the window with the lights of the city reflect off the river below.

Daniel drops the breadbasket when he tries to set it on the table.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s my first dinner shift and it’s really crowded in here. I’m not making an excuse or anything I just-.”

“Daniel, you’re doing just fine.”.

He gets the steak.

His mom and Georgia get the scallops and his dad gets the filet mignon.

His parents and Georgia have wine and Jack sticks with water and Daniel confuses their orders when he sets their plates down.

Jack stays quiet. He listens to them talk about hockey and things to do around Providence until Daniel drops off the dessert menu.

He gets a text from Bittle and his mother interrupts him before he can respond.

He still doesn't know what Bittle wants to do after he graduates.

His dad still gives him an odd look.

Georgia stays for a drink then tells Jack she’ll see him in two weeks.

His parents leave shortly after with hugs and kisses to his forehead.

Bob tells him he’s proud of him and Jack knows.

He smiles when his father pats his face affectionately.

Jack takes a shower then sits on the edge of the bed to set his alarm.

He never texted Bittle back and it’s too late now.

He’ll text him back first thing in the morning.

 

 

Yup, I put it on him, it ain't nothing that I can't do

Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too

All up in the store, shorty, tricking if I want to

All up in the store, shawty, fly as we want to

He opens his eyes and rolls his shoulders and laughs.

He’s back at the Haus and this has to be a joke.

His cap and gown are back on the desk chair and the sheets he slept on yesterday are back on the bed.

He checks his phone.

May 18th, 8:50am.

Countdown ends.

Halo starts.

It stops.

Schoolin’ Life comes on.

It’s an elaborate prank.

Shitty opens his window and crawls in. He’s smiling.

“Hey. You’re up.”

He’s in the same sleep pants he was wearing yesterday.

“Shitty, what the fuck?”

He pulls at his pants. “I know, I know. Totally overdressed for an early morning toke but I struck a deal with Bits that I’d put on pants and he’d let me smoke on graduation day. I think I got the bum end of the deal because that was some weak shit.”

“I know that already. You told me that yesterday.”

“Yesterday?”

“How did you manage to pull this off?”

“Told you, bro. Deal with Bitty.”

“No.” Jack huffs and sits up. “This.” He waves his hands around the room. “How the hell did you do this? How’d you get me back here?”

Shitty looks at him couriously. “We walked?” “We walked? We walked back from Providence?”

“Providence? What are you talking about? You okay, Jack?” He snaps his fingers in front of his face. “Are you with me? Do you think you’re still asleep or some shit?”

“How did you get me back from Providence? Why did you? Is this because I told you about having deja vu yesterday and this is you making fun of me?”

Shitty blinks at him then leans forward and stares right into his eyes. “Are you high? Did you like, get a contact high or something? Your window was only open a crack.”

Jack shakes him off.

“And what are you talking about telling me about deja vu yesterday? You never said anything to me.”

“I did. The whole day.”

“You’re confusing me with your other best friend forever.” He rolls off the bed. “I gotta take a shower. Do you want to go first? Might wake you up.”

There are footsteps pounding down the stairs and the music shuts off.

There’s a shadow beneath his door and Jack flings the covers back and almost shoves Shitty out of the way to get to the door.

Bittle is halfway to the stairs by the time Jack gets the door open and stumbles into the hallway.

He’s wearing the same shorts and t-shirt he had on yesterday.

“Bittle.”

“Jack, you’re up. I didn’t wake you, did I? Did Shitty? I told him I’d let him smoke if he wore pants but I should have made sure he wasn’t being loud out there.”

“You’re supposed to be in Georgia,” Jack says.

Behind him Shitty starts the shower.

“Honey, my flights not until this afternoon. You think I’d miss your graduation?” “Knock it off, Bittle,” he snaps and Bittle has the audacity to look offended. “I got your text yesterday. Your flight was delayed but you landed.”

“What are you talking about? I had a final yesterday. I didn’t talk to you until after you and Shitty got back from Class Day.”

“You texted me,” Jack grits out. “Why are you lying about it? Why do you think this is funny?”

“I don't think it's funny and I'm not lying. I just don't know what you're talking about.”

Downstairs Holster yells about his phone charger and Ransom answers him.

“What are they doing here?”

“Where else would they be?” “They drove up to Niagara yesterday, Shitty and Lardo are up in Cambridge and you’re supposed to be in Georgia.”

Bitty holds his hands out in surrender. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

Jack points a finger before he ducks back into his room. He can hear Bittle following him as he grabs his phone and unlocks it. “You texted me. How did you change the date on my phone?”

“I don’t even know if that’s possible,” Bittle says and Jack opens his messages.

The last text from Bittle is from May 12th asking Jack if he wants to get coffee after class.

“You deleted the text?”

“Jack,” Bittle says slowly. He takes a few steps forward and telegraphs all his moves as he reaches out and holds onto Jack’s arms. “I never texted you. Nobody is leaving until after the ceremony.”

Bittle looks so sincere and Jack’s not sure if he even has it in him to prank him like this. He wouldn’t keep it up for this long.

This isn’t a joke.

It’s not deja vu.

It can’t be a dream.

His stomach drops and he goes cold all over as he thinks about what this could be. What he might have done.

He leaves Bittle standing in the middle of his box filled room.

Shitty is whistling in the shower as he opens up the medicine cabinet.

His anxiety medication is on the bottom shelf just as it always is and it’s half full, just as it should be.

He pops the cap and tries to collect them one by one into his palm, just to count them, just to be sure, but he accidentally shakes the bottle too hard and they all dump out.

“Jack, what are you doing?” Bittle is standing in the doorway looking absolutely horrified.

“Bros, I am trying to shower.” Shitty pulls back the shower curtain and takes one look at Jack and the pills in his hand and his face sets to stone. “Hey.” He doesn’t break eye contact as he shuts off the shower and Jack suddenly pulls it together.

He knows what this must look like.

“No, no, no, no,” he repeats. “I’m not. I wasn’t going to. I wouldn’t.”

Bittle has one hand pressed over his chest and the other over his mouth.

Shitty holds his hand straight out towards Jack, palm up. “Can you give those to me?” In Jack’s rush to get them back in the bottle he drops one and it rolls across the floor and disappears under the sink. The cap isn’t even all the way on before he hands it to Shitty and Shitty steps out of the shower.

He passes the bottle to Bittle so he can wrap his towel around his waist before easing Jack down onto the closed toilet seat and crouching in front of him.

“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” “I wasn’t going to take them, Shits, I swear.” He looks over at Bittle who is clutching the pill bottle so tightly his knuckles are white. “I wasn’t. I promise.”

“Okay,” Shitty says. He holds onto Jack’s elbows. His hands are warm and damp from the shower. “I believe you.”

“I was just counting them. I had to count them to be sure.”

“Should I call somebody?” Bittle asks. He’s chewing at his lip and the pills rattle against the bottle each time he shuffles his feet. “Your parents could come sooner or I don’t know.... somebody else?” Jack still has his therapist's number programmed into his phone. Sometimes he calls her. Maybe not as often as he should.

“Something’s happening, Shitty.”

Shitty nods and drops to one knee in front of him, settling in for a long conversation.

“I don’t know what’s going on or how to fix it or how to explain it. It’s out of my control.”

“Sometimes things are going to be.”

“No, Shitty, that’s not what I’m talking about.”

“It’s okay to be scared, Jack. Fuck, I think all of us are terrified about what’s going to happen next.”

Jack shakes his head. He’s not worried about what’s going to happen next. He’s worried about it not happening at all.

“You’re graduating and you’ve got a contract to play hockey from a team that wants to support you and you earned both those things. You worked so hard and you deserve it. You deserve to be happy and you’re going to be. Shit. You know, maybe I should have seen this coming. I should have been here to talk with you more.”

“You haven’t been more than five feet away from me in four years.”

“You fucking know it, brother. Oh fuck, is that it? Are you worried about us like...drifting because that’s not going to happen. We are stuck together.”

Jack nods as Shitty brings his hands up to frame his face. “You still with me, man?”

Jack swallows down his panic. Shitty is trying his best to keep him calm and Bittle still looks so upset. If he told them the truth- that this was his third time waking up on May 18th- who knows what they’d do.

“I’m with you,” he says and doesn’t flinch when Shitty leans up and kisses his forehead.

“That’s my boy. I think what we need to do is get you in the shower, maybe get some food in you.” He nods towards Bittle and Bittle nods back.

“I was going to make breakfast. Eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns, pancakes. Blueberry and chocolate chip.”

Shitty smiles at him and Jack can’t help feeling a little lighter at his kindness even though he knew it was coming.

They both hold their hands out to take the pill bottle but Bittle gives it to Shitty without a moment's hesitation.

Shitty and Bittle keep a close eye on him when he comes downstairs.

He tells Lardo she looks nice as he gets himself a cup of coffee.

Shitty pulls her into a headlock and tells the group she should have worn the pants with the paint stains on them.

Holster complains about his phone charger.

Shitty bumps into Bitty.

The plate drops. Shitty cuts his toe and Ransom patches him up.

Bittle sits closer to him than he did the day before and watches him out of the corner of his eye as Jack eats his three pancakes, four strips of bacon, and fruit salad.

Jack helps Bittle wash the dishes and their elbows knock together as he tells him how much Shitty means to him.

“And you, Jack. You’re just….you are…”

Holster interrupts before Bittle can finish.

Again.

The charger is under the couch, Jack knows this, but he still pretends to look.

His parents and Georgia show up early.

They eat pie and Jack listens to them talk to his teammates until it’s time to for him and Shitty to get dressed.

XO plays from Bittle’s room while he gets dressed.

We don't have forever

Ooh, baby daylight's wasting

You better kiss me

Before our time has run out

He puts on the blue tie without consulting Bittle.

Rebecca trips on her way to their seats.

The whole team yells when his and Shitty’s names are called.

Bittle tells him to “have fun,” voice watery and emotional and Jack watches him walk away.

He has steak for the third day in a row.

Their waiter still can’t remember who orders what.

Bittle’s text is still unanswered when he goes to bed that night.

He skips the shower, too confused and annoyed and concerned to really enjoy how he knows it’ll feel.

He still sets his alarm and hopes he’ll have to turn it off in the morning.

 

 

Beyonce wakes him up.

 

 

He has three cups of coffee after dinner while his mom and George eat their dessert.

“You’re going to be up all night,” Bob tells him as Jack waves Daniel down to fill up his cup again.

“I don’t mind,” Jack says as he thanks Daniel with a nod of his head.

Staying up is the point.

Even with the coffee and the volume on the TV turned way up he still falls asleep before eleven.

The following night he makes a trip to the 24 hour convenience store on the corner and stocks up on the bottled drinks from Starbucks that had taken up space in the fridge at the Haus right next to the butter after Bittle moved in and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Bar ice cream just in case.

He’s jittery and unsettled after a whole bottle of an iced vanilla latte and half the carton of ice cream.

He has to get up and walk around just to keep his leg from bouncing up and down.

The local news starts at 11.

There’s a chance of rain tomorrow but it looks like it’ll clear up in time for the weekend.

Jack would like to find out for himself.

He cracks open another bottle of coffee. This one is a caramel macchiato.

He downs it, tosses the bottle into the recycling bin, and decides it’s the worst thing he’s ever tasted.

He drinks another one just in case.

The minutes tick by and he flips through the channels. He pauses at the Food Network and thinks about Bittle miles away- tucked into his childhood bed and already asleep- and how he has no idea that he’ll probably he back at the Haus tomorrow.

Jack changes to the History Channel and watches Pawn Stars.

At 11:55 he shuts it off and watches the clock on his phone.

At 11:57 he puts both feet flat on the ground and holds his phone between his knees, shoulders slumped and head bowed.

He takes a deep breath at 11:58 and tries to calm his hammering heart.

He holds his breath at 11:59.

He never sees midnight.

 

Yup, I put it on him, it ain't nothing that I can't do

Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too

All up in the store, shorty, tricking if I want to

All up in the store, shawty, fly as we want to

 

Yup, I put it on him, it ain't nothing that I can't do

Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too

All up in the store, shorty, tricking if I want to

All up in the store, shawty, fly as we want to

 

Yup, I put it on him, it ain't nothing that I can't do

Yup I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too

All up in the store, shorty, tricking if I want to

All up in the store, shawty, fly as we want to

 

He's starting to hate Beyoncé.

Bittle would kill him if he ever knew.

 

 

He needs to do something different.

Eight days of doing the same thing are making him stir crazy.

