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Smearing a dollop of sun cream on his daughter’s nose, Eric sat back on his haunches and stared at her. She was clad in her little Wonder Woman tank-ini, her floaters attached to her upper arms in bright red with a gold W. Her tight curls were twisted into messy buns on either side of her head, and her freckles were growing darker against her olive skin with each passing moment of warm sun.

Normally this was Annie’s job. The nanny who took care of Beatriz most afternoons, but Bitty was using up his holiday time he’d been sitting on for weeks and weeks now that their pool with the water slides and the splash pad had opened. It was brightly coloured, sat in a pool of foot-deep water, in blues, yellows, and reds against the sharp spring sky.

They’d got there early, half an hour before the park officially opened to the public, and Trissy had been sat on the lounger under the large white umbrella, more patient than any three year old had any right to be. She had her little legs crossed at the ankles, swinging back and forth, her white, glittery sandals sparkling in the warm sun.

It was a perfect day, Eric decided. The opening of the community pool, which gave him the option to enjoy his daughter, and maybe—just a little it—oogle the life guards. Or well, one in particular. Head lifeguard, who Eric had noticed last year when they’d bought the house in the area.

Lardo had been the one to tell Eric about the place. A gated community of modern homes, right in his budget, and a perfect place for kids with several parks and hiking trails. There were cascades of willows lining the walkways, keeping the place shaded and cooler in the hotter summer months.

Eric’s job kept him busy, so it was these moments of saved up holiday time which he hoarded like a dragon, that he treasured so much. He and Beatriz had moved in, fresh from the divorce, both a little sore and missing Nathan a little—not enough to try and put up with his issues—but enough they spent nights on the sofa in front of Princess Sophia with several blankets and ice cream, and Eric whispering to her that he was sure Nathan missed her, and he was sure he’d call soon.

It was a lie. But he wasn’t going to tell her that.

The pool was set to close three weeks after Eric and Beatriz moved in, so Eric scrambled for a little time off to take Trissy to the final hurrah which had swim parties during the day, and a movie night where families could lounge on rafts and watch Disney films on a huge projector.

It was there Eric had noticed him. The lifeguards only worked during season, and only during the day when the water slides and splash pad was running. He was tall, wide shoulders, strangely pale for having a job which kept him in the sun most days. He had black hair which was stiff with product, a visor tucked low over his brows, sitting right on top of mirrored aviators. He wore the usual uniform—the white muscle shirt with red letters spelling LIFEGUARD across the chest, and red shorts hanging halfway down his thigh.

The first thing Eric noticed about his body were the scars. Like his left leg had been shredded to pieces and stitched back together with a quilting needle. They were thick, running zig-zag from thigh to shin, and his knee didn’t bend like his right leg. He walked with a slight limp, but it didn’t seem to impede him in any way as he spent half his shift walking back and forth the length of the pool, a floating device tucked under one arm, a red whistle dangling from his white teeth.

Eric was in love. In that ridiculous, unobtainable, superficial sort of way.

The guy was a damn Adonis and Eric wanted to climb him like a tree. He wouldn’t, of course. I mean, for one the guy was probably straight, and two Eric was a very busy single father and although he knew he wasn’t unattractive, he certainly didn’t think he’d catch this guy’s attention with his Disney Princess beach bag, and fourteen bottles of sun cream, and squeezy packets of apple sauce.

So he resigned himself to watching, to listening to the only word he ever heard the man say—a sharp whistle and the deadpan, “Walk,” as though any of the children would ever listen—and his quiet fantasies of maybe stretching out on a lounger, and waking up to that soft smile over him, and warm hands that…

Eric shook himself out of it.

It was the start of summer, and swim season, and ridiculous life guards who wouldn’t give him the time of day.

***

Jack Zimmermann didn’t mind his summer job. It kept him busy, kept him from sitting at home feeling overwhelmed and so, so alone. During the year he was a history teacher, and a swimming coach, and he kept busy with all of those things.

