Sitting down with Jack Zimmermann: Talking to hockey’s prodigal son, about winning the Stanley Cup, mental health in sports, and his sexuality
By James Thornton
I meet Jack Zimmermann on a Tuesday morning at his Providence, RI apartment. It’s a sleek penthouse with large windows that give a fantastic view of the city below. The apartment is tastefully decorated with modern furniture that fits so well I have to ask if it was professionally styled. When I do, Jack tells me that it was actually his mother who’d chosen everything. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Alicia Zimmermann has impeccable taste.
After checking whether I’d like anything to drink before we start, Jack invites me to take a seat on one of the couches in his living room while he sits diagonally from me on another.
JT: Jack, I’d like to start by thanking you for inviting me here today.
JZ: Thank you for coming.
JT: And congratulations on winning your second Stanley Cup! Two cups in five years is an impressive accomplishment. What was it like winning the cup as the team’s captain this year?
JZ: It’s an accomplishment I’m proud of. I’m lucky to have such a great group of guys to work with. Everyone gave it their all this season and it paid off.
JT: After winning your first cup your rookie year, you sat down with your father in an interview where you talked about your past struggles with mental health. How are you doing these days?
JZ: I’ve been doing well. The entire Falcs organization has been incredibly supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better work environment. And I still see a therapist regularly, which is a good idea for anyone who struggles with mental illness.
JT: You speaking out about mental health was groundbreaking in the hockey community. And now today you’ve said you want to share something even more personal with the world. What do you want to talk about in this interview, Jack?
JZ: I asked for this interview today so that I could publicly come out as bisexual.
JT: What made you decide that this was the time?
JZ: I’ve spent my entire life focused only on hockey. From the time I first put on skates, all I ever wanted was to play hockey. But I’m thirty now. I had a pretty nasty knee injury that knocked me out for a third of last season and I was lucky that I healed as quickly as I did. It put things into perspective for me. Hockey’s not going to last forever and it’s about time for me to think not only about what will come after hockey, but also about the legacy I want to leave behind.
I faced a lot of adversity to get to where I am. I grew up in my father’s shadow. I dealt with anxiety in my teenage years that nearly killed me. I worked through four years at BC to get back to a place where I could join an NHL team. And the entire time I put my sexuality and self-identity on the back-burner. I made hockey my identity instead.
And that’s led me here. I’m thirty-years-old. I’ve been the captain of an NHL team for two years, and I had the A for almost three before that. I’ve won two Stanley Cups and enough awards I’d feel arrogant to sit here and list them all. I know that I can’t be the only player in the league who isn’t straight. But I’m possibly in the best position to come out. I’ve dealt with negative media my entire life, nasty comments from journalists and sports commentators and online haters don’t affect me the way they used to. It’s worth it if my coming out can give others reassurance that they can play too.
JT: Do you worry that people will argue that your sexuality does affect your playing?
JZ: They can try, but my stats speak for themselves.
JT: Do your teammates know about your sexuality? Has it ever affected your relationships with them?
JZ: My teammates all know. They have known for years and they’ve been nothing but supportive. If anything I think it’s made my relationships and friendships stronger by trusting them with this part of myself.
JT: I’m sure that a lot of readers will be wondering, is there a special someone in your life that’s helped lead you to this decision?
JZ: No. I’m not seeing anyone, but I hope that being out might make it easier when I find someone someday.
JT: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap things up?
JZ: I just want to thank everyone that’s supported me and my career, from my parents, to my friends and teammates, and all of the fans who have cheered me on. It means a lot to me. I also want anyone who’s reading this who wants to play hockey, or any other sport, but feels discouraged because they’re different to know that they can play. They should be able to play. It shouldn’t matter who your parents are, what your sexual orientation is, what religion you practice, or what color your skin is. It might be hard, but there are people out there who will support you and love you just as you are. I hope everyone’s lucky enough to find that.
JT: Well said, Jack. One last thing, you’ve now had two landmark interviews, one after each Cup win. What will you share with us if you win a third?
JZ: I guess you’ll just have to wait and see, eh?
Before leaving his apartment, Jack took a moment to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything. Of all the press trips he’d been sent on this summer this was the shortest and closest to home but it would still be a pain to have to double back.
He’d known when he’d decided to come out that it would turn his summer into a never-ending media tour, but knowing hadn’t kept him from being exhausted by it. It was a relief to finally be nearing the end of August with the preseason in sight and his long list of media engagements coming to an end. This trip to Boston would cover two of his last three filmed interviews and the third was scheduled in Providence so he wouldn’t have to travel for it.
Ever since his birth, Jack had had people interested in his personal life, but this was on an entirely different level. Coming out wasn’t something he regretted, not at all, but it was something that he wished he hadn’t done alone.
The support of his teammates and his family meant a lot to him, meant more to him than he could really say, but at the end of the day he still came home alone. Wanting to be in a relationship had never been his style before since historically he wasn’t great at serious relationships. His exes all had similar complaints, he was too distant and a workaholic and terrible at deciphering emotions, both his own and others’. It had been a few years since his last attempt at a relationship.
Sure, he’d tried dating more, but it had never come easily to him. It also hadn't helped that he’d gotten tangled up with Kent again for a while. That definitely wasn’t a relationship, but after they’d made up during his second year in the league they’d quickly fallen back into old habits. Hooking up with Kent when they were in the same city was easy when they were both in the closet because even if things ended up getting messy between them again, neither could out the other without it being mutually assured destruction. But they’d officially broken things off last year when they finally admitted that there would never be a future between them.
After that, Jack had resigned himself to just being seen as an unloveable hockey robot for the rest of his life.
That prospect bothered him now much more than it used to.
When Jack entered the building that held the Bon Appétit offices he had to sign in at the security desk before being sent upstairs where he was greeted by a receptionist who introduced herself as Annie.
As she led him through the office she explained a bit about what he should expect for the shoot. Jack had read the full brief that his media team had been sent, but it was still nice to confirm what order things would be happening.
“Normally these Back-to-Back Chef episodes are hosted by Carla, but she ended up not being able to make it up from New York at the last minute. And since you have a very busy schedule, we’ve got Eric covering today. He’ll take things from here.” Annie said, bringing Jack over to a short blond man before turning to head back to her desk.
The blond man turned to Jack, holding out his hand, “Mister Zimmermann, it’s so nice to meet you! My name’s Eric Bittle and I’ll be on camera with you today.” He grinned up at Jack as Jack shook his hand and Jack froze for a second looking into Eric’s deep brown eyes. They were eyes that would be easy to get lost in.
“Um, it’s nice to meet you too,” Jack said, feeling his cheeks heat.
Eric waited a second, as if he expected Jack to continue, but when Jack didn’t say anything else he started explaining exactly what they’d be filming. The concept was simple, they’d stand back to back and Eric would coach Jack through cooking a fairly simple recipe. But Jack still felt nervous about being filmed while attempting to cook.
“So,” Eric said as his spiel seemed to be winding down, “do you have any questions or concerns about any of that?”
“I can’t cook,” was all Jack managed in response. To his surprise, Eric just laughed.
“Don’t you worry about that! I’ll have you know that I’ve taught plenty of clueless jocks their way around a kitchen, you’ll just have to trust me that I know what I’m doing.”
“It’s myself that I don’t trust. I’m not good at being in front of a camera even when I know what I’m doing, and this publicity is important right now. I’m afraid of coming across like a hockey robot.”
Eric’s expression went softer, “I get it Jack. And for the record I think that deciding to come out was incredibly brave. I think it’s going to change a lot of people’s lives for the better.”
Jack felt himself blush at the praise, “Thank you, but I don’t think it was that brave.”
“Nonsense!” Eric replied, crossing his arms and looking seriously up at Jack, “You’re still playing an incredibly physical sport in a traditionally homophobic environment and instead of staying in the closet, which no one would have blamed you for, you chose to come out, using your status as one of the best in the game to show that anyone can play, regardless of sexual orientation. It was brave.”
Jack blinked, unable to come up with anything to say to that. Plenty of people had told him something similar in the past few months, but none had had that level of genuine conviction.
When Jack continued to be unable to formulate a response, Eric began to look a bit sheepish. “Sorry. As a gay man who played NCAA hockey it’s a bit of a hot-button issue for me. I didn’t mean to ambush you when I’m meant to be making you feel more relaxed before filming.”
That gave Jack something to work with, “You played hockey?”
Eric looked a bit surprised that that was what Jack chose to follow up on, but he nodded, “I played at Samwell. I was even captain my senior year. Sorry we kind of kicked BC’s butt during playoffs your last year.”
“Don’t apologize for good hockey,” Jack said as he thought back to that game. Eric didn’t exactly look like other players so it didn’t take Jack long to place him, “You- you played right wing, didn’t you? You were fast.”
Eric grinned, wide and proud, “That was me! That’s a good memory you’ve got there Mister Zimmermann.”
“Well hockey robots are known for their memory storage capabilities after all,” Jack deadpanned.
When Eric laughed, Jack felt the tension he’d been carrying all morning start to ease, “I’m glad they included a sense of humor in your programming. Now, it’s about time to head down to the kitchen to film. You ready?”
“I’m ready as I’ll ever be,” Jack said, which made Eric pat his arm comfortingly.
“You’ll do just fine, I’m sure of it!”
It took a few minutes for Eric to show him around the kitchen where they stopped at the last set of counters, which was clearly set up for filming. Then it took several more minutes for them to fine tune the camera, lighting, and audio settings. Jack just stood behind one of the counters and hoped he wasn’t in the way.
“All right!” Eric clapped once as he walked back behind the counter to stand next to Jack, “Let’s get started.”
And they were off.
Cooking with Eric instructing him wasn’t nearly as painful as Jack had feared it would be. True to his word, Eric was good at breaking the recipe into simple steps that Jack mostly had no problem following.