He gets dressed, same as always.

Shorts, t-shirt, and sneakers but when Bittle asks him if he’s going out for a run he nods.

“Just a short one,” he says and tries not to let the disappointment on Bittle’s face affect him.

“But I’m making breakfast. I made pancakes. Blueberry and chocolate chip.”

Jack smiles and reaches behind him to grab his foot so he can stretch.

“Save me a plate, okay?”

Bittle visibly deflates and his answering “sure” is small and sad. It almost makes Jack drop his foot and sit down at the table.

But what Bittle is feeling is only temporary. He won’t remember it tomorrow.

Jack runs the same route he’s been running since he got to Samwell.

Down the street, over the bridge, and around the lake quad.

The stage is already set up for graduation. They used it yesterday, eight days ago for Jack, for Class Day.

There are men in blue coveralls setting up folding metal chairs.

He gets in the way as he’s standing at the edge of the well in the middle of the quad looking down into black water.

“Move it, kid,” one of the workers says and Jack hops out of the way before a metal chair connects with his shin.

“Sorry,” Jack says and then he says it again just to be sure that he’s been heard.

The guy waves him off and doesn’t look like he cares.

Jack rolls his eyes but feels refreshed. It’s a new interaction.

He’s going to need more of those.

His parents and Georgia are already at the Haus when he gets back.

He didn’t mean to be away that long but he left his phone behind and lost track of the time.

Bittle huffs in frustration when he admits it.

“I always tell him to keep it on him in case there’s an emergency,” Bittle tells his parents.

“Sorry, Bits. I’ll remember it tomorrow.”

There’s a beat of silence as Jack’s brain catches up with his mistake and he laughs nervously.

“I mean I’ll-.”

But Bittle is already pulling a plate from the oven. It’s his breakfast. Three pancakes and four strips of bacon. “I kept it warm for you. I saved you some fruit salad too.”

“Skip the fruit salad, Jack,” Bob tells him. “Eat some pie instead.”

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” Alicia says and Bittle makes a noise of disbelief at the compliment.

“It really is,” Bob tells him before he winks at Jack. “Now we know why Jack kept going on and on about you.”

Jack still blushes but any awkwardness is broken by Shitty grabbing onto his shoulder and lifting his foot up so Jack can see the bandage on his toe.

“While you were gone Bits tried to cut my foot off.”

Bitty drops Jack’s plate onto the table. “I already told you I was sorry.”

He catches Rebecca right as she starts to fall. She barely misses a step and she clings to his arms and looks up at him like he’s a hero.

It feels good.

When Bittle hugs him goodbye he hugs back just as tight and tells him he’ll see him before the new season starts.

“I can get you guys tickets for our season opener.” He throws in “jersey's too” to sweeten the deal.

Bittle smiles but it doesn’t hide the sadness in his eyes.

Jack thinks about how to fix that all the way into Providence.

By the time they pull into the restaurant parking lot he has to admit that he doesn't know.

Bittle texts him during dessert like he always does.

“It's Bittle,” he says when his mother clears her throats at him. “He landed.”

“Is he excited to be home? I’m sure his mother is thrilled to see him.”

Jack mumbles “I guess” and quickly types out a question to Bittle while Georgia and his parents talk about his scholarship.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

Bittle texts back a second later.

??????? I have no idea

“Has he thought about going pro?” Georiga asks and Jack finally has a solid answer.

“He doesn’t know what he wants to do yet. Do you really think he could go pro?”

“He’ll grow a lot as a player in the two years he has left and with some extra training there’s no reason he wouldn’t be.”

“Bittle in the NHL?”

“Eventually. Maybe. If that’s something he’d be interested in he should definitely give me a call. I want dibs.”

“I’ll let him know,” Jack says, then takes a careful sip from his coffee cup.

He still burns his tongue.

 

 

Shitty releases Lardo from the headlock and Jack wraps his arms around Bittle’s waist to drag him out of the way.

Bittle still drops the plate but it’s out of the way of Shitty’s bare feet.

It has to count for something.

Lardo snorts. “Smooth, Jack.”

“Shitty was going to back right into him.”

Bittle grabs a dishtowel and starts to scoop up the hash browns. “So you decided to do it for him?”

“I’ll do better tomorrow,” he says under his breath.

Bittle give him a funny look but keeps picking up the mess.

He’s ready to answer the door for his parents and Georgia at exactly 12:43.

“What the hell are you doing,” Shitty asks when he sees him lingering in the hall.

Jack has one eye on the clock in the kitchen and holds a hand up until the second hand hits the exact time then pulls the door open.

His dad is leaning forward to grab the door handle. “Oh, Jack. Perfect timing.”

Jack shrugs and gets pulled into a hug.

When he asks Bittle what tie he should wear he tells him he looks nice. Bittle looks surprised and pleased and Jack smiles at the way he fiddles with his bow tie.

He stops Rebecca from tripping and then tells her the story about how he fell on the ice in front of the LAX bros anyways.

They both laugh through the commencement speeches.

 

 

He spends day after day trying to figure it out, leaving out one or two changes each time and trying to find the right pattern.

On days ten, fourteen, and twenty, and twenty one he stops Bittle from dropping the plate which stops Shitty from stepping on the glass.

On day twelve he lets Bittle drop the plate but shoves Shitty out of the way.

Days eleven, thirteen, and fifteen he goes for a run and comes back to the Haus with a warm plate waiting of food waiting for him and a dramatic reenactment from about how Shitty almost died and Ransom saved his life.

Bittle gives his own performance about having to make band new hash browns.

“I had to grate all those potatoes by myself,” he always says.

Lardo rolls her eyes each time and answers, “you got them from a bag.”

Most of the time he tells Holster where his charger is as soon as he gets downstairs.

Bittle tells him how much Shitty means to him.

Shitty was the first person I ever told I was gay. Out loud. That’s a big deal. And you, Jack. You’re just….you are…”

Bittle shakes his head and trails off. Jack doesn’t push.

On days sixteen and eighteen he puts one soapy hand on Bittle’s elbow and tells him to let Holster find it himself.

“Don’t be a dick,” Holster snaps from the living room. He’s looking behind the entertainment center both times, not even close.

“You’re the one that lost it,” Jack says and laughs when Holster groans in frustration.

Bittle looks torn but eventually gives in and takes a plate from Jack to dry.

Jack takes pity on Holster after he hands the last mug to Bittle.

Holster is lying with his face in the pillows and moaning about never being able to charge his phone again.

He rolls off the couch and shoves an arm under it when Jack tells him where to look.

“How the fuck did you know that? Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer. He just runs back up the stairs.

“How did you know that?” Bittle asks and Jack shrugs as he dries his hand on the dish towel that Bittle is holding.

“It was the only place he didn’t look.”

Bittle doesn’t push him either.

He works his way through the menu at the restaurant.

He gets the grass fed burger, then the duck, then the chicken breast.

On day nineteen he gets the rabbit and thinks about Bittle’s cute stuffed animal the whole time he eats it.

He doesn’t order that again.

There are four times he gets the check before Bob or Georgia can grab it.

“My treat,” he tells them when he starts to argue.

They back off a lot easier then he would have expected.

Daniel’s eyes go wide when he sees the the amount he’s left for a tip but Jack just smiles and nods his head and Daniel scurries off.

He calls the Frogs.

Maybe he needed to pay more attention to them. Maybe they needed more guidance. Maybe he’s grasping at straws but he seems to have nothing but time to figure it out.

Dex seems suspicious the whole time. It’s awkward.

“Did Nursey tell you to call me?”

“Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know. You saw me yesterday. I mean, no offense, but I don’t really get why you’re calling me.”

“I just wanted to check in on you.”

Dex is quiet for a long moment. “You saw me yesterday.”

“Right. Okay. Well. Have a good summer.”

He hangs up and decides that Dex probably isn’t the key to this.

Nursey is more receptive.

He tells Jack about the volunteer work he’ll be doing and the writing workshops he’ll be taking. He has plans to visit Shitty at some point during the summer and says he can swing by Providence if Jack is looking for company.

“I was planning on inviting everyone over at some point. I can get you guys tickets to the home opener.”

“That would be awesome….did Dex tell you to call me?”

Jack sighs. “You two are perfect for each other.”

“What does that mean?”

“Have a good summer, Nurse.”

Chowder is happy to hear from him.

He’s going to a few hockey camps over the summer that he seems excited about but he really comes alive when Jack asks about Caitlyn.

“Oh she’s great. She’s coming down to see me and meet my parents. I’m kind of nervous about it. I mean, it’s a big step.”

“Yeah, but you’re serious about her, right?”

“Oh my god, yes. I love her,” he says and then quietly adds “I’ve never been in love before.”

They talk for a few more minutes and Chowder tells him to have a good summer before they hang up.

He’s a good kid. He gets why Bittle likes him so much.

Ransom and Holster are next.

Jack sits in the attic while they pack.

“I don’t know man,” Ransom says as he shoves another book into his suitcase. “It’s like we’re supposed to be the captains next year and I have total faith in him-” he points to Holster and Holster high fives him “-I’m kinda worried about how I’m going to handle it.”

“Bro,” Holster says, obviously worried.

“I’m supposed to be a leader, you know? How am I supposed to help some stressed out freshman during finals when I’m a stressed out senior during finals?”

“That’s why you have Holster,” Jack says and Holster nods as he wraps his charger around his hand and puts it on the bed next to his glasses. There’s an excellent chance he’ll forget both of them. “He takes over a little more when finals roll around and you take over when his shows start up in the fall.”

Holster makes an affirmative sounding noise as he spins around three times looking for something. Probably his charger and glasses.

“It’s just a lot of pressure.”

“It is. But they wouldn’t have voted for you if they didn’t think you could handle it.”

“Technically only half of them voted for me.”

Holster starts looking through his bag then dumps it out on the floor. “Don’t get stuck on that.”

“I don’t think being a senior has anything to do with it,” Jack says and Ransom raises and eyebrow. “I mean, not really. The team voted for me before I was a senior.”

“Yeah, but you’re Jack Zimmermann. They’d have to be idiots to not vote for you. And that’s another thing. I’m gonna have to follow you.”

“Don’t start comparing yourself. That’s not a fun route to take.”

“It’s just hard, man.”

“I know. I really think you guys are going to do great.”

Ransom nods and Holster sticks an arm out from where he’s crawled all the way beneath the bed to give him a thumbs up.

“I’m still gonna be here for you guys if you need advice or help. You can always call.”

“Even when it’s three in the morning and we’re drunk from a kegster and you’re on the west coast trying to sleep because you’ve got a game the next day.”

“You can always leave a message.”

Ransom holds out his fist and Jack bumps it with his own.

“You’re an alright guy, Jack,” Ransom says and Jack rolls his eyes.

“Okay.” Holster bangs his hands against the floor and tries to shuffle his way out from under the bed. “Where the fuck are my-.”

Ransom cuts him off. “They’re on the bed.”

“Bro, what would I do without you?”

“Feeling’s mutual, bro.”

 

 

Shitty has Lardo in a headlock. Again.

“I told her to wear those pants that she always paints in. They’re all ripped and splattered.”

“Yeah, they’d love that.”

“I don’t give a shit what they think.”

“Well maybe I do.”

“Why?

This conversation has happened twenty five times. Jack has seen it in person sixteen of those times.

He’s tired of the tension.

Maybe this is what he needs to do. It’s certainly what they need to hear.

“She cares because she’s in love with you and wants to make a good impression on your family even though they’re kind of shitty. And you’re in love with her too.”

Everyone is dead silent until Bittle drops the plate of hash browns on his own.

“Don’t step on the plate, Shits,” Jacks as he steps around Bittle to grab a dishtowel to clean up.

“Bro,” Ransom says from the living room and Jack points a finger at him.

“Don’t even get me started on you two.”

Ransom and Holster share a look before Holster sweeps his arms beneath the couch cushions.

“We should probably….” Shitty tips his head toward the stairs and Lardo nods. “You know. Talk.”

“Yeah, you guys should definitely do that.”

“But what about breakfast?” Bittle says as Shitty and Lardo step carefully around the broken plate then he looks down at the hash browns and pouts. “My hash browns.”

“You’ve got more in the freezer,” Jack tells him as he dumps the glass into the trashcan. “It’ll be okay.”

They come down a half an hour later hand in hand.

 

 

He still wakes up to Beyonce.

 

 

He mixes it up.

Stops Bittle from dropping the plate but doesn’t help Holster find his charger.