But during summer, with nothing to do, things started to get…quiet. And when things got quiet, his brain got louder. His brain started replying his old career—retiring from the NHL three short years after entering after a drunk driver t-boned his car and destroyed his chances of playing again. His brain spent hours telling him it was his fault, everything he could have done differently. Staying just five minutes longer, leaving five minutes earlier, taking a right instead of a left, taking public transport instead of the hired car.

Logically he knew that what happened had happened and there was no sense in dwelling on the what-ifs. His therapist had worked him through a lot of it, and his anti-anxiety meds helped. But not enough. Not when there wasn’t much to occupy him.

So he took the job. He’d been working out at the gym in the community centre when one of the personal trainers mentioned it as a joke. “Yo, Zimms. You’re a swim coach right? You wanna fill this opening for life guard?”

Jack, without even thinking twice, had just shrugged and said, “Yeah, why not.”

The guy had stared at him a long time, then said, “Shit man, really?”

And then Jack had taken the job.

Five years later, he was still working during summers. It wasn’t the most rewarding. It was a lot of walking, which was hell on his knee, but he didn’t think as much. His eyes, still sharp as they’d been on ice, checked for kids in distress, for people playing too rough, diving in water too shallow.

Of course ninety percent of his job was spent puffing on his whistle, and telling kids who would never listen, to walk.

Then he’d switch posts, take up the shaded chair over the diving board pool, and spend the rest of his shift waving kids off the edge for their jumps.

It was unfulfilling, but it was busy work. And it was fine.

The start of season was always the biggest pain. It was the day filled with music and food trucks, and everyone with kids—and their families, and their kids, and their neighbours kids—who showed up to enjoy the opening. It meant fresh into summer students—half of whom he knew, seniors who had just graduated, his new sophomores feeling more and more adult every day, the juniors heading into their final year feeling both brave and nervous at the same time. It meant young kids who were just getting out from under their parents’ watchful eyes. It meant the little ones, adorable in their little character bathing costumes holding inflatable rings, and dancing to the music they didn’t understand.

It was exhausting, and chaotic, and sweet, and home all at the same time.

It was nearing high noon, with the warm sun overhead making his back feel raw and crisped even under all of his sun protection. He was walking the edge of the splash pad when he felt a tug on his shorts, and he looked down at a small girl wearing a little frown, her wet buns dripping into her face.

“Yes?” he said, feeling antsy. His job was to walk, and watch, and never take his eyes off the water. “Are you okay?”

“But um…but I can’t find my daddy,” she said. Then proceeded to try and climb him.

Jack’s reaction was automatic. His arm came down, lifted the girl, and tucked her on his hip. He wondered at himself—why had he done that? His job would have been to hand her off to someone else, to make an announcement to find the girl’s father.

But Jack was fairly sure he’d seen this little girl before. Usually with a taller woman with dark hair, but also with the man who was likely her father. The man had caught Jack’s eye last swim season. They showed up just before the season had ended, bright and excited—likely having just bought in the community. The father was fairly short, lean, freckles across his tanned shoulders, his blonde hair a little sun-bleached, honey blonde with lighter streaks. Jack had heard him talking to the small girl, his voice molasses-thick with a southern drawl which went straight to his gut.

Jack didn’t often find himself interested in people without knowing them first, so he ignored the pooling heat in his belly and carried on walking the pool, his eyes sharp and trained on the water.

Now he had the man’s daughter in his arms. After she admitted to being lost, she tucked her face against his neck, pushed her thumb into her mouth, and her other hand which had wrapped round him, pushed into his hair and began to twist it through her fingers.

Jack cleared his throat, looking a little panicked. He couldn’t do this. Distraction was dangerous, and missing children were to be walked by another guard, to the guard station, and a PA announcement would be called.

Only when Michelle tried to take the small girl away after noticing Jack had stopped walking, the little girl gave an ear-piercing shriek and clung even tighter to Jack. “No!”

Jack looked at Michelle, his face helpless even as she attempted not to laugh at him. “You go head, I’ll take over.”

He let her take his things, everything but his whistle, then he stepped out of the path of running children. “Okay,” he said, breathing out. The guard station was crowded, so Jack scanned the benches and groups of people for a possible frantic father. “Do you know where your stuff was?”