But the biggest surprise was that once he got into the rhythm of cooking he’d nearly forgotten that he was even being filmed. Eric’s instructions kept him focused and they spent half the time trading lighthearted chirps as they cooked.
Before he knew it, he had a plate of crispy-skin salmon with sautéed spinach.
When Jack turned to face Eric with his plate, Eric looked genuinely happy with the result, “It looks delicious Jack!”
“Well you haven’t tasted it yet, Bittle,” Jack replied, playing up his seriousness for the cameras.
Eric just smiled in response and swapped his plate for Jack’s, “If you actually followed my instructions, I’m sure it will taste great! But let’s dig in and see.”
As they took their first bites, they both made the requisite exclamations about how good the food was, and it was true. The salmon Eric had made tasted amazing and if Jack’s tasted any worse Eric was certainly faking it well.
“So Jack,” Eric turned to him to start wrapping up the video, “do you think you might even try this at home?”
“I’m not sure. Normally I only eat baked chicken and protein bars, so,” Jack shrugged his shoulders, but couldn’t keep a smirk completely off his face.
Raising his eyebrows Eric replied, “Mhm, okay. That’s too bad. Once we wrap I was going to offer you some pie I made earlier, but I wouldn’t want to overload your system with new foods.”
Jack stared solemnly at him, “I think I’d survive.”
Eric’s gaze turned into something that looked like a challenge, “Should we risk it though? I wouldn’t want to get in trouble for damaging you. I’m pretty sure your butt alone is insured for millions.”
That startled a laugh out of Jack, which made Eric look all too pleased with himself.
“Ha! I win! I broke the Zimmermann,” Eric teased, beaming up at Jack. And Jack felt like he might drown in the way Eric's eyes lit up.
One of the guys behind the camera cleared his throat, “I think we can wrap it up now.”
“Right,” Eric snapped back to attention, his smile relaxing back into his friendly camera persona to finish the end bit of the show.
“Do I get pie now?” Jack asked, when Eric was done signing off. As he’d hoped, it made Eric laugh brightly and gently hit his bicep.
“Yes you can have pie now,” Eric said. “How do you feel about maple crusted apple pie?”
It wasn’t a combination Jack had heard of before, but it sounded good, “I am Canadian, eh? Maple is one of our food groups.”
“I thought your food groups were bland chicken and protein bars?” Eric teased.
“Maple’s the third one,” Jack said as gravely as he could manage when Eric was still smiling at him.
“Okay, okay. Enough chirping,” Eric said, but he kept smiling as he thanked the camera crew. Jack thanked them as well and took a moment to pose for selfies with a couple of the guys before being shepherded by Eric to another part of the kitchen.
“Go ahead and sit down,” Eric said, pointing to where a couple of stools sat near another counter. Jack sat and watched as Eric produced two plates of pie and two glasses of water. “You deserve this for being such a good sport.”
“It was more fun than I thought it would be,” Jack replied honestly. He wasn’t sure how to tell Eric just how much better the day had turned out compared to what he’d imagined beforehand. “I usually hate any kind of press, but the cooking and talking to you took my mind off of it.”
“Good, I’m glad,” Eric said, grinning again. “Now, if I’m being completely honest I was kinda nervous going into filming today too. I’m still pretty new around here, I mean we all are since this satellite office is only a few months old, but I had pretty big shoes to fill last minute.”
That surprised Jack since Eric had seemed completely collected and engaged the entire time, “You were nervous? I couldn’t tell at all. You did a really good job. If you can get me to cook like that, you could get anyone to.”
Eric blushed and looked down at his pie, “I think you’re underestimating yourself Jack. You put in a lot of effort. I could tell. I don’t know if you’ve watched the show before, but sometimes there’d be guests who just mess around the whole time. You actually tried, and I appreciate that.”
Unsure what to say yet again, Jack just shrugged a bit and took his first bite of pie. It tasted even better than it looked, “Wow. This is really good.”
“Thank you! I’m actually more of a baker than a cook and pie happens to be my specialty,” Eric said, looking pleased.
As the pie disappeared, Jack realized that he wasn’t ready to leave. The feeling of dread he’d had that morning had completely evaporated, leaving a comfortable warmth in its place. A warmth that seemed to be emanating from the man sitting in front of him. He wanted to ask Eric out, but was hesitant since Eric was just doing his job. But Eric had invited him to stay for pie when he could’ve just sent Jack on his way. Plus, if Eric turned him down it wasn’t as if they’d ever have to see each other again. Weighing that information, Jack decided it was worth a shot.
Jack put his fork down and turned to face Eric completely, clearing his throat before saying, “I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I’m staying in town for the night because I’m doing an interview with the Globe in the morning and I’m wondering if you might like to get dinner with me?”
“Really?” Eric’s eyes were wide and, for the first time all day, his expression was hard to read.
“Yeah,” Jack ducked his head, “I’ve really liked talking with you, but if you don’t want to that’s fine. No pressure.”
“No, I’d love to!” Eric said and when Jack looked up he looked happy and maybe a bit shy, “I should be done here by five-thirty. Did you have a restaurant in mind?”
“Uh, no, I didn’t really think that far ahead and I’m not in Boston a lot. But I can look for something?” Jack offered.
But Eric just waved him off, “I can pick if you want, I know my way around the restaurant scene by now. I’ll find you the best dry chicken Boston has to offer.”
Jack smirked at that, “Ha ha. I do actually eat other food, Bittle.”
“Any allergies or restrictions?” Eric asked, looking like he was ready to pull out his phone and take notes if necessary.
“No allergies, and all jokes aside I do try to eat pretty healthy this close to the season.”
“Got it,” Eric said with a decisive nod, “I’ll come up with something and I could text you when I do?”
“Yes, that would be great,” Jack said, handing his phone over so Eric could add his number.
“Alright, it’s a date,” Eric said with a grin, and Jack couldn’t help but grin back.
“It’s a date.”
They smiled a bit dopily at each other for a good thirty seconds before Eric shook himself out of it, “Alright, I do actually have more work to do today. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Okay. See you later,” Jack gave an awkward wave and almost walked into the door as he tried to leave. He didn’t turn around, just hoped that Eric hadn’t noticed.
As promised, Eric sent Jack a restaurant suggestion less than an hour later. It was a restaurant that looked trendy and a quick glance at the menu showed at least a few dishes that Jack would like to try. Jack called and made a reservation for seven-thirty, which Eric said would give him enough time to go home and change beforehand.
Jack returned to his hotel room, suddenly feeling nervous with several hours to kill before dinner. To channel his nervous energy, he decided to go for a run since he hadn’t had time to workout that morning. He still knew his way around the city well enough to come up with a suitable loop that took him through the public garden and down by the river.
Running always helped get him to a calm, focused mindset and this run was no different. As he passed familiar sights and places he hadn’t been since college he carefully sorted through the things that were worrying him.
It was just a first date. He’d been on plenty at this point. Realistically, the worst it would turn out was that they’d spend a few hours forcing stilted conversation and then they’d never call each other again. But after talking to Eric earlier it didn’t seem like that would happen. Their conversation had flowed easily and there was no reason to think that wouldn’t still be the case on their date. Chances were it would go well, maybe even really well. And that possibility had Jack slipping into a CVS on the way back to the hotel.
Jack arrived at the restaurant fifteen minutes early. It was on the small side and crowded, definitely trendier than most restaurants Jack went to. The room was draped with strings of lights and the tables were small and intimate and there was an entire wall made of plants for some reason.
As soon as the host led him to a table, he texted Eric to let him know that he was already there and where he was seated. Eric arrived just a few minutes later.
There was a brief moment of awkwardness when Jack wasn’t exactly sure how to greet him, but Eric just laughed and pulled him in for a quick hug.
“It’s nice to see you again Jack,” Eric said as he let Jack go.
Jack smiled and pulled out Eric’s chair, “It’s nice to see you too Eric.”
“Oh so I’m not Bittle anymore?” Eric asked teasingly, smiling up at Jack as he took his seat.
“It seems weird to use your last name when we’re on a date,” Jack said, sitting back down himself, “but I could if you want.”
Eric looked thoughtful for a moment before saying, “Nope. You’re right. It would be kind of weird, like being on a date with one of my college teammates. You could call me Bitty, though, that’s what all my friends call me.”
“I can do that,” Jack said before asking, “hockey nickname?”
“Yeah it was, but it’s stuck,” Bitty said with a shrug, “almost no one calls me by my actual name anymore.”
“Even your family?”
“Well they always had their own nicknames for me,” Bitty said with a bit of a grimace.
The grimace made Jack curious, “Yeah? What do they call you?”
“I’ll have you know that is privileged information,” Bitty replied with a playful glare.
Jack raised his eyebrows but didn’t press. Instead he asked, “So how’d you go from playing hockey to working for a cooking magazine’s youtube channel?”
Which sent Bitty into the story of how his love of baking had turned into a blog, then a vlog, then a job offer from BA’s newly formed Boston outpost. They were interrupted by the waiter at one point, but Bitty seemed to be good at picking up the thread of conversation wherever they’d left off.
“Did you ever consider going pro?” Jack asked over their appetizers.
“Pro as in hockey?” Bitty asked, disbelieving. When Jack nodded, he laughed, “No, never. Look at me! I couldn’t’ve been an NHL player.”
“But you were really good. You guys won the year you were captain, right?” It took Jack a second to realize that he probably shouldn’t know that.
“Jack Zimmermann, did you google me?” Bitty asked, sounding slightly hysterical.
Jack shrugged, looking down at the table, “Just your hockey stats. I don't want to seem like a stalker, but I was curious.”
“Of course you googled my hockey stats. Why am I surprised by that?” Eric said with a grin.