Calls the Frogs but doesn’t tell Shitty and Lardo to get it together.

Pays the bill at dinner, doesn’t pay the dinner.

He always catches Rebecca and he always hugs Bittle goodbye.

No matter what he does he wakes up back at the Haus.

By the twenty eighth day he’s tired of doing this alone.

He opens his window and crawls out onto the roof before Shitty has a chance to crawl in.

Shitty’s eyes light up when he sees him and he pulls the joint out of his mouth.

“Brah, want some? Don’t worry-.”

“It’s weak as shit.”

Shitty pulls the joint back just a fraction of an inch. “Yeah. Bro. How’d you know?”

Jack shrugs and waves his hand at Shitty. “Something’s happening.”

Shitty takes a slow drag and blows the smoke out away from Jack.

“Yeah, I know. A shit ton. I’m going off to Harvard. Fucking Harvard. You’re going into the NHL, which is like- fuck, Jack. Lardo, Rans, and Holster are gonna be seniors, Bitty is-.”

“No, no, no, no. Something is happening and I don’t know what it is. I’m not high, I’m not drunk, I haven’t overdosed. It’s like really strong deja vu but it’s not.”

“Overdosed?” Shitty gets stuck on that and flicks the joint off the edge of the roof and Jack thinks about how dry it’s been lately. Maybe a call to the fire department would change things. Shitty puts both hands on the side of his face and forces Jack to look at him. “Overdosed? Jack, what’s going on? Are you okay? What the fuck?”

Jack tries to shake Shitty off of him completely but Shitty only lower his hands to his shoulders and digs his nails in. It doesn’t hurt. It’s grounding. But Shitty looks more freaked out than Jack feels.

“I’m not-I haven’t overdosed. I can’t figure out what it is.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Shits, it’s the same day everyday.”

“I know if can feel like that but-.”

“No, Shitty. It’s the same exact day every single day. I wake up and it’s graduation day all over again even though I just did it.”

Shitty narrows his eyes and looks off the edge of the roof to where he threw the joint. “You sure you’re not high? Like, a contact high.”

“Listen.” He can hear the last part of Countdown coming from Bittle’s room and Jack puts his hands on Shitty’s chest. “I’ll prove it. Countdown is going to end and Halo is going to come on but Bittle is going to change it after exactly 12 seconds and Schoolin’ Life is going to start playing.”

“How do you know all those song titles?”

“I’ve lived across the hall from him for a year. I’ve picked up on things. Also this is the twenty eighth time that this has happened.”

“Bro.”

Jack holds his hand up as Countdown stops and Halo starts. Jack counts down from twelve under his breath and right when he hits one, Schoolin’ Life kicks on.

“Told you.”

“Neat trick.”

“Not a trick. It happens every day. He never listens to Halo. It goes Countdown, a couple seconds of Halo, Schoolin’ Life. Every day.”

Shitty blinks at him and Jack rolls his eyes.

“Bittle is going to make us breakfast.”

“Bitty makes breakfast most days.”

“Pancakes. Blueberry and chocolate chip. Bacon, hash browns. He has pies to take with us. Holster can’t find his phone charger, it’s under the couch. You’re going to knock into Bittle while he’s holding a plate full of hash browns. He drops it and you step on it and cut your toe. I’ve been stopping it from happening these last few days but I’ll let it happen today if you want.”

Shitty narrows his eyes.

“It’s just a cut. All you need is a band aid. Someone always makes a joke about whether or not you’re going to be able to keep it. I did it first but it’s always someone. Ransom says that he’s going to have to amputate.”

Shitty sighs and Jack presses on.

“My parents and Georgia show up at exactly 12:43. Bittle feeds them pie.”

“Bits feeds everyone pie.”

“And he sneaks out of the kitchen without saying anything and when we go up to get dressed he’s listening to XO. He always tells me to wear the blue tie and he’s wearing a light blue dress shirt and a blue blazer and a red bow tie. The last thing he says to me is ‘have fun’.”

“This is all very Bitty centric.”

Jack physically recoils. “No it’s not.”

“It’s a lot of Bitty.”

“It’s what happens. I don’t have any control over it. I’m just telling you what happens.” He wipes his hands on his jeans and leans towards the window. “Let’s go. You have to take a shower. Bittle has breakfast going and I’m hungry.”

Bittle smiles at them when they come down.

There’s bacon frying and pancakes in the pan.

“Hey boys,” he says and sprinkles blueberries onto the pancake before he flips it. “I’ve got breakfast for y’all. Blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes.”

Shitty gapes at Jack and Jack shrugs.

“There’s bacon and hash browns and fruit salad.” He turns away from them and Holster groans in the living room.

“Where the fuck is my phone charger?”

“Under the couch,” Jack says, never taking his eyes off of Shitty’s.

Shitty’s eyes widen slightly when Holster dives beneath it and says “fuck yes. Thanks, Jack. You're a hero.”

“No problem.” Jack pours himself a cup of coffee and turns to Lardo. “You look nice.”

“Figured I should dress up for my best guys.”

“Rude,” Holster says from the living room.

“We’re also going to dinner with the grandparents so.”

Jack hums and turns towards Shitty, prompting him to speak with a raised eyebrow. “What do you think about what she’s wearing, Shits?”

“I told her to wear those pants that she always paints in. They’re all ripped and splattered.”

Jack takes another sip of coffee and Lardo huffs.

“Yeah, they’d love that.”

“I don’t give a shit what they think.”

“Well maybe I do.”

“Why?

“Would y’all please sit down. Holster get your arms out from under there and wash them, please.”

Shitty takes a step back and Jack is already reaching for the first aid kit before the plate even hits the ground.

Bitty helps him over to the kitchen chair, apologizing the whole way.

“Shitty, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, Bits,” Shitty says but he’s looking at Jack who is calmly sipping his coffee and leaning against the counter.

“I can’t believe I made you bleed on your graduation day.”

Ransom lifts his foot into his lap after he puts on a pair of gloves.

Lardo leans her elbows on the table and asks “Do you think he’s gonna be able to keep the foot, doctor?”

“No.” He wraps a band aid around his toe. “We’re going to have to amputate. Take the whole foot off.”

Shitty yanks his foot away and stands up.

“Yo,” Ransom says. “I don’t even that the bandage on all the way.”

“Jack.” Shitty points a finger at him and Jack slowly puts his mug on the counter. “I have to talk to you. Outside. Now.”

He hobbles towards the front door and Jack follows after, patting Bittle on the shoulder as he walks past.

“Now we’re for sure taking that foot off,” Ransom says.

Lardo nods. “Probs the whole leg.”

“This isn’t funny. None of you are funny. Now I have to make more hash browns.”

As soon as Jack shuts the front door behind him Shitty pushes him back against it with a finger pressed into his chest.

“Okay, what the fuck? What the fuck was that?”

“I told you it would happen, why are you surprised?”

“I know you told me.” Shitty curls his fingers in the front of his shirt. “That’s why I’m freaking out. How’d you fucking know? Did you set this up? Is this all a joke?” “I thought you guys were messing with me at first too.”

“So you are messing with me.”

Jack shakes his head and Shitty stares at him for a second before he lets him go and spins around, favoring his injured foot.

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Shits. This is happening to me. For you….tomorrow you’ll wake up and it’ll be like today never even happened. You won’t remember anything. You’ll just live your life.”

“I’ll live this day? So will everyone else?”

“Far as I can tell.”

“Is this the first time you’re telling me this?” Jack nods and Shitty nods back.

“First time you’ve told anyone?” Jack nods again.

“Okay. Thank you for trusting me with this moment.”

Jack shoves him. “Shits.”

“What? What do you want me to say? You’ve been doing this for how many days?” “Twenty eight.”

“You’ve been doing this for twenty eight days and you haven’t said anything?” Jack shrugs.

“You gotta tell me these things, man.”

“Tell you I’m stuck living this day over and over again? Technically I did try to on the third day when I figured out what was happening. I freaked out and that freaked you and Bittle out. I didn’t want to do that again.”

“I freaked out on you?”

“Bittle too. I don’t blame you. I mean, you caught me in the bathroom with a handful of pills so…”

Shitty looks alarmed.

“Yeah, you looked at me exactly like that. I wasn’t going to take them. I don’t think you really believed me then but I swear it. I was confused and scared but I wasn’t. I wasn’t about to do that. Still feel guilty about the way you two reacted.”

“So why tell me now?” “Boredom. I need someone to talk to.”

“You could have talked to me so much earlier. You gotta learn to ask for help, Jack. It’s totally cool and acceptable.”

“Even about shit like this?”

“Especially about shit like this. Damn.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Let’s go eat. I help Bittle with the dishes afterwards. You know you really should have been all packed up and ready to go by now.”

“Dude how did you-. Know what? Never mind. Lead the way.”

Shitty spends the rest of breakfast looking mildly freaked out and when Ransom and Holster run up the stairs to pack Jack has to push Shitty up there after them.

“When do I come back down?” Shitty frantically whispers.

“When you’re finished,” Jack whispers back.

“But what if I come down too early and fuck up the timeline or something?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do this whole time. You’ll be fine.”

“But what if-.”

“Go, Shitty.”

“I think we should tell everyone else.”

“No. I don’t want to worry them.”

“Not even Lardo?”

Jack sighs. Can’t have one without the other, he supposes.

Lardo takes it better than either of them are expecting her too.

She sits far enough back on Shitty’s stripped mattress that her feet don’t touch the ground and she listens to him explain.

“It’s the same day, day after day no matter what I do. I haven’t been able to figure out a way to stop it.”

“I know it sounds totally nuts but it’s true,” Shitty says and Lardo swings her legs a little and nods. “He’s told me what was going to happen and then it fucking happened, okay? He told me what music Bits was going to listen to, like, okay, Bitty’s taste in music is pretty predictable but he knew what song Bitty would skip and he never fucking skips that song and he knew what we’d have for breakfast and the plate!” He yells then holds his foot in his hand, hopping and listing into Jack so he can stick his big toe in Lardo’s face. She groans and pushes him away. Jack has to catch him to stop him from falling over. “He knew that would happen, Lards. He knew what we would say when it happened. That dumb joke you made. He fucking knew it. He’s told me shit that hasn’t even happened yet but I’d bet my acceptance to Harvard that it does.”

Lardo nods and takes a deep breath then says “Do you want to bubble wraps the picture frames or do you not care?”

Shitty explodes.

“Are you fucking kidding me? We just tell you Jack is stuck in some kind of time loop for weeks and you ask me about bubble wrap?”

“Well what do you want me to do? Freak out? Look at you Shits, you’re already freaked out. Someone has to have a level head. Now what do you want to do with these picture frames?”

When Jack comes back downstairs Bittle is almost done washing and drying the dishes. He’s reaching up to put a plate on the top shelf of the cabinet and huffs when Jack takes it and does it for him.

“I can reach the shelf on my own, thank you very much.”

“I know you can.”

Jack smiles down at him and Bittle rolls his eyes.

He’s definitely helping him with the dishes tomorrow.

He has to admit that it’s tempting to let Rebecca trip as they walk to their seats, just to prove himself right about one more thing.

He catches her at the last second and she thanks him, embarrassed but grateful as always.

After the ceremony Jack doesn’t let go of Shitty after they hug. “Come to dinner with us. Bring Lardo.”

“Bro, I can’t.” Shitty holds onto his arms and looks apologetic. “You know I gotta meet up with the shitty grandparents. They’d be pissed if we canceled.”

“It doesn’t matter. Tomorrow it all resets. No one will remember a thing. Just come with us. My treat.”

Shitty groans. “Jack, you better be right about this because I’m gonna have to change my name and leave the country if I want to get away from the guilt trip that they’ll put on me.”

“Trust me.”

Shitty hugs him again. “Always, brother.”

His parents seem taken aback when he tells them Shitty and Lardo are joining them.

“They’ll take their own car,” Jack explains, “we don’t have to squeeze.”

Georgia claps her hands and says “the more the merrier. You guys are going to love this place. It’s one of my favorites.”

Jack can’t wait to start playing for her.

Shitty whistles lowly when he sees the prices on the menu and leans towards Jack so he can whisper. “So I shouldn’t feel guilty about the prices?” “Nope. Even if this wasn’t happening everyone at this table is good for it, Shits.”

“Cool, cool, so it’s cool if I get lobster on my mac & cheese?” “I’m going to.”

Shitty smiles wide and pats him on the back.

The extra people messes Daniel up even more than usual and Jack elbows Shitty when he completely forgets Lardo’s pork tenderloin.