“Um,” she said, then shrugged. “I don’t think.”

Jack’s brow furrowed. “You don’t think so? What’s your papa’s name?”

“Um but…but he’s…my daddy,” she said.

Jack tried not to sigh, his stomach clenching with endearment and a little annoyance. “Does he have a name besides daddy?”

“I don’t…think,” she said. She perched up on his shoulder and poked at her stomach. “I’m…I’m haff some Wonder Woman.”

“I see that. You want to be like Wonder Woman and help me find your daddy?”

“Um…” She clung a little harder, putting her thumb in her mouth, and shrugged.

Jack scrubbed at his face with his free hand, but just when he decided to give up and brave the huge crowd, a figure which wasn’t more than a blur, all-but barrelled into him, hands pulling the small girl from his grasp. He fought it for a second, instinct to protect the child taking over, but then he heard the man’s drawl and his grip loosened.

“Beatriz, I cannot believe you…I just…lord in heaven, child I swear to god you’re trying to give me a coronary.” The man was breathing heavy, clutching the toddler to his chest, staring up at Jack with very big, very dark eyes which were red-rimmed and half-panicked. “I am so sorry. I swear I turned around for a second and she ran off. I thought I was gonna lose my mind. Thank god for you. Thank you.”

Jack shook his head, feeling his heart beating a little rapidly, but he managed a sheepish smile. “It’s alright. She’s a very smart girl. She found someone with authority which is exactly what she should do.”

The man’s nose wrinkled and he shook his head. “What she should do is not go wanderin’ off when I’m looking for the dang sun cream, but here we are. Seriously I don’t…it’s just so crowded here. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“It’s what we’re here for,” Jack said softly. The man’s smile made something inside Jack go soft, wanting, and he shoved it down. “I have to get back to my post but…if you need anything…”

The man waved him off, and Jack watched as he wandered back to the umbrella covered lounger, holding the girl tight, talking to her rapidly. He ignored Michelle’s eyebrow waggle as he took his things back, and tried not to focus on the swooping feeling in his gut, and more on giving sharp whistle blows, and being a little more forceful when telling kids to walk.

***

Eric was shaken, but determined to enjoy his week off—and the amenities he was paying for when he agreed to the HOA terms during the house sale. Beatriz was more than excited to head back to the pool, and Eric couldn’t get the sight of Jack holding tight to his daughter when he was sure the next sight was going to be her face-down in a pool of water.

He’d never been more terrified, and more relieved.

With their pool things, Eric also had a small container filled with mini sugar pies as his thank you. He’d spent half an hour on skype with his momma who reminded him he should give the lifeguard a thank you for helping Beatriz avoid a potential disaster.

Eric, of course, was a good Southern gentleman, and was already mixing up the filling as his momma was suggesting it.

When they arrived at the pool, Eric didn’t catch sight of Jack which disappointed him, but half an hour after the water slides and splash pad turned on, he found him. Jack was supervising the diving pool, so Eric turned to Annie and smiled sweetly. “Darlin’…would you…”

“Go,” Annie said with a laugh. “Jill isn’t going to be here until eleven. Go flirt with your Canadian Adonis and give him your pies.”

Eric rolled his eyes. “Only you could make that sound dirty. It’s nothing more than a simple thank you.”

“If that’s what you need to tell yourself to sleep at night…” She laughed as she grabbed Beatriz and headed into the shallow water of the splash pad.

With a breath, Eric made his way toward the diving pool, and waited until Jack was between his whistle blow and hand wave to let the other kid go down. “Erm,” he said.

Jack startled, then looked down. Behind his aviators, Eric saw his eyebrows raise. “Hi. Um. Is everything…alright?”

Eric flushed, but nodded. “I know you’re busy but…” He paused as Jack waved another kid along. “I wanted to say thanks and…”

“I really can’t talk,” Jack said. “I…I want to,” he carried on, almost sounding in a hurry, “but I’m…” He gestured toward the line of kids waiting to dive, then waved another along. “I have a break at noon. Can we…then?”