“But really, you were a great player. I think you could have made it.”
“Well thank you, Jack. Coming from you that really means something. But playing hockey professionally was never going to be for me. I’m too small and too gay and it took a full year for my teammates to help me to the point where I could take a check without fainting.” Bitty smiled ruefully at that last piece of information, “Besides, I love what I do now. I wouldn’t trade it for hockey.”
“What do you like to do outside of hockey?” Bitty asked once their entrees were served.
“I like to take pictures and watch documentaries about history. The guys like to tell me I’m a boring old man, but they’re not wrong eh?”
“There’s nothing wrong with having low key interests. Your job is kind of exhausting after all," Bitty said kindly, before asking Jack more about what he'd studied.
Over dessert they discussed their respective college hockey teams and Jack told Bitty how he’d almost gone to Samwell himself. They lingered for a while after their food was finished and their wine glasses were empty, the check sitting on the table. Jack didn’t want to leave break the easy flow of conversation and Bitty didn’t seem to want to either.
But Jack wasn’t rude enough to monopolize their table too much longer and clearly Bitty felt the same.
“Did you want to split the check?” Bitty asked.
Jack waved him off, “I asked you out, it’s my treat.”
“Thank you then,” Bitty said with a light blush, “I’ve had a really nice time.”
“You’re welcome and me too,” Jack replied. He made sure to leave a large enough tip that the waiter couldn’t be annoyed by how long they’d lingered over dessert.
Once the bill was paid they left the restaurant together.
“So…” Jack wasn’t sure what to say once they were outside in the warm late-August air.
“So.” Bitty echoed, biting his lip as he looked up at Jack. He was so attractive that Jack decided to just go for broke.
“Do you want to come back to my hotel? We don’t have to do anything or anything, I just really don’t want this date to be over yet.” Jack tried not to visibly cringe at his own awkwardness. Whatever the supposed Zimmermann charm was that his dad liked to joke about, he was pretty sure it had skipped him.
“Okay. But if I say that doing some things might be on the table…” and with the way Bitty looked up at Jack then, wide-eyed with a blush high on his cheeks, Jack just had to kiss him.
Cupping Bitty’s face gently, Jack leaned down to close the space between them. As their lips met, Bitty’s arms wrapped around Jack’s neck and pressed into him in a way that would quickly take the kiss beyond what was appropriate in public if they continued.
Jack pulled away reluctantly, “Let’s go.”
It was a beautiful night, but Jack couldn’t bring himself to pay attention to the city around them. Jack’s hotel was only a ten minute walk from the restaurant, but it felt like an eternity. Bitty had looped his hands around Jack’s arm and it was just a reminder of how much more contact they’d have once they were safely ensconced back in Jack’s room.
As soon as the door shut behind them, Jack backed Bitty up against it and ducked down to kiss him again. That angle wasn’t going to work for long as things got more heated, so Jack slid his hands down to Bitty’s thighs and lifted. Bitty caught on quickly, wrapping his legs around Jack’s waist and his arms around Jack’s neck.
“Oh my god,” Bitty said, pulling back from the kiss and pressing his face into Jack’s neck. “I can’t believe you can pick me up. That’s so hot.”
“Yeah?” Jack asked, backing away from the door to carry Bitty to the king sized bed in the middle of the room.
“Yeah,” Bitty said breathlessly as Jack set him on the bed. His eyes were so wide and dark as they stared up at Jack and his previously perfect hair and outfit were clearly rumpled now.
“Well I think you’re hot,” was all Jack could think to say. It was possibly the lamest line ever, but it must have worked because Bitty pulled him down into another scorching kiss.
It had been a while since Jack had slept with anyone and Bitty’s body felt unbelievably good pressed against his own. The last person he’d slept with had been Kent, and hooking up with Kent had always had that weight of their shared messy history hanging between them.
This felt so different.
Jack didn’t often feel comfortable around other people, especially people he’d just met, but there was something special about Bitty. It was easy to lose himself in the sensation of being wrapped up in Bitty’s embrace.
After, Jack ended up curled around Bitty with his head on Bitty’s stomach while Bitty’s fingers carded gently through his hair. It felt so comfortable and safe that Jack was having a hard time not falling asleep like that.
“You’re going to regret it if you fall asleep before we can get cleaned up,” Bitty chirped lightly, but he didn’t stop stroking Jack’s hair.
“Don’t care,” Jack said, pouting a bit. He knew Bitty was right, but he really didn’t want to move.
Bitty looked toward the clock on the bedside table and sighed, “I really should get going if I’m gonna catch the T home.”
That pulled Jack out of his post-sex haze and he sat up quickly, “You’re not staying?”
Bitty’s eyes widened slightly, “You want me to stay?”
Jack wanted him to stay badly, but he also didn’t want to come on too strong, “Only if you want to.”
For a long second, Bitty was quiet, “I’ll have to get up really early to make it home in time to change for work. Like six-thirty early.” He said, as if that would be a deal breaker.
“I usually get up to run by six, so I don’t mind.”
“Okay then,” Bitty leaned in to kiss Jack softly, “I meant it about getting cleaned up, though. I’m not going to sleep with dried jizz on me.”
Jack chuckled, “Ew. Yeah. Let’s go get washed up.”
By the time they got back into bed, Jack didn’t feel as sleepy anymore. It was clear that Bitty felt the same when he started to quietly ask Jack questions while they lay facing each other.
They talked for what felt like hours. Bitty told Jack all about growing up in Georgia, being bullied, and how he’d struggled to accept himself until he ended up at Samwell. In return, Jack talked about Juniors, his overdose, and what had convinced him to join the Falcs and eventually come out. Once in a while one of them would lean across the space between them for a kiss. It was somehow even more intimate than having sex had been, and by the time Jack accidentally drifted to sleep as Bitty was telling a story about jam, it felt like they’d known each other much longer than a single day.
The alarm Jack had set startled him out of a deep sleep the next morning and he fumbled for his phone on the nightstand for a few seconds before managing to turn it off.
When he rolled back over, Bitty was blinking sleepily at him.
“Good morning,” Jack said, his voice deeper than usual and raspy with sleep.
“No,” Bitty flat out whined, pulling his pillow over his head to hide his face.
“You said you’d have to be out of here by six-thirty, bud,” Jack reached over to pat Bitty’s shoulder. Bitty just groaned sadly in response. “But you know, if you let me get you a ride home instead of taking the train, we’d have enough time for morning sex.”
That got Bitty to lift the pillow off of his face and stare at Jack with narrowed eyes, “You make a good proposal, Mister Zimmermann.” With a put-upon sigh he sat up, “I guess that would be acceptable. But only if we brush our teeth first. No offense, but your breath is rank and I’m sure mine’s no better.”
“Offense taken, I withdraw my previous offer,” Jack said with a smirk.
“Ugh, I’m not awake enough for this chirping,” Bitty said, climbing over Jack to get to the bathroom.
Jack followed him and they stood at the sink to brush their teeth together before Bitty kicked him out to actually use the bathroom.
While he waited, Jack sprawled back across the bed and grabbed his phone to double check his schedule for the day. He reached to put his phone back down when he heard the bathroom door open and when he looked back Bitty was standing in the doorway staring at him.
“What is it?” Jack asked, feeling a bit self-conscious laying there naked as Bitty’s eyes raked over him.
“I just can’t quite believe that you’re real,” Bitty said, sounding almost awed.
“Do you need me to start talking about World War Two again? I feel like a fantasy me wouldn’t do that.” Jack joked, and that seemed to snap Bitty out of it. He laughed and rolled his eyes as he walked back over to Jack.
“I can think of a better way to prove this is real,” Bitty said before leaning down to kiss Jack.
They didn’t talk for a while after that.
“You know, Providence isn’t that far from Boston,” Jack said once they were dressed and lingering by the door.
Bitty smiled up at him, “No, it’s not.”
“So since we don’t live that far apart, do you maybe want to do this again sometime?” Jack asked, feeling nervous even though he was fairly sure the answer would be yes.
“I really would.” Bitty said, beaming up at him.
Jack returned the smile, “Good. I like you, Bittle.”
Bitty giggled at that, “I like you too. Text me later?”
“Definitely.” Jack promised, leaning down for one more kiss as his phone buzzed, letting them know the car he had called had arrived.
“Bye Jack,” Bitty said as he pulled away and opened the door.
“See you later Bitty.”
Closing the door behind him gave Jack a slight feeling of loss, but he shook it off. He had to get ready for his interview and they’d already agreed to see each other again.
“So what do you want here, with us?” Bitty asked a week and a half later, the morning after their second date. He was curled up in Jack’s bed, eyes following Jack around the room as Jack got ready for his run.
Jack paused as he was pulling a t-shirt out of his drawer, “Um, I haven’t really thought about it.” Which was mostly true. He knew that he liked Bitty and wanted to keep seeing him, but he hadn’t thought too much about the specific details of what a relationship would entail.
“I know you’re about to be super busy once the season starts, so if you want to keep things casual that would be okay with me.”
That wasn’t exactly what Jack wanted, he realized now that he was faced with that option, but if that’s what Bitty wanted Jack wasn’t going to pressure him into anything more serious. Jack knew exactly what he was like during the hockey season, and in general, and he didn’t need to inflict that on another person.
“Yeah, okay,” Jack said, “I know you’re pretty busy too.” Between shooting videos for BA and maintaining his own YouTube channel, Bitty was probably as busy as Jack. It made sense not to commit to anything serious after only a week.
Having Bitty around was nice, though. In the short time they’d been seeing each other they’d texted more than Jack had texted anyone else in the past year and Jack liked having someone to talk to about his day. He liked being talked at too, seeing the things that got Bitty excited always brought a smile to his face. It was better to keep things casual than to lose that so quickly because he got too intense too fast.