“That hasn’t happened before,” he says behind a sip of water.

“We really screwed him up.”

Daniel is red faced and apologizing even though Lardo is telling him “it’s cool man” and stealing truffle fries off of Shitty’s plate.

“I’ll pick up the bill tonight. Make sure I give him a really good tip.” “If this all resets in the morning he doesn't actually get the tip, does he?”

“No. But he doesn’t know that.”

After his parents and Georgia leave and Lardo crashes in the guest room Shitty flops on the couch and orders Jack to bring him a beer.

Jack drops a Gatorade onto his chest and shoves at his feet until he moves them enough so he can sit down.

Shitty drapes his legs over his lap.

“I said beer.”

“I don’t have any yet.”

Shitty calls him lame but twists the cap off anyways. He takes a sip then holds it out to Jack.

“So, what are we going to do about this?”

“We?”

“Hey, you have me for another what…” He cranes his neck so he can see the time on the cable box beneath the flat screen. “Two hours?” “Something like that.”

“Have you tried just….staying up?” “A few times. It doesn’t matter. I’m awake here and then I’m awake at the Haus.”

“Why is it happening?” Jack shrugs. “I thought I had some unfinished business.” He stops when Shitty nods emphatically. “You know, something I had to do but I’ve done it all. I helped Holster find his charger, I stopped Bitty from dropping the plate, I stopped you from stepping on it, I caught Rebecca before she tripped, I tipped Daniel at least 200%.”

“How often did you let me step on the glass.”

“A couple of times.”

Shitty scoffs.

“You live the same day over and over again and see how bored you get.” He looks at Shitty for a long moment. “You really believe me? You’re not just humoring me and actually think I’ve gone crazy.”

“I know you’re not crazy, Jack. You’ve never lied to me before. Why start now?”

“You know I couldn’t have done this without you.”

“I didn’t really do anything, you’re still pretty certain you’re going to wake up in your old room tomorrow.”

“No I mean this whole thing. These last four years. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.”

“I mean it, Shits. You have no idea how much I needed someone like you when I started here. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”

“Same.”

Jack snorts. “You would’ve been fine.”

“Bullshit. I would’ve been lookin’ around for my other half the whole time.”

“You would’ve found it in Lardo, anyways.”

“What does that mean?” “You know exactly what that means. I’ve told you what that means. You just don’t remember it.”

“How’d I take it?” Jack shrugs.

“How’d she take it?” Jack shrugs again.

“C’mon, man.”

“You both took it fine. You know how you feel. She feels the same way.”

Shitty looks over the back of the couch and down the hallway.

“You don’t have to do anything about it now if you don’t want to. You’ll figure it out eventually and if you don’t I’ll give you a push if you want me to.”

“Won’t matter, right? It all starts over tomorrow.” “Probably. Unless you needed to hear all of this.”

“Maybe you needed to say it. Hey, do you think that’s what it is? You’ve been focused on what everyone needs, maybe you need to focus on what you need. Maybe you're your own unfinished business or something. Whatever. Nursey is better that this poetic crap.”

Jack laughs.

“Be a little selfish.”

“I’m plenty selfish.”

“Bullshit.”

Jack looks up at him.

“You’re always doing shit for other people.”

“Do you have me confused with someone else?”

Shitty kicks him across the couch. “That’s bullshit too. I’m tired of you doing this. Look at everything you did for this team.”

“I wanted to win, Shits. I would have done anything to win.”

“Bullshit,” he says, even louder this time and kicks him again.

Jack shushes him and he rubs at his thigh. “That’s gonna bruise, Shits.”

“It’ll be gone by morning and I reject that idea. Completely. You cared so much about that team, Jack, win or lose. Checking on them during blizzards doesn’t have anything to do with hockey and you know it. Plus, helping out Bitty with checking practice as ass o’clock in the morning, every morning, for months. You could have let him get cut. Murray and Hall would’ve found someone else.”

“He’s a good player. He doesn’t deserve that.”

Shitty raises an eyebrow at him. “And the oven.”

“He needed a new one. The Haus needed a new one.”

“And you used your own money to buy it and it’s not just some run of the mill garbage oven, it’s a really fucking great one. He loves that thing. You’re not selfish, Jack. I’m telling you you should be. Think about what you want to do and then go do it.”

What he wants is to play hockey.

Shitty yawns and stretches his arm across the top of the couch so he can squeeze Jack’s shoulder. “You want me to stay up with you?”

“No. I should let you get to sleep,” he says as he stands up.

“We’re really going to wake up in the Haus tomorrow?” “Yes. Unless something happened today to change it.”

“Telling me you’d be lost without me didn’t do it?”

“Doubt it,” Jack says. “You already knew that.”

 

 

In the morning Shitty kisses his forehead and climbs over him to get to the shower.

Jack throws his arm over his eyes and lets himself bask in the loneliness once more before he’s up and getting dressed.

Just like he does every day.

But today he breaks into Faber.

He wants to skate. It's been twenty nine days now. He misses it.

He walks around the whole building twice and even checks the loading docks before he gives up and gives in and breaks the handle off the side door with a chunk of asphalt he finds in the parking lot.

His hand hurts afterwards but it’s minor thing if tomorrow is a new day and meaningless if it isn’t. Pain doesn’t carry over.

The lights are off but he doesn’t need them to get down the hallways.

He could follow the path with his eyes closed.

He does flip the light on in the locker room.

He wants to see that.

His and Shitty’s names are already removed from their stalls, ready for a new year.

He lingers there for a bit and hopes that the new guys coming in love this team as much as he did.

There are spare skates in the equipment room.

They’re packed away for the summer and Jack goes on a tear trying to find them and tries not to feel too guilty about it.

He grabs a stick and a bucket of pucks on his way out and skates slow, lazy circles on fresh ice then races up and down it. No matter how fast he goes he feels like Bittle would be faster.

He shoots the pucks into the net that he's dragged out until he hears one of the heavy metal doors open and someone yelling.

“Who's in here?”

Jack drops the stick and skates off as fast as he can.

He gets the skates untied and grabs his shoes, not pausing to put them on before he's running in the opposite direction and out of the building.

He checks the time on his phone after he pulls on his shoes, leaning up against the wall for support.

It’s 9:57. Next time he’ll try to be out of there by 9:50, just to be sure.

The next day he doesn’t stop at three pancakes.

He stops counting after seven and Bittle offers to make more but Jack tells him not to worry. He’ll just eat more bacon instead.

He has a stomach ache for the rest of the day and orders a salad for dinner because he needs something healthy.

The following day he finally orders dessert.

The pumpkin tart is good but Bittle made something like it last fall that was a lot better.

On day thirty two he orders all the desserts.

He eats the spiced apple sundae and asks Daniel if he could box the rest of them up so he can take them back to his apartment.

He hands the menu back and ignores the way that Daniel and his mother and father are gaping at him. Georgia seems thrilled.

“Do you want the dessert sampler to go as well?”

“Why not?” He’s picking up the bill tonight, might as well go all out.

On day thirty three he sleeps for an extra hour and a half.

The next day he takes a shower at his apartment in Providence, sits down on his couch, turns on the NHL Network, and polishes off all of Bittle’s pie.

 

 

He helps Bittle with the dishes after breakfast just as he’s done a dozen and a half days before.

Bittle assures him he loves all his frogs equally but then admits his soft spot for Chowder.

“It’s going to be strange living across from him though, you know, not having you and Shitty around. I mean, Shitty was the first person I ever told I was gay. Out loud. That’s a big deal.”

“I know it is,” Jack says gently because even though he’s heard this a dozen and a half times, Bittle hasn’t.

“And you, Jack. You’re just….you are…”

“Where the fuck is my charger” Holster yells. “I had it last night and now it’s gone.”

Bittle opens his mouth to say Where was the last place you saw it? but Jack cuts him off.

“It’s under the couch,” he yells back to Holster. He doesn’t let go of the plate that Bittle tries to take from him to dry. “What were you going to say? Finish your thought.”

Bittle looks flustered but Jack has had enough of letting this go. He wants to hear this.

“What am I?”

“Oh, I don’t even know what I was going to say, Jack.”

“Sure you do,” Jack says, voice gentle as he lets go of the plate.

“You’re just.” He starts strong then shakes his head and sighs. “You’re good, Jack. You’re one of the good ones.”

It’s not what Jack was expecting.

Next to him Bittle focuses on the plate and nothing else, scrubbing the towel over it so hard Jack’s afraid the paint is going to chip off.

“You really think that?”

Bittle’s hand stills. “Of course I do. I wouldn’t have said it if it weren’t true.”

Bittle smiles, small and sad, just like the one Jack will see later on when he hugs him goodbye on the quad.

“You're good but you're slow.” He elbows Jack to turn him back to the dishes. “You know you are graduating today. You'll miss the ceremony if you don't hurry up with those dishes.”

 

 

The next morning Jack joins Shitty out on the roof.

Shitty nods and holds the joint out towards him. “Morning, Sleeping Beauty. Partake?”

Jack stares at it, then at Shitty, then back at the joint before he reaches out and takes it. “Why not?” He takes a deep breath around it that has Shitty dropping his mouth open in surprise.

“Shit, son, slow down. I got more. There’s no need to rush.”

Jack takes another long, slow, inhale and coughs a little. “Break it out, then.”

They’re passing the third joint between them when Bittle pokes his head out of his window.

“I thought I heard two voices,” he says, eyes widening when he sees what’s in Jack’s hand. “Shitty, what the hell are you doing to him?” “Don’t yell at me, Bits. He came out here all on his own. I was surprised as you are.”

“And you gave it to him?”

“He has three inches and thirty pounds on me. What was I supposed to do?”

“Were you afraid he was going to beat you up or something? Come on, Shitty. I said you could smoke out here. I didn’t say anything about dragging Jack into it.”

“Jack dragged himself into it.”

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here,” Jack says. He tries to casually lean back on one elbow but slips and ends up flat on his back. There’s a shingle poking at the back of his neck that’s not easy to ignore.

There’s a beat of silence and then Bittle says “you promised me that was the lowest quality stuff you could find.”

“It is.”

“Really? Look at him.”

“He’s fine.”

“I’m fine.”

“What’s going to happen when your parents show up?”

“That’s hours from now, Bits. Look, this is really weak-.”

“Weak shit,” Jack says, because he knows and Shitty narrows his eyes at him.

“Bro, that’s exactly what I was going to say. Fuck yeah.”

“Shitty,” Bittle snaps.

“He’s probs just not used to it. It’ll wear off way before then. No worries.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

Shitty shrugs. “His parents are cool people. They’d be cool with it.”

“Is the Assistant GM for the Falconers going to be okay with it? Did you think about that?”

“Oh shit.”

Jack bursts out laughing and rolls to his side so he can face them. “Doesn’t matter, Bitty.”

“It most certainly does matter.”

“No it doesn’t. Trust me.” He props his head up with one hand. “No matter what happens today tomorrow it’s going to start right back over again. I’m on a loop and I can’t stop it. I can’t believe I haven’t done this before. I feel great.”

Bittle stares at him. There’s a worry line right between his eyes and Jack tries to reach out and smooth it away but he can’t quite make it and ends up smacking his hand against Shitty’s thigh instead.

“Take care of this, Shitty,” Bittle sighs before leaning back into his room and shutting off the music and Jack flails to get to his knees.

The window in the hallway is locked so he taps on it until Bittle comes out of his room and opens for him.

Jack pulls his body halfway through the opening touches the tip of his finger to Bittle’s left elbow where it’s crossed over his chest.

“You don’t have to worry about this. I promise.”

“Jack, honey, you’re high.”

“No I’m not. Not really. Just a little bit. I know what I’m saying doesn’t make sense.”

Bittle sighs and lays a hand across Jack’s forehead. “You’re not saying anything.”

“It’s complicated.”

“I’m sure it is. You need to come inside and take a shower.”

“Shitty showers first. He always does. Just like you always skip Halo on your playlist and you always make chocolate chip and blueberry pancakes for breakfast.”

Bittle drops his hand. “That’s what I was going to make.”

“That’s what you always make.”

“Pancakes!” Shitty climbs onto Jack’s back and wiggles until his head is through the window. “Fucking love pancakes.”

“He makes blueberry for me and chocolate chip for you.”

“You’re a hero, Eric Richard Bittle,” Shitty says as he squeezes past Jack and rolls into the hallway. “I’m taking a shower and then I’m coming downstairs and eating all the pancakes you can make.”