“Yes, yeah. Of course,” Eric said. “I’m just over there.” He waved at his bench, and Jack nodded, then he hurried off lest his presence be a problem for anyone else who might need Jack.

By noon, Annie had taken off with her girlfriend, and Beatriz had fallen asleep on the lounger, several towels draped over her body. Eric was curled up against the back of the seat, scrolling through his emails, trying not to think of the work-load he was going to have when his holiday was over.

He didn’t look up until a hesitant voice cleared his throat, and his eyes went wide behind his shades when he saw Jack there looking a little sheepish, one hand rubbing at the back of his neck. Jack’s usual shades and visor were missing, his hair sticking up in a bit of disarray, and somehow he managed to look even more gorgeous than usual.

“Oh. Hi,” Eric said, snapping out of his daze. He sat up on the chair, shifting his legs over. “Break time?”

Jack gave a very small smile. “Yeah, not long but…I said I’d come by?”

Eric rustled through his bag, and quickly pulled out the small pies. “I wanted to…I mean okay, I know it’s your job to take care of these kids, but when I couldn’t find her…it was only minutes, you know? But it felt like forever and I just kept thinking…” He trailed off, swallowing thickly, willing himself not to give into the panic he still felt when he thought about what might have happened. He cleared his throat quickly, then offered a grin. “Anyway, I made you these. They’re um…sugar pies? I looked up recipes last night…Canadian sweets.”

Jack’s eyes went wide, and he sat down at the end of Eric’s lounger as he took the container and pried the lid off. When he glanced back at Eric, his gaze was full of…something. Maybe wonder, maybe appreciation, Eric couldn’t exactly tell, but it seemed fond. “Thank you,” he eventually said. “I haven’t had these in a while. My dad…he makes them for holidays sometimes but…” He gave a small laugh. “Thank you.”

“It’s the least I could do, believe me.” Eric then had the realisation he’d never even properly introduced himself, and he stuck out his hand. “My name is Eric, by the way. Eric Bittle? And the sleeping one is Beatriz.”

Jack huffed a small laugh and took Eric’s hand in his. His palm was warm, very soft, grip sure but not the overly-tight handshake of someone trying to prove something. “Jack Zimmermann.”

Eric flushed, loving the way Jack spoke. His accent was muted, likely from having lived away from his native tongue for so long, but it softened the edges of his words, and Eric loved it. “Well…I don’t want to keep you if you have to run off but…if you have a moment…”

“I do,” Jack said. He glanced round, and his cheeks were pinker when he looked back, but he didn’t look like he wanted to rush off. “I have a minute or two.”

Eric laughed. “Good. Anyway…would it be terrible if I asked you to try them? The sugar pies? It’s just…if you don’t like them, I can make you something else. Maple apple pies or some sort of cookie…whatever you want.”

“You don’t have to go to any trouble,” Jack insisted, but all the same, he reached into the container, then popped one of the small pies in his mouth in one go. After a second, he groaned and said thickly, “This is amazing. Do you…is that what you do? Bake?”

Eric laughed. “Oh honey, no. I mean…lord I thought about it, you know? Back when I was killing myself in grad school. Thought, hell I could just drop out and say fuck it, and go work in some bakery. But I had a feeling making it my job would suck all the fun out of it, and I didn’t want that. But I’ve been baking since I was knee-high.”

“Well, these are amazing,” Jack said, flushed still.

Before Eric could say anything else, the little bundle under towels shifted. Beatriz’s tousled head popped up, and when her bleary, nap-tired eyes fixed on Jack, she scrambled out and onto his lap before Eric could stop her.

Jack let out a small laugh, setting the pies aside, and he wrapped his arms round her. “Hello. Did you have a good sleep?”

She didn’t answer, just nuzzled against him, thumb in her mouth. Eric flushed and shifted toward her. “I’m so sorry. She…well she actually never does this, but she doesn’t quite understand personal space so…”

“It’s fine,” Jack said, his grin still soft, still genuine. “I really don’t mind.”