“Zimmboni, you brought pie?” Tater yelled excitedly as Jack walked into the nook the next day. It was still a week away from the actual preseason, but a handful of the guys were already back in Providence and had been meeting up every other day to practice together. Bitty had insisted on leaving Jack with a pie before heading home, and Jack appreciated the gesture but there was no way he could eat an entire pie himself less than a week out from preseason.
“What? No fucking way would Jack break his diet plan,” Snowy said.
Jack rolled his eyes, “Just because I brought pie doesn’t mean I’ll eat it all. I will have a slice though because it’s really good.”
“You go to bakery?” Tater asked, looking at Jack as if he’d grown a second head. Jack hadn’t thought it would be that out of character for him to bring a pie to practice, but apparently he’d been wrong.
“No, uh, a friend made it for me to bring in,” hopefully Jack wasn’t blushing when he said that. He tended to whenever he thought about Bitty.
“A friend?” Poots looked at Jack skeptically.
“Yeah,” Jack said, with the most nonchalant shrug he could manage.
Poots' eyes narrowed, “Since when do you have friends?”
Jack glared at Poots and pulled the pie back closer to him, “I could just take this back you know.”
Having crossed the room to get a better view of the pie, Tater was suddenly right behind Jack. He clapped a hand on Jack’s shoulder and squeezed, “Is it special friend? Friend you been texting?” Jack turned to see that Tater was waggling his eyebrows suggestively. Jack turned back to the pie and sighed, he wasn’t getting out of this easily.
Oblivious to Jack’s discomfort, or just not caring, Tater continued, “Five years Zimmboni never text anyone! Past week, texting all the time! Texting and smiling! So weird, Zimmboni never smiles before.”
Jack rolled his eyes again at Tater’s assessment, but he always hung out with Tater a lot during the off-season. If anyone was going to notice Jack’s new texting habit, it would be him.
“I didn’t realize bringing a pie would lead to the Spanish Inquisition, but yes. I’ve been seeing someone. He’s a baker. It’s only been a few weeks and we’ve been keeping things casual,” Jack said.
“Aha! I knew it!” Tater said, pulling Jack into a hug, “Is good for you Zimmboni! Happy captain is best captain.” The other guys actually clapped, as if Jack managing to have a relationship with another person was an unexpected achievement. He hated that they weren’t wrong.
“Thanks Tater,” Jack said, patting Tater’s shoulder before backing away. “But no more personal questions for now or I really will take the pie back.”
During the second weekend in October, Jack was at Bitty’s apartment. It was only his second time here, but he was already starting to feel at home in the space. The apartment was much smaller than Jack’s, a one-bedroom in an old brownstone, but it was so cozy it was hard not to be comfortable there. Bitty liked to surround himself with bright colors and soft fabrics and the space was lived-in in a way that Jack had never been able to achieve in his own home. It was the type of place that made you want to curl up on the couch and never leave.
Jack was here because Bitty had been stressed out over work that week. He had an upcoming deadline for his first officially published article through BA and he’d been procrastinating until now. Since Jack had had a Saturday matty game and Sunday off, he’d offered to spend the night up at Bitty’s place. He was even allowed in Bitty’s kitchen to cook dinner for them. He’d chosen to make pasta with meat sauce, a dish even he couldn’t mess up.
Bitty’s cat Peaches kept him company as he cooked, probably hoping that Jack would accidentally drop some meat that he could snack on. Peaches was a large orange and white tabby who Bitty had adopted in hopes that he’d keep mice out of the apartment, but who turned out to be far too laid-back to be a good hunter. “He’s good company though,” Bitty had said the first time Jack had come over. And Jack could see that. Peaches was possibly the least shy cat he’d ever met, and even though he’d always been a dog person he found himself charmed as Peaches rubbed up against his legs while he stood at the stove.
During the cooking process Bitty had wandered into the kitchen a few times to hover anxiously, he clearly wasn’t used to trusting anyone else with his kitchen. Each time Jack gently sent him back to his work with assurances that he’d been making basic meals for himself for years without ever destroying anything.
“Thank you so much, honey,” Bitty said when Jack brought him a plate. “Sorry for being so annoying. I kind of have control issues when it comes to cooking.”
“You’re welcome, Bits. And it’s fine, I understand,” Jack said as he sat next to Bitty on the couch.
“Well thanks for putting up with me anyhow. I know I’m not exactly a lot of fun tonight. At least I’m better than I was in college when it comes to getting work done.” Bitty said, “The team had to take some pretty… drastic measures to make sure I had my thesis finished on time.”
Based on Bitty’s pained look Jack desperately wanted to hear that story, but he knew that asking about it would just distract Bitty more. Instead he said, “I don’t mind, I like just spending time with you.” Then paused, wondering if that was too far outside of their clearly defined “casual” boundaries.
Bitty just smiled though, “I like spending time with you too. And I do finally have an end in sight with this beast of an article. Give me another hour or so and then I’ll really thank you for making me dinner.” His smile turned suggestive as he looked over his laptop screen at Jack.
“Oh yeah?” Jack said with a grin.
“You know I always make sure you get dessert,” Bitty said with a wink and Jack couldn’t help but laugh.
“That line was terrible, Bits,” he reached out and ruffled Bitty’s hair, “I think this article is making you a bit punchy, eh?”
Bitty reached up to fix his hair, “Ugh, you’re such a bro sometimes. Mess with my hair again and see if you get any more dessert. The real or metaphorical kind.”
“Alright, alright,” Jack said, leaning over to kiss Bitty’s cheek. “I’ll just sit here very quietly so you can finish your work.”
“Thanks honey,” Bitty said patting Jack’s knee absently as he turned his attention back to his work.
The next morning, Jack wandered into Bitty’s kitchen, wearing only his sweatpants, and found Bitty turning on the coffee maker. He walked closer and wrapped his arms around Bitty’s waist.
“Good morning,” He said, pressing a kiss to the top of Bitty’s head.
“Morning sweetpea," Bitty said, leaning back into Jack's embrace, "You hungry yet?”
“Mm, we should probably eat.” Jack said, burying his face in Bitty’s hair, “We did burn a lot of calories last night.”
Bitty turned around in his arms, “We did didn’t we?” He said, arching up on his toes to kiss Jack. And Jack was entirely fine with postponing breakfast and letting the kiss get more heated, but before they could really get into it someone knocked on Bitty’s door. They both froze.
“Bitty! It’s bro brunch day and you haven’t been answering our texts!” A voice called.
“Shit. Shit, shit shit,” Bitty said, backing away from Jack. “I’m so sorry, I completely forgot that I made plans with them today!”
“Yo, Bitty, you’re alive right?” A different voice hollered as the knocking resumed.
“Yes!” Bitty called back, “Just hold on a sec!” He turned back to Jack, looking uncharacteristically worried, “What do you want me to do?”
“Do you not want me to meet your friends?” Jack said, trying to inject calm into his tone.
“No, I do!” Bitty said emphatically, “But they’re hockey bros, Jack. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable and I know we’ve only been seeing each other for a month and we agreed we’d keep things casual.”
“Hey,” Jack said, reaching out to take Bitty’s hands, “if you’re okay with it, I’m okay with it.”
Someone pounded on the door again, “Bits! The fuck, man? You’re not being held hostage, right?”
“I’m fine, just wait one minute,” Bitty yelled before turning back to Jack. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. If you trust them, I trust you.” Jack gave him a quick kiss on the forehead as the pounding on the door continued.
Bitty smiled up at him, looking awed, “Okay.” He snapped out of the awe quickly and reached out to push Jack back toward the bedroom, “You have to go put clothes on!”
That’s when the front door opened.
“Sorry to use your spare key Bits, but-” the small woman who was the first in the door stopped short when she spotted Jack. “Oh.” Three men tumbled in through the door behind her.
“Holy fuck it’s Jack Zimmermann,” the tallest man, a blond with glasses, said.
“Oh no,” Bitty whispered, tomato red and burying his face in his hands.
“Uh, hi?” Jack said, feeling incredibly awkward standing shirtless in front of Bitty’s friends. He definitely had at least two hickeys on his chest.
Everyone stood in a state of shock for a second, then the room erupted into chaos that sent Peaches catapulting off of his perch on the couch and down the hall. Jack wished he could follow.
“Holy shit! Holy shit! Eric Richard Bittle, the guy you’ve been seeing is Jack fucking Zimmermann?” The guy with a mustache launched himself across the room to pull Bitty into a hug, “I’m so proud of you.”
“Bitty’s dating Jack Zimmermann,” the tall blond whooped. “Get it Bits!”
“Is Alexei Mashkov here?” The third man, who was black with sharp cheekbones, asked as he stared at Jack. And Jack wasn’t sure what to make of that question.
Finally, the woman who’d opened the door walked over to him and stuck her hand out, “Hi, I’m Lardo. I was the manager of the men’s hockey team at Samwell. I apologize for these losers’ lack of manners.”
“Hi,” Jack said as he shook her hand, “I’m Jack. Nice to meet you.”
“These guys are Shitty, Ransom, and Holster,” she said, pointing to each man, “I’m sure they’ll introduce themselves once they remember how to behave like rational humans .”
As soon as she raised her voice, the yelling stopped and Bitty was released from the Shitty-Holster sandwich he’d been trapped in.
“Thank you, Lardo. At least I can count on you to act like a normal person.” Bitty said as he readjusted his pajamas, with a put-upon air of dignity.
“Bits,” Shitty said with a pout, “Itty Bitty, we’re just excited for you.”
“Yeah, man,” Holster said, glancing at Jack and dropping his voice to a stage whisper, “his ass has a dedicated twitter account.”