“There’s bacon and hash browns too.” Jack tells him, not breaking eye contact with Bittle.

Shitty holds up a peace sign on both hands, says “fucking sweet” and kicks open Jack’s door so he can get to their bathroom.

“How did you know I was going to make all that?”

“Same way I know that Holster’s charger is underneath the couch.”

Bittle raises an eyebrow. “You’re so high.”

Downstairs Holster yells about his charger and Bittle’s eyes go wide for a moment.

“Under the couch,” Jack yells back and there’s quiet for a few seconds before Holster laughs.

“Fucking beautiful, Zimmermann. I’ll miss you every single day.”

“Told you,” Jack grumbles as he falls the rest of the way through the window.

The high wears off just as Shitty said it would but that doesn’t stop Bittle from watching him.

He catches his eye over breakfast and pie with his parents and Georgia and when Jack goes to ask him which tie he should pick he flatly tells him the blue one and turns around in his desk chair.

“Are you mad at me because I smoked with Shitty,” he asks as he loops the tie over his neck.

“I’m not mad I’m just concerned. It’s not like you.”

“It’s really nothing to worry about, Bittle.”

“Yeah,” Bittle says over his shoulder, “that’s not like you.”

“I’m sorry, Bits. I won’t do it again.”

Bittle laughs and stands. “You promise me, Jack Zimmermann,” he says as he holds his pinky out.

Jack links his pinky with Bitty’s. “I swear it.”

He doesn’t get high again.

It doesn't matter that Bittle wouldn’t know, Jack would, and he doesn’t like the way that feels when he thinks about it.

He doesn’t smoke but he does go out to sit with Shitty until Bittle calls them both in and worries that Jack has a contact high.

On day thirty nine Shitty holds out the joint towards Bitty and he and Jack stare at him until he takes it.

“It’ll help you relax, bro,” Shitty says as he claps him on the back.

“I don’t need to relax,” he says as he passes it back.

“You’re like, wicked stressed.”

Bittle grumbles but takes another hit when it’s offered.

On the fortieth day he’s officially had enough.

He’s done everything he thinks he needs to for other people and everything he thinks he wants to do for himself and nothing is working.

The only thing he hasn’t done is take off.

He’s out of bed before Shitty comes through the window and when he opens his door Countdown is still playing.

Halo starts when Jack is halfway down the hall and gets louder when Bittle swings his door open.

“Where are you off to? You know I’m making breakfast. Pancakes.”

“Yeah.” Jack’s feet pound down the stairs. “Blueberry and chocolate chip. I know.”

“How did you-.” He stops when he sees the keys in Jack’s hand. “Where are you going?”

“Just out. For a drive.”

“For a drive.” Bittle repeats slowly. He must sense something in the tone of Jack’s voice or the set of his shoulders or the way he’s clutching his keys so hard they’re leaving marks against his palm. Bittle leans against the banister, fingers trapping against the railing and bottom lip pulled between his teeth. “When do you think you’re gonna be back?”

Jack shrugs. “Don’t know.”

“Are you going to be back by the time your parents get here?”

“Probably not.”

Bittle’s mouth drops open and he looks down the hall, probably debating going to get Shitty. Jack takes the opportunity to make a swift exit out of the Haus.

The front door doesn’t even close all the way before Bittle is yanking it all the way open and stepping out onto the front porch.

Jack is halfway to his car when he looks up.

Shitty’s not on the roof anymore. He’s already ducked through Jack’s window and into the shower by now.

Bittle never shut off his music so Halo is playing through his bedroom window.

You hit me like a ray of sun

Burning through my darkest night

You're the only one that I want

I'm addicted to your light

I swore I'd never fall again

But this don't even feel like falling

Gravity can't forget to pull me back to the ground again

“What should I tell your parents when they get here?”

Jack ignores him and points up towards the window. “Why don’t you ever play that song? I know you love it, you sing it in the shower all the time but you always skip it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I always skip it? What do you mean?”

Jack waves his hand like that’s magically going to erase the look of confusion on Bittle’s face. “It doesn’t matter. None of it matters, Bits.”

Bittle hops down the steps and follows him across the lawn. Jack has to get out of here soon. Lardo will be showing up and Ransom and Holster will be coming down the stairs.

“What do I tell your parents when they show up and you’re not here?”

Tell them I’ll see them tomorrow, is at the tip of his tongue but Bittle already looks so worried. So he lies.

“I’ll be back. I just have to take a drive to clear my head a bit, you know? The stress of everything is starting to get to me and I just need a minute.”

Bittle doesn’t look convinced but he’s not moving from the lawn either.

“I’ll see ya, Bits. Don’t worry about me.”

“That sounds foreboding.”

Jack laughs. Inside Holster is just starting to complain about his charger.

“It’s not. Don’t worry. Please. Go in and make breakfast.”

“Should I save you a plate?”

“That would be great.” It’s not a lie, not really. He won’t be here to eat it but it makes Bittle’s lips pull up just slightly at the corners. “Holster’s charger is under the couch. Watch out for Shitty while you’re holding the plate of hash browns or else he’s going to make you drop them.”

“How do you know that?”

Jack opens the car door and climbs in. “Just a feeling.”

Bittle stands on the grass and watches him until he turns the corner at the end of the street.

Jack doesn’t look in the rear view mirror after that.

He doesn’t have a clear destination in mind when he starts out. The plan was to drive and see how far he could get before he woke up at the Haus again.

But when he starts heading south on I-495 he figures it out.

Shitty starts texting him.

By the time he gets through Middleborough he’s started calling.

He tosses the phone onto the passenger seat so he won’t have to hear it vibrate against the cup holder anymore but Shitty’s face still flashes across the screen every two minutes.

He stops to fill up the tank in Wareham.

There’s a McDonald’s across the street and the smell of grease reminds him that he’s starving.

He checks his phone in the parking lot.

There are forty texts from Shitty and twenty three missed calls with an accompanying voice mail.

Call number twenty four comes through as Jack starts texting a reply. He ignores it and keeps typing.

I’m fine. Don’t worry. I’ll see you guys soon

He turns the phone off before Shitty can text back.

He orders an Egg McMuffin and hash browns.

The heartburn is immediate but it doesn't stop him from getting a sausage McGriddle to go.

 

He gets to Hyannis Port around 11.

The beach is dotted with people. Most of them wrapped in sweatshirts to fight the wind coming off the water.

There’s no lifeguard and there won’t be until after Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer.

It might never come for Jack.

There are a few more houses along the water but all in all it looks exactly like it did the first time he was here four years ago.

Shitty dragged him out in someone’s borrowed car in the first weeks of their friendship.

Summer had been winding down then and neither of them had classes in the afternoon.

Shitty talked the whole time and Jack stayed quiet, listening and reminding himself that he willingly got in the car with him.

They weren’t really even friends at that point. They were teammates. Not even line mates.

He plopped down in the sand and Jack stood awkwardly next to him until Shitty reached a hand out, grabbed him by the wrist, pulled him down, and started to talk some more.

What started out as a rant about white privilege ended up as a rant about how much his father had disappointed him.

“It's like he didn't even try, ya know,” Shitty had said, sifting sand through his fingers. “He had his fucking secretary, who, by the way, he was fucking, pick out all my birthday and Christmas presents. He didn't even sign the cards himself. Like, what the fuck?”

Jack didn’t know what to say. His father had always tried. The disappointment went the other way around.

So he nodded instead and that seemed to be enough. Shitty threw an arm around him and rested his head on his shoulder and that was the start of it all.

Now Jack sits by himself in the sun warmed beach and watches the waves.

He toes off his sneakers and buries his toes in the sand as a couple of kids, too young for school, run by kicking up sand and laughing when their feet hit the cold water.

A woman, a nanny Jack assumes based on where they are and the stories that Shitty has told him about people in these parts, sits a few yards away watching them over the top of her book.

Jack leans back on his elbows and tips his face into the sun.

He heads into town when he gets hungry and eats french toast at a small cafe that serves breakfast all day.

The clock on the wall tells him it’s 2:35. Shitty’s going to be walking across the stage soon. Rebecca has already tripped. He’s sure if he turned his phone on there would be dozens, if not hundreds of calls from his parents.

This is the most selfish thing he has ever done but maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe he’s not supposed to play hockey. Maybe he’s supposed to take off and take up some other profession. Maybe Shitty was onto something when he suggested competitive horticulture.

But just the idea of life without hockey makes his body freeze up.

It’s not what he wants.

For the first time he’s hoping he wakes up back at the Haus.

Technically the beach closes at sundown and while he wouldn’t put it past any of the year round residents to call the cops on him, he also doesn’t care.

The sand retains some of the warmth from the sun and that combined with the sweatshirt that he dug out of the back of his car keeps the chill away.

He digs his hands into the front pocket and flips his phone back and forth between them as he leans back against the sand.

There’s a small piece of driftwood under his head that’s just smooth enough to use as a pillow.

He looks up at the stars and tries to find the missing piece of the puzzle that’s holding him back.

It’s right there. It’s gotta be.

The team seems to be squared away.

He’s talked to Holster and Ransom about taking over next year.

Everything he ever needed to say to Shitty has been said.

The Frogs are good.

He knows Lardo will be fine.

Bittle will-.

“Oh.” He sits up. “Oh shit.”

It’s all very Bitty centric, Shitty had told him days ago.

“Oh shit,” he says again as he pulls his phone out and turns it on. It’s old and slow and he should have listened to everyone when they chirped him about getting a new one. “Shit, shit, shit.” There’s a barrage of missed call notifications and text messages and he gets stuck on one from Georgia telling him that it’s still okay. There’s still a place for him on her team and if he needs help- someone to talk to- she’ll get that for him.

There’s a text from Bittle too, telling him he’s landed back in Georgia and that he hopes he’s doing okay.

Text me back. Please.

Jack calls him instead.

The phone rings and Jack wraps his arm around his knees, drawing them tight against his chest.

It’s late and he knows he’s running out of time. Any minute now he’s going to wake up.

The call switches to voicemail and Jack hangs up and tries again and again.

Bittle is obviously asleep. He’s had a long day and the added stress from worrying about Jack certainly didn’t help. His phone is probably on silent and charging somewhere out of reach. On his desk or on the floor next to the outlet.

He sighs as he tries again and on the fourth ring Bittle picks up.

“Jack?” He sounds tired and concerned and Jack flings his legs out in front of him because he can’t sit still a moment longer.

“Bittle, oh thank god.”

“Jack, are you okay?” “I’m fine, I just need to-.”

“Where are you? Have you called your parents? Have you called Shitty?”

“No.”

“You need to call them.”

There’s the sound of fabric rustling on Bittle’s end and then-

 

Yup, I put it on him, it ain't nothing that I can't do

Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too

All up in the store, shorty, tricking if I want to

All up in the store, shawty, fly as we want to

Jack’s eyes fly open.

“Bittle,” he says as he throws the covers off his body. His legs get tangled and he trips but he picks himself up and flings his body at the door.

He doesn't stop to knock before he opens Bittle’s door and crashes into the room.

“Jack.”

Bittle is shirtless and standing at his dresser with his t-shirt drawer open.

“I heard a crash. Are you okay?”

“I’m so sorry, Bittle,” Jack rushes out. “About everything.”

Bittle blinks at him.

“They way I treated you last year and the things that I said. They were awful. I was awful.”

“Oh honey.” Bittle pauses to pull a shirt over his head. The same one he’s always worn. “We’re so far past that.”

“Are we? Because I never even apologized. Not really. Not explicitly. I mean, it was a lucky shot? Who says shit like that? Especially to an 18 year old kid.”

“I’m not a kid,” Bittle says sounding offended.

“You were a freshman and I was your captain and that was your first goal. I was a dick.”

Bittle moves his hand from his hip up to his mouth to stop himself from laughing.

“Do you forgive me? I don’t blame you if you don’t but I honestly don’t know what else to do, Bittle.”

“I forgive you, Jack.”

Jack crosses the room in three big steps and stands in front of him. He puts his hands on Bittle’s shoulders. “Do you really?”

Countdown ends and Halo starts and Bittle looks over at his phone like it’s betrayed him.

“I forgive you, Jack, I promise. Cross my heart and all.”

There’s a beat of silence and then Jack pulls him in for a crushing hug, like a celly after a game winning goal. It might as well be. He’s confident that this will do it. He’ll wake up tomorrow in Providence just like he’s supposed to.

He rests his cheek on the top of Bittle’s head and Bittle pats at his back.