Eric hesitated. He wanted to believe Jack, but his first instinct was always to feel like a burden, and he had to bite the inside of his cheek lightly to keep from arguing back. “Well, she seems to have taken a shine to you…so that’s…good.”

Jack chuckled and nodded. “Yeah. I’m glad you’re enjoying the community.” He sighed then, and shifted Beatriz. “I…euh. Well, I have to go. I’m back on shift in a minute, and I have a couple things to do inside first. I’m sorry.”

“Oh lord, don’t you dare apologise, Mr Zimmermann. Here, let me take her, and don’t you forget those pies.”

“Oh,” Jack said, clutching the container to his chest. “I won’t. It was…it was really nice to meet you, Eric. I’ll be seeing you around?”

Eric felt his face go hot, and he nodded. “Count on it.”

***

Jack’s heart was thumping so hard he could hear it in his ears as he hurried inside. He still had ten minutes of his break left, but if he’d stayed any longer, his brain and mouth would have betrayed him. Jack had never been good with signals, never been good at reading people. He was a hundred and ten percent, and he was terrified of ruining something good by jumping in too fast.

And he was on the verge. Watching Eric’s soft smile, holding his daughter like that…it was too warm and too nice, and he wanted. God…god he wanted.

Jack closed the door to the break room, standing under the AC vent as it dumped freezing air over him, and he clutched the pies to his chest.

Eric looking up Canadian sweets, giving this to him—just for him, for doing nothing more than his job—didn’t necessarily mean something.

His shaking hands reached into his locker to put the pies away, and grab his phone. He scrolled through his contacts, and sent SOS to Shitty. The response was immediate.

What can I help with, my gorgeous Canadian god?

I think I like someone, but I can’t tell if he likes me and I feel like my head is exploding and my heart is trying to beat out of my chest.

Holy fucking shit you glorious mother fucker. We are talking tonight. I’m at the office until seven. Will you be free after?

If I don’t drown myself in the kiddie pool, yes.

Not even a funny joke, brah. I’ll call you then. We’ll work this out. Operation Get Jack A Boyfriend commencing at 20:30

Jack shoved his phone away, then did his best to compose himself, grabbed an extra water, and went out to relieve Jake on the water slides a few minutes early. And if he passed by Eric and gave him a wave, and a wink at the little girl well…Jack could just chalk it up to being friendly.

And if Eric blushed, and waved back, well…it didn’t necessarily mean anything.

Right?

***

“Tell me everything,” Shitty said as Jack slumped on the sofa.

Jack pressed the phone close to his ear and sighed. “I…don’t know what there is to say. He moved here last year. I saw him at the end of last season, but we didn’t talk.”

“But you noticed.”

Jack groaned. “Yes, Shitty. I noticed. He’s a single dad, I think. There’s a woman who takes his daughter to swim sometimes, but I saw her kissing someone else today in front of Eric.”

“So this gorgeous man who’s captured your heart…his name is Eric?”

“His name is Eric,” Jack repeated. “His daughter is Beatriz. I think she’s maybe three? I’m not sure. Anyway she ended up getting lost and I helped her find him yesterday. So today he baked me sugar pies.”

“Is that a euphemism, Jackabelle?”

“Fuck you, no,” Jack said, scrubbing a hand down his face. “Literal sugar mini pies. He said he wanted to make me something Canadian.”

“Marry him,” Shitty said simply.

“Yes, because a solid basis for marriage is lost children and sugar pies,” Jack said, deadpan. “I spent some of my break with him, and he seemed…interested. I think? He smiled a lot, blushed a lot. He seemed kind of embarrassed when his daughter climbed in my lap, but it was…” Jack hesitated, then sighed. “Sweet.”

Shitty made an inhuman noise, then sighed. “My beautiful son is growing up.”

“Please stop,” Jack groaned.

“Look…if you think there’s a shot, go for it. What would Shelly say?”

Jack closed his eyes, thinking about his therapist, and wondering if maybe he should have actually called her instead of Shitty. “She’d tell me the worst Eric can do is say no. And that no doesn’t mean I’m not worth dating.”

“So…” Shitty pressed.