“So Mashkov’s not here?” Ransom asked, and that seemed to finally divert everyone else’s attention as they chirped him, so Jack snuck away to get changed.
Bitty followed him into the bedroom after announcing that he wasn’t exactly prepared to host brunch, but that everyone could help themselves to coffee while he got dressed so they could go out to eat.
“I’m sorry, Jack,” he said once he’d closed the door.
“Don’t worry about it, bud,” Jack pulled him into a hug and Bitty melted against him.
Bitty sighed deeply and pressed his face into Jack’s shoulder, “They’re weird and overenthusiastic, but they mean well.”
Jack kissed the top of his head and said, “It’s fine. I can tell they care about you.”
“They’re heathens!” Bitty replied, but it sounded more fond than angry.
“Maybe a bit, but most hockey players are. I’m used to it, eh?” Jack squeezed Bitty closer for a second before stepping back to look at his face, “But would it be easier for you if I stay here? I won’t be offended if you say yes.”
“They’ll chirp me to pieces either way. But they already know you’re here and I think that Lardo will have talked some sense into the boys by the time we get back out there. So let’s do this,” Bitty said with a determined nod.
“Okay. Let’s get dressed, then.”
When they reentered the living room, Bitty’s friends were all seated with mugs of coffee. Peaches had also come out of hiding and was circling the room, sniffing at everyone. Bitty stopped in the center of the room, giving them all a serious look, “I know you’re all curious about Jack and I, so I’ll take one question from each of you?”
“Holster first,” Bitty decided, when the man in question raised his hand.
“Is this, like, a secret?” asked Holster.
Bitty glanced at Jack quickly before shrugging, “Sort of? We’re not making it public because we’re keeping things casual and it’s not really anyone’s business. But it’s not like it’d be the end of the world if people found out. Shitty, what’s your question?”
“Is touching his ass everything you ever dreamed it would be?” Shitty asked, with a leer that said he was intentionally trying to embarrass Bitty.
Rolling his eyes, Bitty answered, “Yes.” Shitty seemed poised to ask a follow up question, but a glare from Bitty had him slumping back against the couch. “Lardo?”
“How’d you meet?” Lardo asked.
Bitty looked visibly relieved to have a normal question. “We met filming a BA video that should be out in the next week or so. Ransom, your turn.”
“Have you met Mashkov?” Ransom blurted out, then he glanced around with a blush as if that wasn’t the question he’d actually planned to ask.
“Not yet, but he’s apparently a fan of my pie,” Bitty said, giving Jack a wry grin. “Alright, can we all go to brunch and behave like a normal group of grown-up friends now?”
The three guys put on an act of deep offense while Lardo just snorted and said, “As if that’s ever happened. Keep dreaming, Bits.”
Once they were out of the apartment and sitting in a trendy restaurant down the road, Bitty’s friends did reign it in. Jack even found himself enjoying chatting with them. They seemed to get a kick out of sharing embarrassing college stories about Bitty. Jack was quietly thrilled when they told the full story about having to hang posters in the student kitchens to stop Bitty’s “procrasti-baking” and force him to write his thesis. Holster even still had the poster saved on his phone.
“Why’s it covered in sharks?” Jack asked, but Holster just shook his head.
“When you meet Chowder you’ll understand,” he said and that did nothing to clear Jack’s confusion, but he let it go.
Everyone followed Jack’s hockey talk with interest, but when he got caught up in a discussion about photography with Lardo, Jack noticed Bitty watching them with an inscrutable expression. But when Jack smiled hesitantly at him, he just smiled back and returned his attention to the other end of the table where Shitty and Ransom were sharing their weirdest client and patient stories.
When brunch was over Jack swapped numbers with everyone at the table. It wasn’t easy to find friends outside of the NHL who both understood the demands of his job and didn’t seem like clout chasers, so Jack found himself genuinely looking forward to getting to know Bitty’s friends better.
By the time it was November the hockey season was in full swing and it was becoming even harder to schedule time with Bitty. That didn’t stop them from texting and talking regularly, though, which Jack appreciated.
With the season came increased scrutiny on Jack and the Falconers. The double whammy of winning the cup and having the team’s captain become the first out player in the NHL had all of the commentators and reporters paying extra attention. There was a small media circus outside of nearly every one of their games, especially when they were on the road since all of the local news crews were clamoring to get a soundbite from Jack.
It was all becoming a bit much for his mental health he realized after returning from a week long roadie and finally having two days to recuperate. Suddenly having 48 hours without having to prepare for an imminent hockey game meant he had way too much time in his own head.
Despite his exhaustion from the roadie, he barely slept the first night back in his own bed and got up the next morning feeling like death warmed over. He had a feeling that his exhaustion and anxiety were radiating off of him as all of his teammates gave him a wide berth at practice that morning.
He’d been hoping that getting back into his regular routine would help some, but Jack didn’t feel any better after practice. All he wanted was to go home and hide from the world. The only thing stopping him were the plans he’d already made to spend the night at Bitty’s.
It had been a long time since he’d felt like his anxiety was controlling his life, this entire day felt like a backslide. At the same time, he knew it wasn’t safe to drive almost an hour when he could barely focus thanks to the fog of anxiety and exhaustion. So he resigned himself to calling Bitty as soon as he got home.
“Hey you,” Bitty greeted cheerfully, “what’s up?” Even just hearing his voice made Jack feel slightly more grounded.
“I don’t think I’m going to make it to your place tonight. I’m really sorry,” Jack said, the words heavy with regret.
“Is everything okay?” Bitty asked, his voice tinged with concern.
“Yes- well, no,” Jack sighed, “I’m having a really bad day with my anxiety and I barely slept last night. I’m just not up to driving that far. I really don’t want to cancel on you, though. I was looking forward to seeing you.”
“Oh honey, that’s okay. I understand, and your mental health comes first.” Bitty’s tone held nothing but support and acceptance and it made tears prick at the corners of Jack’s eyes. “Now do you want to be left alone tonight, or do you want me to come to you? I don’t have to be into work at any particular time tomorrow so it wouldn’t be any trouble for me to spend the night with you.”
Jack reminded himself of what years of therapy had taught him, that he was allowed to accept help when offered and it wasn’t weak to want comfort. He wasn’t sure he wanted Bitty to see him like this, but his desire to see Bitty far outweighed his uncertainty, “I’d like that, if you’re sure you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind at all sweetpea, give me a few hours and I’ll be there, okay?”
“Okay. See you soon.” Jack put down the phone and tried to stop the thoughts that started to fill his head telling him what a burden he was. He was a thirty-one years old and he still couldn’t manage to just be normal. Instead of letting himself get lost in that train of thought he picked his phone back up to see if his therapist could squeeze in an appointment with him the next day.
Once his appointment was confirmed, he tried to relax enough to take a nap. Then when his racing thoughts wouldn’t let sleep happen, he went for a run instead.
By the time he got back from his run, he had a text from Bitty informing him that he’d be in Providence in an hour. Jack took a quick shower and then sat down in front of a history documentary about the Black Plague while he waited.
He raced to the door as soon as Bitty texted that he’d arrived.
“Hey sweetpea,” Bitty said, stepping inside to pull Jack into a hug as soon as Jack opened the door, “how are you holding up?”
Jack wasn’t sure how to answer that so he just shrugged as Bitty stepped back to look at him, lips turning down in concern.
“Have you eaten yet?” Bitty asked, keeping his hands on Jack’s shoulders.
“I had a protein shake after practice.”
Bitty rolled his eyes at that, “You know that doesn’t count. Want to order in? We can get bowls from that salad place you like.”
“Yeah, okay.” Jack said, handing Bitty his phone and watching as Bitty quickly placed an order through the restaurant’s app.
Bitty looked even more concerned as he handed Jack’s phone back, “What else can I do to help?”
“Can we just sit for a while?” Jack tried not to sound as pathetic as he felt asking that, and Bitty’s whole expression softened.
“Of course we can,” Bitty reached out for Jack’s hand and Jack led him to the couch. Bitty hesitated for a second once Jack sat down, but Jack quickly pulled him into his lap. Bitty folded against him easily, arms twining around Jack. One of his hands carded through the short hairs at the nape of Jack’s neck while the other rubbed his back.
“Honey this show is real morbid,” Bitty said after several minutes of sitting quietly, and his quiet horror made Jack laugh.
“It’s what was on the history channel when I turned the TV on. It’s not really my area of interest, but documentaries are calming.”
“Even when they’re about a third of Europe’s population dying slow, painful deaths?” Bitty asked skeptically.
“Yeah,” Jack said after thinking for a second. “We can change it if you want, though. Maybe put on one of those cooking shows you like?”
Bitty moved to grab the remote, sliding so that he was curled up next to Jack rather than on top of him. “If you want a relaxing cooking show, boy do I have the perfect thing in mind,” he said, snuggling further into Jack’s side as Jack wrapped an arm around him.
They spent the rest of the night cuddling on Jack’s couch watching the politest, most British baking competition show Jack had ever seen. By the time they went to bed, Jack’s mind was calm enough that he was finally able to fall asleep.
“Do you have any plans for Christmas?” Bitty asked over Facetime a few weeks later.
“My parents are coming down for the holiday, I never have quite enough time off to make a trip to Montreal seem worth it. What about you?”
“I usually go home, but this year my parents are going out to Texas to see my dad’s sister’s family since, like, three of my cousins had babies this year.” Bitty’s smile looked a bit sad around the eyes, which contradicted his otherwise upbeat tone, “I don’t really mind since I was just in Georgia for Thanksgiving, you know? So I’m just going to hang out in my pajamas watching holiday movies all day since all of the boys and Lardo have plans already.”
“You should come over,” Jack said without thinking, quickly adding, “only if you want to.” It was a big invitation, spending the holiday with Jack and his parents, but he hated imagining Bitty alone on Christmas when Bitty seemed like the type to love surrounding himself with people during the holidays.