“Thank you, Bittle. I’m sorry for worrying you yesterday.”

“What do you mean?” His voice is muffled against Jack’s chest and Jack takes a deep breath, squeezes him one more time, and steps back.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s over now.”

Bittle frowns and Jack claps his hands together, eager to get on with the day. “Breakfast?”

“Pancakes,” Bittle says as he turns off his music.

“Blueberry and chocolate chip?”

Bittle nods.

 

 

When he wakes up in the morning Beyonce is playing.

“Son of a bitch,” mumbles as Shitty rolls onto his bed.

“Well good morning to you, too, sunshine.”

Shitty kisses his forehead then pads into the bathroom.

Bittle shuts off his music and stops outside of Jack’s door.

He waits for Bittle to disappear down the hall before he gets out of bed.

He helps him make breakfast.

Bittle has been feeding the team for two years and never once asked for help.

He seems happy to let Jack screw up a few pancakes and burn a few strips of bacon before gently hip checking him out of the way.

“Sorry, Bits.”

“Nothing to worry about. You were doing just fine.”

“Then why’d you take the spatula away?”

Bittle presses his lips together and his nose scrunches up as he attempts to fix the pancake that Jack flipped way too early.

“It’s nothing personal.” He spoons more batter into the pan and holds the spatula out to Jack. “You can try again if you like?”

“You trust me?”

Bittle pulls him into place in front of the stove with his hand on the crook of Jack’s arm. “I’ll be right here,” he says and pushes the spatula into Jack’s hand.

The rest of the pancakes come out perfectly.

 

Jack convinces Bittle to go running with him.

“But breakfast.”

“They’ll survive.” He thinks. “It’ll be fun.”

Bittle raises an eyebrow at him.

“I have something I want to show you.”

The other eyebrow goes up but he goes to get his shoes anyways.

Bittle gasps when he breaks the handle off the door.

“Jack, you can’t do that.”

“It’s a shitty lock.”

“Now it is. You probably could’ve called the coaches. They would have let you in. Or Lardo. She has a key.”

Jack tries to shake the ache off his hand. He’s done this five times and he hasn’t figured out a way to stop it from hurting. “Lardo. Huh. I never thought about that.”

“Well it’s too late now.” He opens the door further and tips his head towards it.

Bittle huffs then shakes his head and smiles and walks through.

He’s even faster than Jack remembers and his laughter as he beats him around the fifth turn echos through the rink.

“Okay, I think that’s enough.” Jack is breathless and panting and not trying to hide it. Bittle laughs again and turns around to skate backwards. “Now you're just rubbing it in.”

Bittle gasps in mock offense and holds a hand over his heart.

Jack hasn't been this happy for a long time.

“I would never, Jack Zimmerman.”

He's not looking where he's going and when he gets close to the boards Jack pushes forwards and gets a hand around the back of his head right before it connects with the glass.

His hair is soft beneath his fingers.

“Close one,” Jack says, voice quiet in the empty space and Bittle nods and slowly pulls away. “One on one?”

“I don't really think that's fair.” Bittle grabs a stick off the top of the net. “You are an NHL star.”

“Not yet.”

“You will be.”

Jack wishes he was half as certain as Bittle sounds.

“Shots from the center,” Bittle says as he dumps the bucket of pucks.

“Best two out of three?”

“Already afraid you’re going to lose?” Bittle chirps.

“I’m just giving you a chance, Bits.”

Bittle wins the first round with three more pucks in the back of the net.

Jack takes the second by one.

They’re halfway through the third round when the door opens and Jack drops his stick.

“We gotta go.”

Bittle whips around. “Why? You know you’re not gonna win?”

“Who’s in here?” A voice calls and Jack pushes Bittle towards the benches.

“Security,” Jack hisses as Bittle finally starts moving on his own.

“Are we going to get in trouble?”

“Not if we don’t get caught.”

They scramble over the boards, grab their shoes, and run down the tunnel in their skates.

Jack softly shuts the door behind them outside and then sits back against it.

Bittle is hunched over with his hands on his knees. He’s dropped his shoes onto the pavement next to him and he’s trying to catch his breath as the adrenaline works it’s way through his body.

“That was really close, Jack.”

“Yeah. Whoops.”

“Whoops,” Bittle says and then he’s laughing so hard he can’t even stand up and drops to the ground next to Jack.

At dinner Jack’s phone buzzes in his pocket and he excuses himself from the table.

As he’s walking out the front door he dials Bittle’s number.

His picks up on the first ring.

“Jack, you didn’t have to call me.”

“I wanted to,” Jack says and he’s met with silence. “Bittle?”

“Yeah. I’m here.”

“Should I not have called? Is this a bad time?”

“No, I’m just waiting for Coach to come pick me up. He’s probably circling the airport right now. Could be awhile.”

“Have you ever thought about going pro?”

“What?”

“Because Georgia has been talking to me about you and-.”

“Georgia Martin. Assistant GM for the Providence Falconers has been talking to you about me playing professionally?”

“Yes.”

“Oh my god.”

“I don’t know what to say. Have you thought about it?”

“No.”

“Are you thinking about it now?” “Oh, Jack. I mean, no. Not really. I’m not you.”

“No,” Jack says slowly. “You’re you. Georgia thinks you can do it.”

“Does she? She said that?”

“Yes. I never know what to tell her.”

“I don't think I could do that, Jack.”

“Because you don't want to or because you don't think you can?”

“Both? I love hockey and I love playing and this team but when I think about doing it after college….I don't know. I don't know if I love it enough.”

“You have to really love it,” Jack says quietly. “So what do you love?”

“Oh. Well.”

“Besides texting and Beyoncé. Figure skating. Do you ever think about getting back into skating? You were really good.”

“I was okay. I guess I always thought I'd get into baking for a living. A bakery or catering or something. Do you think that's dumb?”

“No. Of course not.”

“Should I be majoring in business then? Shit.”

“I don't know. You’ll probably be okay. I mean, Holster could be your economic adviser or something.”

“Shitty could handle all the legal stuff. Lardo could design the logo.”

“Ransom could probably send some business your way from the hospital. You know, hook you up with a steady catering job for when it’s people’s birthdays or whatever.”

“I could make cupcakes for the kids.”

“Exactly. Chowder would be a good assistant.”

“Dex.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I think he’s really coming around to it, but I’m not going to say no to more help, especially from Chowder.”

“If you did a poetry night or something Nurse could come and do a reading.”

Bittle laughs and Jack leans back against the sink, body loose and relaxed.

“You’d have to stop by with all your teammates. All those pro hockey players….I bet I’d make the most money off of you guys.”

“So you're going to open it in Providence?”

“I don't know. I don't know where I'm going to be.”

Jack never thought about him staying in Georgia. There's a chance they'll never see each other after he graduates. The idea sits heavy in his chest.

“I like the idea of all of us still seeing each other after everyone graduates.”

“Me too,” Jack agrees.

“I’m getting so comfortable around here but there’s still so much I haven’t seen.”

“You should come to Montreal,” Jack says. When he looks up his father is standing in front of him and he drops his phone to his shoulder. “Bittle. He’s home and I was just-.”

Bob nods and says “take your time” before he slips back inside the restaurant.

“Sorry,” Jack says into the phone. “My dad.”

“Your parents are still there?”

“We’re still at dinner. I stepped out to call you.”

“You really didn’t need to do that. You could have waited. You didn’t even need to call me at all.”

“I wanted to.” The honesty in his statement catches him off guard. “I had fun with you today.”

“I had fun too.”

“We should do that again.”

Bittle laughs. “Yeah, okay Jack. I’ll fly right up.”

“Right, I guess that would be kind of tough,” he says but he’s already planning on getting the key from Lardo so he doesn’t have to break in again.

“You should get back to dinner.”

“It’s dessert now.”

“You should go back to dessert.”

“I usually don’t have any.”

“That’s a shame, Jack. You should have something sweet. Oh! That’s Coach’s truck. I gotta go, they’re gonna yell at him if he idles for too long.”

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Bittle.”

“Oh...okay. Looking forward to it.”

“Yeah me too,” Jack says but Bittle’s already hung up.

He apologizes when he gets back to the table.

“That was Bittle. His flight got delayed. He just landed.”

When Georgia asks him if he ever thinks about going pro Jack confidentially tells her no.

“He wants to open a bakery or maybe cater.” He takes a sip of his coffee but it’s gone cold. “It’s what he loves the most.”

 

 

Jack gets the key for Faber from Lardo the next day.

He texted her before they left the Haus but Jack has to knock three times before her door opens.

She's dressed but shoe less and she's holding two pairs of earrings; the silver pair she always wears and a pair of gold hoops.

She holds out the key without being asked.

“Thanks, Lards. You wanna come?” He asks just to be polite.

Lardo snorts. “No way. Gotta help Shitty pack.” She leans around Jack and raises an eyebrow at Bittle. “What the hell, Bits? No breakfast?”

“You'll be fine,” Jack tells her. “There's cereal in the cabinets and bacon in the fridge.”

She puts on a pout but Jack is already spinning away and grabbing Bittle by the elbow and leads him down the hall.

“You should wear the silver ones,” he calls over his shoulder.

“Like I'm gonna take fashion advice from you, Zimmerman,” she says but when Jack looks back she's smiling and putting them on.

“You should do a jump,” Jack tells him. His words are a little breathless and Bitty beams over at him from across the ice.

Jack could race him everyday for the rest of his life and he still wouldn’t win. He might get the chance.

“Or a...what do they call them?” He straightens up and starts skating towards him. “Do they call them jumps?”

“Yeah. But there’s lots of different types.”

“What’s your favorite one? Do that.”

Bitty shakes his head. “They’re too hard to do in hockey skates.”

“You did it at the pond.”

“I did a terrible one.”

“Looked good to me.”

Bittle looks down at his skates. “Oh.”

“Your picture made it into The Swallow so I wasn’t the only one to think it.”

“You know I sent that to my mama? She framed it.”

Jack laughs and knocks his shoulder against Bittle’s.

“I really need figure skates to do it right. I don’t want to give you a subpar performance.”

“Did you bring a pair with you?”

Bittle shakes his head. “I left them in Georgia. God, I haven’t even put on a pair since I started playing hockey.” He skates over to the sticks and the bucket of pucks that Jack brought out with them and looks at him expectantly. “See how many we can get in from center ice?”

Jack nods and takes his time getting over to him.

 

 

Jack’s out of the Haus before Shitty comes through the window and Bittle skips Halo.

He leaves his phone behind.

It takes him a few hours but he finally finds an open rink that's willing to sell him a pair of rental skates.

“I don’t understand,” the fifth owner says. “You rent them.”

“I know but I want to buy them.”

“You want to buy rental skates?”

“Yes. I can pay you well over what you bought them for.”

“Then why don’t you just buy new ones?”

“They need to be broken in already. I’m short on time.” He takes his wallet out of his back pocket. “I’m ready to pay five hundred dollars.”

“Five hundred?”

“Six.”

“You’d pay six hundred dollars for rental skates?”

Jack sighs and pull the bills out. “Seven hundred but that’s all I can do.”

The guy whistles, shakes his head, and holds out his hand. “I hope she’s worth it.”

“He,” Jack says without even thinking about it. He looks up and right at the guy like it’s a challenge.

The guy shrugs and heads towards the back. “Hope he’s worth it. What size do you need?”

Georgia and his parents are already at the Haus when Jack gets back from stashing the skates in the bushes behind Faber.

He won’t have time to run back to his car after graduation.

“Jack!” Bittle yells when he closes the door behind him and there’s an obvious look of relief on Shitty’s face.

They’re all eating pie at the kitchen table and Holster’s legs stick out from the hall closet still looking for his charger.

“It’s under the couch,” Jack tells him as he takes the seat Bittle’s pulled out for him. There’s a plate of food still warm from the oven on the table.

Holster slams so hard into the couch it slides almost all the way across the living room.

Jack doesn’t waste anytime seeking Bittle out after the ceremony.

He looks sad and supportive and Jack holds him by the wrist and starts to pull him across the quad.

“Come on. There’s not a lot of time.”

“I’m going to miss my shuttle, Jack. Where are we going?”

“Faber.”

Bittle digs his heels into the grass and Jack stumbles.

“I don’t have time to go to Faber.”

“I already rescheduled your ride. Your flight is going to be delayed. You’ll get there in plenty of time.”

“My flight…” He gets his phone out of his pocket and starts looking through it. “How do you know? Where’d you see that?”

“Just trust me, okay?”

“If I miss my flight-”

“You won’t.”