Jack bit his lip. “Tomorrow’s my day off and I was going to stay home but…maybe I’ll sit out by the pool and…see if I can talk to him?” It came out like a question, but Jack was allowing himself to feel hope, and confidence.

“I believe in you. I think this is destiny,” Shitty urged.

“And if he’s seeing someone…”

“Then he is. I know you’re not interested in people often, but it will happen again if this doesn’t work out. You’re worth it, babe.”

Jack nodded, and breathed, then allowed himself a smile. “I think I’m going to try.”

He could practically hear Shitty’s grin in his voice when he said, “That’s my boy. I love you, Jack.”

Jack smiled back at him, feeling lighter already. “I love you too, Shits.”

***

Eric was staring at his mother, wide-eyed, the link on the screen daring him to click it. “Momma…”

“I’m just,” she said, laughing. “The son of Bad Bob Zimmermann. And you know I’m not a big hockey fan but…Bad Bob. Dicky he was…”

Eric breathed out, clicked the link, and found himself staring at a picture of Jack, the lifeguard. Jack Zimmermann, who’d kept his daughter safe, who had his pies, and had maybe, possibly flirted. Jack, who was also on the ice, expression fiercely determined, in bright blue, gloves gripping a hockey stick.

The next link had Jack Zimmermann grinning so wide it nearly split his face, the giant, shining Stanley Cup over his head as he skated a lap round the ice.

He was an NHL player.

Was, being the operative word.

“What happened?” Eric found himself asking.

“Accident, I think,” Suzanne replied, sounding distracted like she was scrolling through something. “About ten years ago, maybe more? I want to say it was a drunk driver, hit his car or something, but I can’t be sure.”

It would explain the scars, the limp, the way he couldn’t bend his knee.

“I can’t believe you know him, Dicky.”

Eric laughed. “Yeah well…neither can I. I mean…I don’t know anything hockey so I wouldn’t have ever realised but…” He trailed off, staring at Jack again. He looked so different—sadder, maybe. A look that said he was dedicated to his career, but what else did he have.

After signing off with Suzanne, Eric couldn’t help himself from doing further research. It was a car crash. It had left Jack in a coma, his leg almost being amputated. He was full of rods and pins and metal now. Three years after entering the NHL, he retired from it. He fell off the radar, and the Wiki article said he’d gone to Samwell, got into grad school after, and was now a professor and swim coach right in Eric’s city.

He blew out a puff of air and sat back, wondering if he’d have the nerve to bring it up, if Jack ever spent time with him again.

***

Eric felt a bit foolish dragging himself to the pool the next day without Trissy, but she was feeling fussy and she and Annie decided to have a day in. Eric decided to enjoy some sun—heading out to the water early while people used the lanes, and the slides and splash pad were still closed.

He found a lounger half in the shade, half in the sun, and loaded up on sun cream before laying out and closing his eyes. He found the sounds of the swimmers doing laps soothing, and he’d nearly slipped into a doze before he heard his name.

“Eric?”

Sitting up, Eric squinted against the sun, then smiled when he realised who it was. “Jack! You’re not in uniform.”

Jack glanced down at his swim shorts and t-shirt, then laughed. “Oh euh. No. No, today’s my day off. Are you…is anyone else sitting here or…?”

Eric’s eyes flew to the lounger next to him, and he shuffled over slightly. “Oh, gosh no. I’m by myself today.”

Jack hesitated before laying his towel out, then stretching his legs out in front of him. He smiled at Eric, his brows behind his shades up a little. “You don’t mind the company?”

“Well…not yours,” Eric said, being a little blatant, and enjoying the way Jack’s cheeks pinked a bit. “I thought you’d be sick of this place though. Day off and all?”

“I like it here,” Jack said with a shrug. “Nice to be on the other side of things. Some days.”

Eric bit his lip as he shifted onto his side a little, head propped up against the back of the lounger. “You coach, right? The high school?”

Jack laughed. “Yeah. Did someone say?”