“Are you serious?” Bitty asked, eyebrows raised.
“Of course,” Jack said honestly. It may have been an impulsive invitation, but he meant it. “You’ve said before how much you like the holidays and I hate to think about you spending it alone.”
“But you want me to meet your parents?” Even through his phone screen Jack could practically feel Bitty’s uncertainty.
Jack shrugged, “It’s not a big deal. They’ll love you.”
Bitty blinked a few times before saying, “Okay. You’re sure they won’t mind?”
“Not at all,” Jack said, hoping he sounded reassuring. He wished he’d asked in person, he’d always been better at communicating through touch. “They always worry about me spending too much time alone, they’ll be thrilled to meet you.”
“Alright, if you’re sure then I’d love to,” Bitty said, smiling brightly. Jack smiled back as Bitty quickly began menu planning for the event. Even though Jack had just planned on taking his parents out to eat, he’d learned to pick his battles when it came to Bitty and food.
“Do you mind if Eric joins us for Christmas?” Jack asked the next night over a Skype call with his parents. He had previously mentioned that he was seeing Bitty, but he hadn’t gone into too much detail and his parents hadn’t pried.
“Of course we don’t mind,” his mother said as her face lit up with interest.
“Not at all,” Bob quickly agreed. “Do you want us to get a hotel instead of staying with you?”
“Um…” Jack hadn’t thought about that.
“We’ll get a hotel nearby so the two of you can have some space,” Alicia decided for him.
“Okay. Thanks. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize son, we’re so glad you’ve found someone,” Bob said and Alicia nodded in agreement, looking a little misty-eyed.
“Oh, uh, I mean it’s still not serious between us,” Jack said awkwardly. “He said he wanted to keep things casual since we’re both so busy and I’m okay with that.” Saying that felt a bit like a lie. “I wouldn’t be a good boyfriend anyhow, not during the season like this.” That felt more like the truth. Jack knew exactly what he was like when he was laser-focused on hockey, even if Bitty was able to draw his attention more and more through their near constant texting and almost daily phone and Facetime calls.
Both of his parents stared skeptically at him through the screen of his laptop.
“Sweetie, you’re allowed to let yourself have nice things,” Alicia said with a hint of sadness.
“I know. But I’m fine. I’m happy. Really,” Jack said, hoping that it sounded sincere.
“Alright,” Alicia replied, sighing lightly. “So what’s the plan then?”
Jack spent the rest of the call explaining the Christmas dinner that Bitty was excited to cook for them and pretending not to notice the concerned looks on his parents’ faces.
Bitty arrived just before seven on Christmas Eve, several hours after Jack’s parents. “I’m so sorry I’m later than I expected! I ended up getting coerced into filming some last minute holiday insta stories for BA and then traffic was hell and your parents must think I’m so rude!”
“Bits, it’s fine.” Jack reached out and pulled Bitty into a hug, rubbing a hand up and down his back reassuringly. “You told me you weren’t sure when you’d be able to get here. I’m just glad that you made it.” Jack could feel Bitty sigh and relax against him and planted a kiss on the top of his head.
“Okay,” Bitty said, stepping out of the hug and reaching down to pick up the bags he had at his feet. “Let’s do this.”
Jack laughed and reached out to grab the bags, ignoring Bitty’s protests and ushering him into the apartment. Once they were inside, Jack set the bags down and helped Bitty with his coat. “I’ll introduce you to my parents and then we can get your things put away, okay?”
Bitty nodded in response, looking nervous. Jack picked up Bitty’s bags in one hand and led him into the living room with his other hand on Bitty’s lower back, which Jack hoped was comforting.
As soon as they rounded the corner, both Bob and Alicia stood to greet Bitty.
“Hi there, Eric,” Bob said, reaching them first, holding a hand out to Bitty, “it’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too Bad B- Mister Bad Bo- Mister Jack’s dad,” Bitty said, looking like he suddenly wanted to melt into the floor.
“You can just call me Bob.” Jack could see his dad’s eyes sparkling with amusement, but he managed not to laugh.
“And you can call me Alicia,” Jack’s mom said, stepping forward to pull Bitty into a hug. “It’s so nice to meet you. I’m glad you could join us.”
Bitty looked a little shell-shocked as Alicia let him go.
“Why don’t we get your things unpacked, bud?” Jack offered, “Then we can sit down with some food and drinks.”
“Of course, take your time getting settled in,” Alicia said as she and Bob sat back down on the couch. “We’re not going anywhere.”
“Thanks, we’ll be right back,” Jack said, leading Bitty back out of the room and down the hall to his bedroom.
“You okay, Bits?” Jack asked once they were in his room and out of earshot of his parents.
“Yeah, it’s just your parents are famous?” Bitty’s voice was strained.
Jack chuckled as he set Bitty’s bags next to the bed, “So am I. You’re kinda famous too, you know.”
“Oh my god, I am,” Bitty said, staring wide eyed at Jack. “What is my life?”
“We don’t have time for an existential crisis tonight, bud,” Jack joked, pulling Bitty into another hug.
“Okay. I’ll pull myself together, I promise,” Bitty wrapped his arms around Jack.
“It’s nice to have you here.” Jack said as Bitty pressed his face into Jack’s chest.
“It’s nice to be here,” Bitty replied, leaning back so that he could smile up at Jack, which Jack took as an invitation to lean down and kiss him.
“So,” Jack said when he pulled away, “I’m assuming at least one of these bags belongs in the kitchen?”
“You know me too well Mister Zimmermann,” Bitty said, picking up two of the three bags. “I have two pies, some Christmas cookies I made at work, and a bottle of wine.”
“I told you you didn’t need to bring anything.”
“And I know you knew I wouldn’t listen to that!” Bitty said with a smirk, “Now let’s bring these into the kitchen and get back to your parents before we seem rude.”
It didn’t take long for Bitty’s initial awkwardness to give way to his normal charming self. As soon as they were sat around the table with wine and an assortment of appetizers Jack’s parents were clearly enamored with Bitty and were hanging on his every word. Jack knew how they felt.
His parents left for the hotel around midnight, with promises to return in time for brunch in the morning. The atmosphere they left behind felt startlingly intimate as Jack and Bitty tidied up. The lights were dimmed in the kitchen and the only light in the living room came from the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree. Christmas music was playing softly over the entertainment center’s speakers and Jack’s apartment had never felt so cozy or so like home.
As they stood in the living room, having finished clearing the mess, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas began to play. Jack held his hand out to pull Bitty into a slow dance and Bitty accepted, fitting himself against Jack and easily following Jack’s slow steps. It wasn’t the happiest song, but the melancholy feeling fit with the mood Jack felt himself slipping into.
The night had been so wonderful. Bitty fit in perfectly with Jack’s family and now, holding him close as they danced slow circles under the glow of the tree, Jack wished he felt nothing but happiness. He just couldn’t push away the feeling that this wasn’t something he would get to keep.
How could Jack have ever thought that he could spend Christmas with Bitty and still be fine with their agreement to keep things casual? Having Bitty here in his house, charming his parents, held close in Jack’s arms as they danced in the living room, it was everything that Jack wanted. And everything he didn’t get to have.
Still, the looming potential hurt wasn’t enough to stop Jack from sinking into this stolen moment. Bitty was warm and soft pressed against him. Jack wasn’t ready to let him go.
“Come to bed?” Jack asked and Bitty looked up at him, eyes wide and dark in the low light, and nodded.
Waking up next to Bitty on Christmas morning felt different than the other times they’d woken up next to each other. Jack wasn’t entirely sure why. It could have been the fact that Bitty had spent the night before with Jack’s family. It also could have been the afterglow of the slow, tender sex they’d had. Or maybe it was just that ephemeral feeling of magic that seemed to hang in the air during the holidays, the cliched feeling of warmth and brightness that made everything seem safe and perfect just for that day.
Bitty was still fast asleep, curled deep under Jack’s comforter. All Jack could see was his hair, which was golden in the morning light that was peeking through the curtains. Looking at the clock, Jack saw that it was just past seven, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to fall back asleep but he also wasn’t ready to get up yet. He moved closer to Bitty, spooning behind him gently. Bitty sighed in his sleep and pressed back against Jack, and Jack wished they could spend the whole day right here.
Eventually Bitty began to stir and turned to face Jack with a slow, sleepy smile that made Jack’s chest feel warm and full.
“Merry Christmas Jack,” Bitty said quietly.
“Merry Christmas Bits,” Jack replied, kissing Bitty’s forehead. Bitty arched into him in a way that had him glancing at his clock to see how much time they had before his parents arrived.
When they finally dragged themselves out of bed they had just enough time to shower and get a pot of coffee going. Jack’s parents arrived at ten on the dot, each carrying an armful of gifts that they quickly deposited under the tree. Once their hands were free they took turns hugging Bitty and Jack.
The day passed in a comfortable haze. From brunch, to exchanging presents, to everyone crowding into the kitchen to help Bitty cook Christmas dinner before sitting around the table chatting and laughing well into the night. Jack couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so at peace, he happily would have stayed in the warm bubble of the day forever.
He found himself wishing he’d brought out his camera to capture some of his favorite moments. Bitty’s joy as he opened the set of Le Creuset cookware Jack had bought him. The way Bob tilted his head back and clapped Bitty on the shoulder as Bitty told a wild story the frat house he’d lived in during college. Alicia attentively following Bitty’s instructions as she prepared the brussel sprouts for their dinner. Jack wanted to stay present in the moment, but he still wished he’d gotten photographic evidence of how well Bitty had fit into his life.