“Jack.”

“If you miss it I’ll buy you a new ticket. First class. A private jet.” He drags his finger over his heart in the shape of an X. “Promise.”

Bittle looks back across the quad towards the Haus.

“I’m still your Captain, eh?”

Bittle looks conflicted for a moment then looks back down at his phone, checking the time.

“We have to hurry.”

“Let me worry about the time.”

He has to break into Faber.

Bittle can’t believe it and stands there, horrified and holding the door as Jack grabs the figure skates from their hiding spot.

“What is that?” Bittle points at the bag and Jack guides him through the door with a hand on his back.

“A surprise.”

“I don’t know if I like this, Jack,” Bittle says but he follows him down the hall anyways.

Jack doesn’t reveal the skates until they’re in the sitting on the bench and Jack is ready to lace up his own.

He pulls them out of the bag with a flourish and hands them over.

“Are these rental skates?”

“They used to be. I bought them.”

“You-.” Bittle sits down on the bench and looks the skates over. “Gross.”

“You’ve lived in the Haus for almost an entire year and this grosses you out?” He laces up his skates waits for Bittle. “Get those on and show me what you got.”

Bittle’s face is flushed when he playfully checks Jack into the boards.

“I forgot how much I missed this.”

He spins away and Jack slowly skates after him. It's getting late. The alumni event is going to be ending soon and they're going to start looking for him.

Bittle does a jump towards center ice and tells Jack it's called a toe loop then laughs and does it again.

“Did you ever do lifts?”

Bittle shakes his head. “I never skated with a partner. But at practice sometimes a couple of us would joke around. I was never really good at it.”

“The girl would have to be really tiny for you to lift, huh?”

“Ha ha,” Bittle says dryly. He punches Jack in the arm with a surprising amount of force when he skates by.

“I bet I could do it.”

Bittle looks him over quickly. “All the girls would be begging you to be their partner.”

“I bet I could lift you.”

Bittle laughs. “It’s not that simple.”

“You’re afraid I’d drop you?”

“I’m afraid of my head hitting the ice and you getting injured because of me. I can’t be responsible for ending your career before it even starts.”

“I wouldn’t drop you.”

“Do me a favor and watch some videos on YouTube this summer and then we’ll talk.”

“Maybe I will.”

Bittle looks a little smug and keeps skating and Jack is content to keep watching him.

“Is this where you went this morning, to get these skates?”

Jack nods and rolls up the sleeves of his dress shirt where they’ve started to slip down.

“You scared us half to death, Jack, Shitty especially. We thought you took off. You didn’t even bring your phone with you.”

“Forgot it. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“When you’re parents showed up we weren’t sure what to say so Shitty made something up about there being a mix up with your gown that you had to fix and I just kind of shoved pie at them to distract them….why’d you do it?”

“Well I was going to buy new ones but I know how hard it is to use skates that aren’t broken in so I had to get creative.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Are you not having fun?”

Bittle stops right in front of him, ice spraying from his skates. “I love this. I forgot how much I loved it. I just don’t get why would go through all the trouble for me.”

“I thought you might need something good. I know things haven’t been easy for you lately,” he hedges and Bittle’s shoulders slump.

“Am I really that obvious?”

“No, not really but I’ve noticed.”

“I just don’t know how to adjust with you and Shitty being gone and going home for the summer after being here for so long.”

“That all?”

Bittle tips his head to the side. “What else would it be?”

“You know you can tell me anything, Bittle. No judgement.”

Bittle squares his shoulders and Jack can see the tension running across them. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

He looked so happy just a few seconds ago and there’s still time to save it.

“I just want you to know that no matter what I’ll always be there for you, okay? If you ever want to talk about something. Shitty too.”

Bittle smiles, small and genuine but Jack can still see a hint of sadness behind it.

He hates that he did that. He should've just let it be.

Bittle’s phone goes off in his pocket, breaking the moment as he pulls it out to look at it and frowns.

“My mama. Apparently my flight’s delayed. How did you know that would happen?”

“It’s a long story,” Jack says as he skates backwards towards the bench.

Bittle follows after him. “Let me guess- too long for right now.”

“Yeah, Bittle. But maybe tomorrow.”

 

 

Something shifts over the next few days.

He wakes up at the Haus with Beyonce playing across the hall but his first thought isn’t what the hell am I going to do to get myself out of here, it’s what the hell am I going to do to get Bittle to smile today?

It’s becoming a thing.

It’s probably something that he needs to worry about but every time he helps Bittle with breakfast or wraps an arm around him to pull him away from Shitty so he doesn’t drop the plate or flicks soap suds at him when they do the dishes Jack decides that he doesn’t care.

He takes him back to Faber one day and they go for a run together the next.

Jack asks him what he’s going to name his bakery as they cross the bridge and Bittle looks at him like he’s crazy.

“Come on,” Jack says, “you know you’re going to open one eventually.”

“I guess I haven’t really thought about it.”

“C’mon. Bittle’s Bakery.”

Jack breaks his stride enough to bump into Bittle when he laughs at him.

“What’s wrong with that? It’s right to the point and it has alliteration. Is Bitty’s Bakery any better?”

“It’s a little catchier,” he admits but he doesn’t look sold on it.

“I’ll think of something better,” Jack promises.

Jack hugs him a little longer every time they say goodbye after graduation and calls him every night when he gets back to his apartment.

“Peaches and Dreams,” Jack tells him.

Bittle laughs hard.

Midnight is thirty five minutes away and they’ve been talking for an hour and a half. So far Bittle has shot down all of his ideas.

“Hey, I worked really hard to come up with that.”

“I think that’s the name of a hand lotion that my mom has in the guest bathroom.”

“Haha. It has something to do with peaches. I’ll get there.”

“You keep trying, sweetie-” he pauses and yawns “-I can't wait to hear them.”

“You're tired. I should let you go.”

“It's okay. I'm fine.”

“We’ll talk tomorrow. I'll call you.”

“Really?” His voice is soft.

“First thing.”

“I want to sleep in.”

“You'll have all summer to sleep in.”

“I suppose that's true. I'll always pick up whenever you call?”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, I love talking to you.”

There’s silence but it’s not awkward and it makes a warm feeling hum through him.

Bittle’s second yawn breaks it but Jack smiles anyways.

“Maybe I am sleepy.”

“Go to bed, Bittle.”

“‘Kay,” he whispers around another yawn, “you too. You had a long day. Graduating and officially moving to a new apartment and-.”

“Bitty. Bed.”

“Fine, fine, fine.”

“A Bitty’s Dozen,” Jack says and he hears Bittle sigh before hanging up.

Confessions start to slip out.

They’re both tucked into their beds and sleepy and Jack tells him things he’s never told anymore before.

“I believed in Santa until I was fourteen,” he tells him one night.

“My mom ordered for me in restaurants until I was nine because I was too shy to talk,” he tells him on another.

Bittle tells him about the time he forgot that he was supposed to make a pie for his Aunt Connie’s birthday party and had to use canned filling instead of making his own.

Jack makes a scandalised sound.

“I know. I’m so ashamed,” Bittle moans. “But they couldn’t even tell the difference so I’m also offended.”

Jack’s about to tell him that he only realized grapes and raisins were the same fruit but…

“Parson and I hooked up in juniors,” Jack blurts out. He hears Bittle take a deep breath then he takes one of his own and plows on. “It wasn’t anything more than that. Not to me. I don’t think. I think he thought it was but...I ended it. I don’t regret that. Does that make me a bad person?”

“No,” Bittle says immediately. He hasn’t done much to hide the shock in his voice but Jack can understand that. What he’s telling him is a lot.

“We weren’t good together. Even if things were different, you know? If we didn’t play hockey. I used to think about that a lot but I don’t anymore. I’m sorry,” he tacks on.

“For what?”

“For dumping all this on you.”

“It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone, I swear it.”

Odds are Bittle won’t remember this in the morning. “I don’t worry about that.”

Really?

“I just mean that I trust you. I never thought you’d tell.”

“Thank you for trusting me with this.”

They’re both quiet for a few moments and Jack’s getting ready to say goodnight and let him go when Bittle speaks.

“When I was thirteen Kayla Forrester kissed me behind her mama’s tool shed. She let me feel her boob. It wasn’t my thing. So that’s my confession. Now we’re even. Kind of.”

Jack holds back his laugh for as long as he can but finally it bubbles out.

“Not funny. It’s embarrassing.”

“Was that your first kiss?”

“Yes.”

“Aww, Bits.”

“It makes it even worse.”

“I think my first kiss was a joke. She kissed me then she walked over to her friends and they all started laughing.She didn’t look happy. I’m pretty sure she did it on a dare.”

“Aww, Jack.”

“I don’t blame her. I was chubby. I’m awkward.”

“That’s not an excuse to be cruel. Still. If she could see you now.”

Jack’s not sure about that. He knows how he looks, the way people look at him and the way Shitty talks about him but he’s hardly a catch.

There’s rustling on Bittle’s end and Jack can imagine him trying to get comfortable in bed. Finding the right position and pulling up the covers and holding his stuffed rabbit close to his chest.

It’s a nice thought to fall asleep to.

 

 

Shitty kisses his forehead and Jack holds onto his elbows so he can’t jump off the bed.

“Shitty.”

“Bro.”

“What does it mean when you look forward to waking up because it means you get to talk to someone?”

Shitty sits back on his heels. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“No,” Jack says simply. “Why?”

“It means you’ve got some big boy feelings about someone.”

“What?”

“You have a crush. Actually, that sounds a lot like love.”

Jack panics. His eyes go wide and his grip on Shitty’s elbows gets tighter.

Across the hall Beyonce sings.

Ain't a doctor

But I can make you feel better

But I'm great at writing physical love letters

“Hey,” Shitty soothes. He puts a gentle hand on Jack’s jaw and makes him take several deep breaths. “You want to talk about it? Who it is or why it’s making you look like you wanna pass out?” Jack wiggles out from beneath him. “Nope. I’m gonna take a shower.”

“Jack, it’s okay.”

“I know because it’s not that. It’s not what you said.”

“Love? Bro, you can say the word.”

“It’s not that. We’ve just been spending a lot of time together lately and things have been complicated and-.”

“You’ve been spending a lot of time together lately? Besides NHL scouts the only person you’ve been spending a lot of time with lately is me.” He gasps. “Dude.”

“It’s not you, Shits.”

“You don’t have to say it like that,” Shitty grumbles. “Seriously, Jack, if you want to talk I’m here for you. Whenever.”

Jack mumbles and thanks and locks himself in their bathroom.

It’s not a crush. It’s not love.

It’s familiarity and fondness.

I can’t be a crush. It can’t be love.

He takes a long shower to calm himself down but as soon as he steps one foot into the kitchen and sees Bittle at the stove he has to back out.

“Jack, I’m making breakfast. Chocolate chip and blueberry. You like blueberry and Shitty likes chocolate chip, so…”

“I have to go for a run,” he blurts out and Bittle looks him over.

“Didn’t you just take a shower?”

“I can take another. I’ll have to take another.” He turns and slams right into Holster. “Your charger is under the couch.”

Before the door closes behind him he hears Holster say “how the fuck did he know?” and Bittle ask “was he even wearing shoes?”

He runs to the quad just like he did on the first day he left the Haus and gets yelled at by the same worker when he gets in the way.

He goes to Faber but doesn’t break in. He doesn’t feel like skating for the first time in a long time so he sits in the loading dock with his feet swinging against the brick until he’s sure his parents are at the Haus.

When he gets back he tells Bittle he’s not hungry when Bittle pulls the warm plate of food out of the oven.

He looks down at his feet when he tells everyone he’s going to take a shower and get dressed.

Shitty follows him halfway up the stairs. He’s favoring his left foot because he wasn’t there to stop him from stepping on the glass.

“Jack.”

“I’m fine, Shits. I have to get dressed and so do you.”

There’s a knock on the door as Jack is putting on his tie.

“Is it okay if I come in?” But he’s pushing open the door and closing it behind him before Jack can get a word out. “Oh good, you’re wearing the blue one. It looks nice.” Bittle sighs. “Did I do something to you?”

Jack pulls the tie too tight and has to do it all over again. “What?”

“You practically bolted out of the kitchen as soon as you saw me this morning and you didn’t eat breakfast and I was just wondering if I did something or didn’t do something...it would kill me to leave here this afternoon thinking you were mad at me and I didn’t do something to fix it.”

“I’m not mad at you, Bittle, I promise. It’s not you.”