“Um,” Eric said, and covered his face. “This is so embarrassing. I told my momma about…about you helping with Beatriz, and she um…recognised your last name? Apparently she’s a huge fan of your dad’s. Lord have mercy, she was so excited that I knew you. I guess she followed your career before the…um…”

“Accident,” Jack offered. He rubbed at the back of his neck, sighing. “A lot of people don’t realise. I mean, sometimes they recognise me for my dad, but this isn’t really a hockey city, which I like.”

“I’m sorry,” Eric said, his voice small.

Jack looked at him sharply. “No! No, I don’t mind. It’s been a long time. I just kind of forgot that it happens. The students sometimes get excited because I have a Wikipedia page, but by the time they get their first exam they’re over the fact that I’m technically famous.”

Eric laughed. “I’ll just bet. Do you like it? Teaching and coaching?”

Jack shrugged. “I do. When I was younger, I euh…I took a year off. After the draft. Coached some peewee hockey and after the accident I realised it was something I had enjoyed, something I was good at. I like the older students,” Jack said, smiling a little. “Easier to reason with.”

Eric laughed. “Tell me about it. I don’t think I was sufficiently warned about this whole parenting thing before I got involved in it.”

Jack hesitated, then asked, “Is she…are you…” He laughed. “I’m not sure how to say this without being rude.”

“I’m a southern man livin’ outside the south, Jack. I can take it, believe me.”

Jack laughed again. “Alright, fair. Are you and her…other parent still together?”

Eric smiled. “No. We’ve been split up a while now. Actually, after the split is when I bought here. We adopted her together, but after things fell apart, he decided he wasn’t really interested in the whole parent thing. It was hard on her, but she’s not really askin’ after him anymore.”

Jack bowed his head. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Eric said. “She’s got me, and Annie. And she took a real shine to you so…”

Jack flushed again, and laughed. “Well the feeling is mutual. She’s sweet.”

Eric felt hesitation blooming in his gut, but he wanted to go for it, wanted to just…put himself out there. Jack wasn’t sitting next to him for nothing, and…and why not. “Can I ask you something?”

Jack nodded. “Of course. Anything.”

“Would you maybe…I mean…lord I’m nervous. Okay. I…could we maybe get dinner sometime? Like a date?”

“Oh,” Jack said, and sounded so dejected, Eric tensed and started to stand.

“God, I read this all wrong. You’re probably straight and I just…I swear I don’t go round trying to hit on straight guys. I’m so sorry I…”

“No,” Jack said in a rush, reaching out to grab Eric’s wrist before he hurried away. “I was just…I was just going to ask you myself. Um. But I was nervous.”

Eric felt relief hit him so hard, he was almost dizzy with it as he flopped back down to the lounger. He was profoundly aware Jack was still holding his wrist, the light grip keeping him pinned like a three tonne weight. “Oh. So…is that a yes?”

Jack laughed, nodding, and carefully drew his hand away. “That’s a yes. Any time.”

Eric smiled. “Tonight too soon?”

Jack’s grin got even bigger as he leant in closer. “Tonight isn’t soon enough.”

***

It had been a long time since he’d done this, kissing in the car like some hormonal teenager. Only they were outside Eric’s house, and the nanny was inside with the kid, and Jack was a grown man and falling fast and hard in love with the vivacious blonde in the seat next to him.

It was so much.

Eric was so much, but in the best way. Even this late at night, his skin felt sun warm, lips soft as they did a careful dance of push-pull against Jack’s own mouth, just a tease of tongue and a little teeth nipping at his bottom lip.

Jack groaned, tugging Eric closer, his eyes fluttering closed, his heart hammering in his chest as Eric pulled away, then pushed their foreheads together. “I like you,” he breathed.

Eric huffed a laugh, curling his fingers into the back of Jack’s hair. “Well, don’t you know it, Mr Zimmermann? But I like you too.”

“Can I see you again?” Jack asked.

Eric smiled, kissing him again, drawing it out and out before pulling back to answer. “When?”

“Tomorrow too soon?” Jack asked.

Eric laughed, bright and happy as he leant in as close as he could, lips brushing up against Jack’s as he murmured, “Tomorrow isn’t soon enough.”