That night Bitty ended up falling asleep on the couch while Jack’s parents were still there. They’d all been talking quietly, lazy and sleepy after their large meal and plenty of wine. One minute Bitty was giggling at a story Bob was telling about Jack as a toddler and the next his head was pillowed on Jack’s shoulder and he was almost snoring.
Alicia smiled fondly at them, “I think that’s our cue to head out. Will you call the car Bobby?”
Bob nodded and walked back toward the kitchen as he pulled his phone out. Jack was about to try to move Bitty without waking him, when his mother reached over and stopped him.
“You don’t have to walk us out, Jack. We’ll see you tomorrow. Love you,” She ducked down to kiss the top of Jack’s head, the way she used to when he was small.
“Love you too, Maman.” Jack said.
Bob popped back in to say goodbye as well, “Bonne nuit mon fils.”
"À demain, Papa,” Jack said and Bob smiled wistfully at him, before taking Alicia’s hand and leading her outside.
Jack sat with Bitty sleeping against him for a while before Bitty suddenly snapped awake. “Oh my god, Jack how long was I asleep?” He asked, eyes wild, “Did your parents leave? I can’t believe how rude I was! Who falls asleep in the middle of a conversation?”
“Shh, Bits it’s fine,” Jack said, rubbing his hand on Bitty’s back. “It was a long day, we were all tired. I think they thought it was cute, not rude.”
“Ugh,” Bitty groaned, face-planting back against Jack, “I hope you’re right. I feel bad.”
“Don’t,” Jack said, “my parents loved you.” Jack was pretty sure they were ready to propose marriage on his behalf, but he wasn’t about to say that and scare Bitty off. “Let’s get to bed, eh?”
“Yes, bed. Straight to sleep, though, no funny business. I really am exhausted,” Bitty said, rubbing at his eyes.
“No funny business, I promise,” Jack said and he crossed his heart seriously, which made Bitty laugh.
“I don’t know why I keep putting up with you, Mister Zimmermann,” Bitty said, smiling over his shoulder as Jack followed him down the hallway.
Jack wasn’t sure how to answer that, since he didn’t know why either.
The day after Christmas Jack got up early to join his father for a run by the river. It was one of their annual traditions since they both always felt the need to start working off Christmas dinner as quickly as possible. This year, though, he found it difficult to drag himself out of the warm bed where Bitty was still fast asleep and out into the freezing cold.
There were never many people out just after dawn the day after a major holiday, so it was one of the few times they could go out together without being recognized.
It was peaceful as they ran. There was no snow but there was a heavy layer of frost covering the grass and the air was cold enough that Jack could see his own breath.
“Eric seems very nice,” Bob said breaking the silence between them, “how are things really between the two of you?”
“It’s great Papa, except,” Except that he was in love with Bitty. That thought stopped him short, “Oh.” And that was a problem. But it was a problem he should have seen coming.
Bob stopped a few paces in front of him and turned around with a look that clearly said I told you so .
“I don’t know what to do,” Jack said, his heavy breathing created clouds in the cold air as his mind raced.
Bob’s expression softened and he stepped back towards Jack, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder, “You should tell him how you feel. How you really feel.”
“But what if he doesn’t feel the same way?” Jack asked, staring desperately at his father, “I don’t want to lose him.”
Squeezing Jack’s shoulder, Bob sighed fondly, “Jack, you should see the way he looks at you when you’re not paying attention. If he’s not completely head over heels for you I’d be shocked.”
“Really?” Jack asked, wondering if he sounded as desperate as he felt for that to be true.
Bob nodded then said, “Even if I’m wrong, some things in life are worth the risk.”
“All I want is for you to be happy, Jack,” Bob shook his shoulder for emphasis, then dropped his hand. “That’s all I’ve ever really wanted. And I’m so unbelievably proud of you, you know that. I just hate seeing your fear holding back from something you clearly want.”
Bob stopped talking after that and they resumed their run, allowing Jack some time to process his thoughts.
By the time they returned to the apartment Jack had accepted that he was well and truly fucked. Finding Bitty making french toast in the kitchen like he belonged there while Alicia chatted with him as she sat at the counter with a cup of coffee just confirmed what Jack now knew, he had to tell Bitty how he really felt.
Jack didn’t do anything right away. He didn’t have the time, not when he had a game the next day that he had to focus on. And then another game the day after that.
Maybe he was taking the easy way out by turning his full attention to hockey, but he didn’t feel like dissecting his own coping mechanisms.
“You fight with baker?” Tater asked after practice a couple days after the holiday.
“What?" Jack asked, he hadn't realized anyone had noticed his solemn mood. "No. I’m just trying to figure things out, you know?”
“Figure what out?" Tater was insistent, "You like him, he like you, you get married and I get pie all of the time.”
“I don’t think it’s that easy,” Jack said, feeling defensive.
“Is that easy. You make things too hard Zimmboni. Stop it,” Tater glared down at him. It was a little intimidating, but he’d known Tater too long to really feel the full force of his game-face.
Jack kept texting Bitty like usual, though, so he wasn’t sure if Bitty even realized something was off. Hopefully he didn’t, but he was much more perceptive than Jack could ever hope to be.
Are we still on for nye @ shitty & lardo’s? Bitty texted a few days after Christmas, and maybe Jack’s freak out was more obvious than he’d thought.
Of course. I’m picking you up at 8:30 right?
As long as that still works for you!
Definitely. I’m looking forward to it :)
That was true. Jack was looking forward to spending New Year’s with Bitty and his friends. Despite their enthusiastic first meeting, they’d quickly accepted Jack into their circle. Especially Shitty who loved texting Jack his enthusiastic running commentary during every Falcs’ game he managed to catch.
At eight-thirty on New Year’s Eve Jack picked Bitty up outside his apartment. Shitty and Lardo’s apartment in Arlington was a good half-hour drive from Bitty’s without the added holiday traffic. During the drive, Bitty carried the conversation, which wasn’t unusual for them. Jack tried his best to keep himself in the present instead of focusing on his anxiety, but it was proving difficult for him.
“Is everything okay? You’ve seemed extra quiet the past few days,” Bitty asked as they stopped at a red light, looking over at Jack with a worried furrow between his brows.
“Yeah, sorry, it’s always weird to go from holiday mode right back into hockey mode. I didn’t mean to worry you,” Jack reached over as the light turned green and rested his hand on Bitty’s knee.
“Hm,” Bitty said, accepting but clearly not entirely believing. Still he twined his fingers through Jack’s and that had to count for something.
The party was more raucous than Jack had been expecting. It reminded him of the college parties he always avoided, but as soon as they walked inside Bitty lit up, clearly in his element. He kept a hold of Jack’s hand and led him around to greet everyone. Jack couldn’t keep up with all of the new people he was being introduced to, but he enjoyed seeing how happy Bitty was to catch up with all of his friends.
Shitty found them after a few minutes, pulling them both into a hug at once and offering to bring them drinks.
“I know it’ll be a while before you get to the refreshments table when you’re glued to this social butterfly,” Shitty joked, poking a finger at Bitty.
“I can’t help my gregarious nature, you know that Shitty,” Bitty said in response, “but I’m sure Jack would appreciate a drink.” Bitty winked up at Jack, who smiled in response. Shitty walked away, muttering something about heart-eyed motherfuckers, only to return a few minutes later with two beers.
He handed one to Bitty, who was engaged in a round of catch-up with a tall redheaded man who’s name Jack already forgot. When Shitty handed Jack the second beer, Jack thanked him, then settled in to listen as he started a rant about toxic masculinity in sports culture.
At some point Jack lost track of where Bitty was. They’d danced for a bit before the crowd of bodies in the living room had become too much for Jack and he’d slipped away to take refuge in the kitchen where he’d found Ransom and they’d gotten to talking about med school internships.
Now it was five minutes until midnight and Jack knew that it was important to find Bitty before the countdown started. He waded into the crowd in the living room, cursing the fact that the majority of guests were giant former hockey players, so his own height didn’t help him and it was easy for Bitty to be lost in the crowd.
Fortunately instead of him finding Bitty, Bitty found him. He suddenly appeared and wrapped his arm through Jack’s as he happily yelled, “Found you!” It was obvious that he’d had a few more drinks in their time apart, his cheeks were flushed and he was covered in a light sheen of sweat from dancing and he looked as gorgeous as he ever had with the way he was beaming up at Jack.
As they counted down the new year Jack looked into Bitty’s eyes and Bitty kept grinning up at him.
“Happy New Year,” Jack said as he leaned down to pull Bitty into a kiss. The kiss was sweet and warm and everything that Jack wanted.
“Happy New Year Jack,” Bitty said against his lips before kissing him again. It quickly turned more heated as Bitty pressed up against him. Bitty pulled away with a quiet moan and stared up at Jack looking wrecked, “Take me home?” And Jack couldn’t say no to that.
It took them a good half an hour still to say all of their goodbyes, and they were chirped heavily for leaving the party so early since it was clear exactly why they were leaving. It took even longer to get back to Bitty’s and find a parking spot. Jack wasn’t even entirely sure the spot he found wasn’t resident only, but it wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford a parking ticket. He just wanted to be inside Bitty’s bedroom as soon as possible. It was after two by the time they made it back and the moment they were inside, Jack backed Bitty against the door and kissed him hard.
The way Bitty’s legs wrapped around his waist and he carried Bitty to bed reminded him of their first night together, months ago. This time, though, they knew each other’s bodies better. There was more feeling between them. Even if the feelings were only Jack’s. He pushed any negative thoughts away so that he could let go and enjoy this.
Jack felt consumed, with Bitty on top of him, wrapped around him, inside of him. It was easy to lose himself in the feeling.
After, when they were curled together in Bitty’s bed and Bitty was fast asleep beside him, Jack realized that there was no way he could hide his feelings anymore. He didn’t get much sleep that night, keeping Bitty held close just in case this was his last chance to spend the night like this.