“Okay,” Bittle says sounding less than convinced. “You’re going to strangle yourself with that tie.”

“I am not.”

“Do you want me to do it?” “No,” he snaps.

“Are you sure you’re not mad at me?” “Yes. You know how I get sometimes. There’s a lot on my mind, a lot to worry about.”

“What are you worried about?”

“Just in general. You know there’s always something.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Bittle says softly and Jack lets him step up and straighten the knot of the tie at the base of his throat. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Jack sighs and touches the knot and Bittle knocks his hand away. “You’re going to ruin it,” he says, “it’s perfect right now.”

“Thank you, Bittle.”

He smiles and flattens the tie against his chest. “If you need anything else just ask, okay? Anytime.”

They hug after the ceremony but it’s a brief thing with Jack extracting himself from Bittle’s arms much quicker than he ever did before.

“I’ll see you, Bittle,” is all he says before he turns away from him and starts wandering through the crowd.

Bittle calls out “have fun, Jack” and Jack has to force himself not to turn around.

Jack’s quiet all throughout dinner.

He gets the steak and coffee for dessert.

Bittle still texts him even though Jack didn’t tell him to.

He feels the phone buzz in his pocket but doesn’t read it.

When it’s just him and his parents back at his apartment his father brings it up.

“You were quieter than usual. Everything okay?”

“A lot on my mind,” Jack tells him as he runs his hands over his face. “Long day.”

“We’ll let you get some rest,” his mother says as she kisses his cheek.

Bob hugs him tight and Jack hugs him back. “We’re so proud of you. We’ll see you in the morning for breakfast. Maybe go to the cafe Georgia recommended?” He pats Jack’s face as Alicia gathers their coats off the back of the couch.

“Wait. Can you just wait?”

Bob’s eyebrows raise and Alicia freezes with one arm in her coat.

“Is everything alright?”

“I’m. It’s.” Jack takes a sharp breath and Alicia drops her coat.

“What is it, baby?”

It shouldn’t be this hard to say. Especially since he’ll be the only one to remember it in the morning.

“What if I liked someone,” he blurts out. It feels incredibly juvenile and he winces as his mother’s eyes light up.

“That's great, Jack.”

His father looks a little wary. It's not unwarranted.

Alicia hugs him again and cradles the back of his head in her hand. Jack can feel the cool metal of her wedding ring against the back of his neck.

“Tell us about them.”

“It's Bitty. Eric. Bittle.”

“We know who you mean, Jack.”

“Oh honey, he's adorable.”

“He's. I can't.”

“You can.” Bob grabs his shoulders and leads him to one of the chairs around the kitchen table.

Jack goes easily, his knees buckling beneath the weight of his confession.

“You absolutely can.”

“I can't. How am I supposed to do that? I can't.” His fingers slip along the fabric of his dress pants as he tries to find purchase there. To ground himself.

Alicia pulls up the chair next to him and lays an arm around his shoulders and Bob kneels in front of him and covers his frantic hands with his own.

“It might be the hardest thing you'll ever do. I'm not saying it'll be easy or everyone will be accepting, but god, Jack, if you're serious about this- if you really like him, if you think you could love him.”

Jack looks up at him when he pauses and Alicia pulls him closer. Bob’s eyes flick up towards her then back to Jack.

“If you love him, it'll be worth it.”

“I don't even know if he's interested. I mean. He can.” Do better. Have more.

Alicia rests her forehead against his shoulder for a moment then kisses his cheek.

“You’ll never know for sure if you don’t ask, Jack. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Jack huffs.

“It’ll take a lot of work and time and the stress sometimes…” He trails off and brings Jack’s hands together between his own and Jack feels like a kid again. Like he’s five and fell off his bike and his father’s about to kiss the scrapes on his palms to get him to stop crying. “Sometimes that’s what love is. But it’s also the best thing you’ll ever do if you let yourself.”

“You shouldn’t ever be afraid to fall in love,” Alicia says, “and we’re not saying it has to be now or that it has to be him.”

“I want it to be.”

The honesty shocks him. The words leave his throat raw and he shudders in his parents arms.

“Eric is a sweet boy.”

“And an excellent baker,” Bob says as he eyes the pie that Bittle sent home with him on the counter. When he looks back to Jack he’s much more serious. “You should sleep on this and talk to him in the morning. We should probably leave you to it, it’s late.”

“You could stay. The guest room is all made up. We could go to that cafe Georgia suggested for breakfast. If you want.”

Bob smiles at him. “I was thinking the exact same thing.”

Jack knocks on Bittle’s door in the morning with “I love you” on the tip of his tongue.

Bittle looks up at him with his big, brown eyes and Jack promptly loses his nerve.

“Come with me,” he says instead. “I want to show you something.”

Bittle’s hair is even more golden in the early morning sun that trickles through the windows at Faber.

He doesn’t remember him looking like this.

Love must change things.

“Are you okay, Jack?” Bittle spins around to face him. “I know I’m quick but you’re not even trying to keep up.”

Jack’s content to watch. “I know I’m not gonna win.”

“Well, not with that attitude you’re not.”

Jack laughs and jams his hands in his pockets. “I’m just thinking.”

Bittle skates in lazy curves in front of Jack and Jack follows. “‘Bout what?”

Jack shrugs and Bittle frowns.

“You can tell me if you want. If it’ll make you feel better.”

It will. It could fix everything but Jack’s never been one to make things easy on himself even when he knows he should.

Bittle’s getting close to the boards, too concerned with how Jack’s feeling to pay attention and Jack knows how this is going to go.

He skates forward a gets a hand around the back of his head to protect him.

Bittle’s hair is as soft as it’s ever been.

“Thank you,” Bittle says. It quiet but Bittle could have yelled it and he still have a hard time hearing it over the blood rushing in his ears.

“Hey.” Jack drops his hand to Bittle’s shoulder, his thumb grazes his collarbone and he can feel Bittle take a deep, stuttering breath. “Hey.” It’s like it’s the only word he knows and it’s enough for Bittle to work a hand between them and presses his hand over Jack’s heart.

“We should get back to the Haus.”

Jack puts just enough space between them for Bittle to skate his way out from between him and the glass.

“Bits.”

“Your parents are going to be here soon. You want to be there when they show up, don’t you?”

Jack knows he still has forty seven minutes until his parents get to the Haus but he nods his head and follows Bittle off the ice anyways.

It stings like rejection and Jack stays a step behind Bittle all the way back to the Haus.

Bittle is fine.

He smiles at his parents and Georgia and sets them up at the table with a slice of pie.

When he hands Jack his own piece he doesn’t even blush when their fingers overlap over the edge of the plate.

“Thank you, Bittle.”

“No problem, sweetheart.”

“Eric, this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” Alicia tells him and Bittle smiles gratefully.

“Now we know why Jack kept going on and on about you,” Bob says and Jack’s not embarrassed about that anymore.

“I meant everything I said,” Jack says and he doesn’t look away from Bittle until he turns towards the sink and sighs.

When he and Shitty go upstairs to get dressed Jack sits on his stripped mattress with his head hanging between his shoulders.

Bittle is worth it. He’s worth the risk and the time and the worry and everything his father told him about last night. He’s sure of it.

He also sure that Bitlte deserves someone brave enough to make the first move.

Jack jams his hands through his hair and falls back onto the mattress.

“Fuck,” he says to the crack in the ceiling.

The only response he gets is from Beyonce from across the hall.

In the darkest night hour

I'll search through the crowd

Your face is all that I see

I'll give you everything

Baby, love me lights out

Bittle hugs him goodbye in the middle of the quad and when he pulls away his eyes look wetter than usual.

He fiddles with Jack’s tie and his voice only shakes a little when he says “I guess the next time I see you will be on TV, huh?”

“I’ll drive up before the season starts. We’ll see each other.”

He flattens the tie against his chest and tries to smile. It doesn’t work and Jack can feel his heart clench in his chest. Bittle has to feel the way it’s hammering against his rib cage.

It's now or never. Jack could wake up tomorrow back at the Haus and he would never live this day like this again.

He won't take Bittle to Faber anymore. Won't stand next to him as he washes the dishes or hug him goodbye.

If he can't tell him how he feels right now he doesn't deserve any of that.

Bittle drops his hand off Jack’s chest and steps away.

Jack lets him.

“You're gonna do great in Providence, Jack.” His smile is weak and make it to his eyes. “Have fun.”

“Bittle.” It's all Jack can say.

Bittle looks up at him and waits.

His face twists when Jack doesn't say anything and he nods, just once, like he's disappointed but not surprised, and walks away.

His father finds him later staring stupidly at the spot where Bittle stood.

“I swear those alumni events get longer every year. Are you ready to head out?”

Jack runs his hand down his tie like he can still feel Bittle’s fingerprints against it.

“I just feel like I haven’t really said goodbye to everyone.”

“Well, it’s a bit too late to take another lap around the rink.”

“No. It’s not that.”

“Ah.” His father puts his hand on his shoulder. “You know what your uncle always says. ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’”

Jack turns on his heels to face him.

“Go say goodbye. You won’t be back here for sometime, you know?”

That’s not true. It’s a handful of hours but that suddenly seems like a lifetime right now.

“If that’s what your heart is telling you, you should go,” Bob continues, “go really say goodbye.”

“Oh,” Jack says and then he takes off running.

He weaves his way through what’s left of the crowd and takes off into a sprint when he finally gets through them.

If Jack were out for a normal run it would take him twelve minutes to get from the the quad to the Haus.

He makes it today in seven.

The front door is still unlocked but the Haus is silent as he runs up the stairs yelling Bittle’s name.

Bittle’s room is empty but there’s music playing behind him.

I found a way to let you in

But, I never really had a doubt

Standing in the light of your halo

I got my angel now

Bittle’s standing there folding Chowder’s clothes.

He’s changed into a sweatshirt and jeans and Jack has never seen anything better.

“Bittle,” Jack says. He’s closer now. The music is so loud in his earbuds that Bittle didn’t even heard his footsteps against the hardwood so he puts a hand on his back.

Bittle jumps and whirls around, ripping the earbud out as he moves.

“Hello, Jack.” Bittle’s eyes scan his face and Jack knows he looks awful. Winded and sweaty and there’s no way Bittle could ever want him like this. “Oh my goodness. Why are---is everything alright? You’re out of breath. You could have texted--.”

“Bitty.”

Bittle stops and takes a huge breath and Jack ducks down and kisses him.

Jack presses one hand as lightly as he can to the side of Bittle’s face and tightens his grip in the back of his sweatshirt.

Bittle puts a hand on Jack’s chest, right over his tie, and holds Jack’s hip with the other and kisses him back.

If kissing Bitty doesn’t fix it he doesn’t care. He’d happily do it over and over again.

He’ll kiss him first thing in the morning before Shitty comes through his window and Countdown ends.

At breakfast and while they do the dishes and when Jack asks him to pick a tie for him.

Jack pulls back just enough to see Bittle, eyes closed and eyelashes fanned against his cheek.

He can’t believe he waited this long to do this and he kisses him again.

His phone buzzes in his pocket and he ignores it until he can’t anymore.

“That’s my phone. I should uh…” There’s a text from his mom on his phone but he’s too love drunk to read it. He can guess what it says. They’re going to be late for their reservation. Where is he?

“Oh.” Bittle says softly. He sounds how Jack feels.

“I gotta go. I gotta go but I’ll text you.”

Jack runs his hands down Bittle’s arms until they’re pressed palm to palm and Bitty moves up on his toes to kiss him again.

“I’ll text you,” he says and Bittle nods with his phone pressed to his chest.

Jack texts him I should have done that weeks ago before he gets out the front door and runs back to the quad.

 

 

Jack wakes up to his alarm.

There’s no crack in the ceiling, smoke coming through the window, or Beyonce coming from across the hall.

He’s in Providence in his new apartment, in his new bed.

He swings his arm over to his night stand and fumbles for his phone to check the date.

May 19th, 2015.

He drops his phone onto the bed and covers his face with both hands.

His happy laugh fills the empty apartment.

His phone dings with a text notification and his smile only gets wider when he looks at it.

It’s from Bittle. A picture of a pie on a kitchen counter that Jack has never seen before and a message.

Miss you already.

Jack types out Miss you too and hits send.

He holds the phone over his heart as he waits for a response and breathes in and out.

His phone dings again. A string of heart emojis and how do you feel about coming down on for the 4th?

Can’t wait, Jack sends back and he sets his phone down on the night stand.

He smiles then gets up and starts his day.