Bitty slept late the next morning, which wasn’t at all surprising given their late night and the fact he’d been drinking. Jack on the other hand hadn’t managed to turn off his thoughts, so he’d given up on sleeping around seven. By the time he heard Bitty stirring in the bedroom he’d already taken a morning run, showered, and was sitting in Bitty’s living room watching ESPN with a cup of coffee and Peaches curled up purring in his lap.
“Good morning,” Bitty said, cuddling up next to Jack on the couch. He still had bedhead, but he smelled like toothpaste and facial soap when he pressed his face into Jack’s neck.
“Morning Bits,” Jack replied, putting his coffee down to wrap his arms around Bitty. He was trying to act normal, but his nerves were making him feel stiffer than usual. Bitty clearly noticed, pulling away to look seriously at Jack.
“Okay, I know you said yesterday that nothing was wrong, but that clearly isn’t the case.”
Jack just blinked, suddenly unable to form words.
Bitty looked at him with an expression somewhere between sadness and anger, “If you don’t want to see me anymore you can just say so. I don’t know exactly what I did wrong but-”
“No!” Jack said, loud enough to cause Peaches to race out of his lap, probably leaving claw marks on his thighs, but Jack didn't care. “You didn’t do anything. You’re great. And I don’t want to stop seeing you, it’s just-”
“It’s not me, it’s you?” Bitty said, crossing his arms over his chest and looking up at the ceiling like he was trying not to cry.
That look cut right through Jack because maybe, just maybe, Bitty had deeper feelings too. That gave him the courage to say, “I can’t keep seeing you casually. I know that’s what we agreed to, but I’m falling for you and I can’t keep pretending I’m not.”
“...You…really?” Bitty stared at him with a look of disbelief.
Jack swallowed, “I’d really like to be your boyfriend. Officially. If you’ll have me.”
“Oh honey,” And now Bitty was crying, but he was also starting to smile, “I’d love to be your boyfriend.”
“Oh,” Jack felt relief course through him, leaving him speechless. “Cool.”
“Oh my god, you dork,” Bitty said as he threw his arms around Jack. Feeling an immense sense of relief, Jack pulled Bitty into his lap and held him close.
“I was worried you wouldn’t feel the same way,” Jack admitted, pressing his face into Bitty’s hair. He almost felt the need to lay out exactly why Bitty shouldn’t want to be with him, but he realized that Bitty had already seen his anxiety, his aloofness, his awkwardness. Bitty had seen some of the worst of Jack, and he was choosing to be with him.
“I’ve been falling for you too, so hard.” Bitty pulled back to look at Jack, hands reaching up to cup Jack’s face, “I kept wanting to go back and kick myself for ever suggesting we keep things casual. I didn’t want to pressure you into anything you weren’t ready for. I was also a little hesitant, you know, you’re this super famous hockey player. And I’m just me. I didn’t want to get hurt. And I let that fear keep me from being with you the way I really wanted to.”
Jack turned his head slightly to kiss Bitty’s palm, “But you’re so amazing, Bits. You’re not still worried about that are you?”
“Not so much,” Bitty smiled at him, “I know you better now. You’re not a typical professional athlete who acts like a player off the ice too. You’re really just a big lovable nerd.”
“Uh, thanks?” Jack felt like maybe he should be a little offended, but he was too happy.
Bitty sighed, “I just wish I’d been more open from the start. It would have saved us all this trouble.”
“That goes both ways, bud,” Jack said, kissing Bitty’s cheek, “but I guess it doesn’t matter now, eh? I know it doesn’t change everything, we’re both still going to be busy and we still live an hour apart, but it will be nice to know that we’re both serious about this.”
“It will be.” And with the way Bitty was grinning up at him, eyes shining with happiness, Jack just had to kiss him.
BACK-TO-BACK CHEF: feat. Eric Bittle & Jack Zimmermann
Int. BA Test Kitchen: Boston branch
A voice speaks from off-camera, “Okay Bitty, tell everyone why we’re here today.”
Bitty wrings his hands nervously as he looks into the camera, “Oh my god, okay. Y’all may’ve seen the back-to-back chef video I did here two years ago with Jack Zimmermann. And maybe you’ve heard that we’ve been dating pretty much ever since.” He smiled at that, then took a deep breath, “Now I’m here today because I’ve convinced Jack to film another video in the same style for the two-year anniversary of that first video. But what Jack doesn’t know is that I’m planning to use that video to propose to him”
Bitty grins, still looking nervous, but now a bit excited as well, “The plan is that we’re going to make a chocolate soufflé with a raspberry coulis and whipped cream. I’m going to plate the soufflé on an extra large plate and use the coulis to write out ‘Marry me?’ and have the ring box also open on the plate. Then when we turn around for the reveal I’ll show him the plate and get down on one knee and with any luck he’ll say yes! I think he’ll say yes. I’m like 99.5 percent sure. I mean, if you’re watching this video he must have said yes. There’s no way we’d air my boyfriend turning down my proposal, right?” Bitty’s speaking a mile a minute and his voice is beginning to take on a manic quality. No one answers him.
Cut to Tom, a BA producer, sitting at his desk with his phone out. He looks at the camera, deadpan, “Okay Jack, do you mind if I put this on speaker? I don’t want to miss anything and I think it would be a good addition to the video.”
“Sure, yeah,” Jack Zimmermann’s voice comes across the line.
“Alright Jack, can you tell me your plan again?” Tom says with a significant look at the camera.
“Yeah. You know how next week Bitty and I are doing that two year anniversary video? I want to use that video to propose to him.”
Several BA staff members have gathered around the call, all watching the phone call with obvious glee.
“And how did you want to propose?”
“I got him to tell me that we’re doing chocolate soufflés. So I was hoping you guys could get me a tray to serve it on? And some chocolate syrup? Then I can write ‘Marry me?” on the tray with the syrup and have the soufflé and the ring ready. Do you think I should have a rose on the tray too? That’d be a nice touch, eh?”
“I’m pretty sure we can get all of that together, Jack.” Tom says with a smirk.
“Great. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.”
“It’s really my pleasure Jack.”
As soon as they hang up, Tom turns to fully face the camera and says, “I’ve never felt more single in my entire life.”
Cut to the day of filming. Both Jack and Bitty seem to be radiating nervous energy, but it’s clear how quickly they become comfortable as Bitty starts talking through the recipe.
Both men spend the entire shoot throwing secretive smiles and knowing looks at the camera and crew members.
By the time they both finish plating their souffles, they’re both grinning in anticipation.
“Okay, let’s turn around!” Bitty finally says.
They both turn and freeze. Bitty lets out a shocked squeal and Jack starts giggling, a sound that’s never been caught on video before.
“Who told you!?” Bitty demands.
“No one, I swear!” Jack say, still laughing, “I came up with the idea entirely on my own.”
“Oh my god, you ridiculous man. I love you so much,” Bitty says, quickly putting his plate on the counter so that he can kiss Jack.
“So is that a yes?” Jack asks, attempting a playful tone despite the fact that he’s clearly tearing up.
“I think you’re the one who’s supposed to tell me yes! It was my idea first,” Bitty replies, but it’s not cutting since he’s openly crying.
Jack finally puts his own tray down so he can pull Bitty into a hug, “Yes, I’ll marry you mon coeur .” He presses a kiss to the top of Bitty’s head.
Bitty pulls back and looks around accusingly, “You all knew this whole time?”
“Yep,” Tom says and the camera pans to see that he’s grinning like the cat who ate the canary, “you two are disgustingly adorable.”
Jack and Bitty exchange their rings, Bitty crying harder now and even Jack has to swipe a few tears off his cheeks.
They take a moment to pose for the camera, both showing the rings off, before they apologize for not sticking around to film a proper ending and heading out.
“I guess that’s a wrap?” Tom says as the camera follows their quick departure. “Can’t really blame them I guess. Do any of you want to help me set up a Tinder account?”
Cut to the end credits.
Sitting down with Jack Zimmermann after his third Stanley Cup win
By James Thornton
I meet Jack Zimmermann in his home, a mid-sized house in a suburb of Boston that is more homey than the mansion I'd been expecting. The interior is a perfectly cultivated mix of modern pieces with cozy accents, a style which Jack entirely credits to his husband. It's been years since I've interviewed him and he jokes that he still hasn't picked up a talent for interior design.
We sit down at his dining room table where he offers me a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. The pie is a strawberry-rhubarb and after the first bite I suddenly understand why Jack's husband Eric's baking is legendary. But onto the interview.
JT: It's nice to see you again, Jack. It's been a while.
JZ: Well, I can't win the cup every year, eh?
JT: So Jack, you gave two pretty big interviews after each of your previous cup wins. Is there anything major you’d like to announce here today?
JZ: Yes, actually. I’m retiring.
JT: You’re retiring? Why now?
JZ: Honestly, I’m not as young as I used to be. My knees are starting to have serious problems. And I couldn’t have asked for a better place to end my career. A lot of guys aren’t lucky enough to win even one Cup. I’ve won three. I’ve played for two incredible teams and I know I’m seen as a leader both on and off the ice. I want to end my career on my own terms, on a high note.
JT: Do you have any plans for your retirement?
JZ: I have a few. I’d like to get a masters in history and maybe teach. I’m also interested in becoming a coach. I’ll also be a father by the end of the summer, so I have a feeling that will keep me busy since Eric’s been working hard on his second cookbook.
JT: Congratulations! Is this the first time you’ve publicly announced your impending fatherhood?
JZ: It is. We’ve been keeping it quiet since it’s been a bit of a journey with surrogacy, but Eric and I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait to be a dad.
JT: From one adventure to the next, right?
JZ: Exactly. And I think this one might be the most exciting yet.