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All the Best Parts

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“Can you stop at Cheskie’s for a babka?”

Jack was five minutes away from his parents’ home when he got the phone call, and Cheskie’s was 20 minutes in the other direction.

“A babka? Sure,” he said as he quickly made a U-turn, hoping no one would see.

“Bubbe didn’t feel like baking one, so she said Cheskie’s would do,” Alicia said.

Jack could hear his Bubbe Esther in the background.

“Tell Jacky to bring two, if they still have any at all—and look fresh!”

Jack smiled. His bubbe was one of his most favorite people in the world, and he would do anything for her. He looked forward to Friday dinners at her house whenever he didn’t have a game. Brisket, roasted chicken, kugel, tzimmes; it was always delicious and plentiful. Those dinners always reminded Jack of childhood evenings spent at his bubbe and zayde’s house. His time there was a delightful mix of good food, music, hearty laughter, papa and maman playing cards with his aunts and uncles, hockey banter, and Bubbe making Jack feel he was capable of anything.

“Look at this boy,” Esther would say as she’d squeeze Jack’s chubby cheeks and kiss the top of his head. “He’s going to be a heartbreaker when he grows up, and so smart.”

Jack would feel his face burn as he’d help himself to another one of bubbe’s sufganiyot. He would believe her, feeling, if only for a moment, as though he were on top of the world.

Jack pulled into a parking space in front of Cheskie’s and was thankful there wasn’t a line out the door. A good sign. The bell over the door dinged, he walked in and got into the small line and quickly examined the situation. He could see there were exactly three babkas left, and only two people were ahead of him, so the odds were definitely in his favor.

The line moved.

One gone. Two left.

The line moved again.

“Can I get a babka, please?” the man in front of him asked in English. “Merci,” he added messily.

His accent betrayed that he wasn’t local.

“Wait! Make that two.”

The woman behind the counter nodded.

“Oh, come on!” Jack muttered under his breath.

The man turned to look at Jack over his shoulder. "Pardon me?"

“You took the last two babkas.”

“Yes, I did.”

“There’s only one of you.”

“And?”

“My bubbe wanted one.”

The guy snorted. “Well, sorry, but...”

He then shrugged without any real commitment as he handed the cashier his money, and waited for his change.

“Let me buy one from you,” Jack said.

The man took his bag, shook his head, and rolled his eyes as he walked out of Cheskie’s without looking back.

“Come on,” Jack said as he followed him without thinking. He didn’t mean to be creepy, but there was no way he was going to disappoint Bubbe Esther.

“Are you for real?” the man asked as he paused on the sidewalk.

He was definitely not local. Southern. His accent was southern. And straight away, Jack noticed he was cute. Very cute. Marde.

“Um, yes?” Jack asked, seriously doubting his life choices.

“How about, um, no,” he said as he waved goodbye and began to walk away once again. “So much for Canadian politeness. Have a good day.”

Jack felt like such a dumbass about the whole exchange, embarrassed he basically harassed an attractive stranger over baked goods. Over baked goods!

Tabarnak,” he muttered to himself.

The man stopped dead in his tracks. “Hey, now! I might not speak Québécois, but that, that I know.”

Jack wanted to crawl into a hole and hide.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I just--I just hate to disappoint her.”

“Your bubbe?” the guy asked, eyebrow firmly raised.

“Yeah,” Jack replied, hands in pockets, ineffectually kicking a nearby pebble.

“Sounds like you’re pulling my leg,” the man said as he looked Jack up and down. He stood in front of him with arms folded, the Cheskie’s bag swung to and fro slowly. “Show me a picture of her.”

“What?”

“Show me a picture of her,” he repeated. He pointed at Jack’s pocket. “You must have a picture of her on your phone, right?”

Jack fumbled as he pulled his phone out and scrolled until he found one of Bubbe Esther sitting in her kitchen, proudly showing off some challah she had baked. Her cat Stanley sat on a chair next to her, trying to sniff the bread.

“See? That's her.”

The blond man scooted in close to Jack and looked at the screen.

“That's the little old lady that's going to be disappointed if you don't let me buy a babka from you,” Jack continued with a smirk, knowing he was laying it on thick.

“Is that her kitty?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, that's just playing dirty,” the man said, then sighed. “Here.”

He reached into his bag, pulled out a babka, and handed it to Jack.

Ben là? Really?” he said with a blush.

The man smiled and playfully shoved at Jack.

“Like you weren't gunning for it. Come on, handsome, no point being shy now.”

“Thanks so much.” Jack pulled out a twenty. “Euh, do you have any change?”

The man laughed. “Lord, just take it. Consider it my good deed for the day.”

“What? No, I want to pay for it.”

“Take it,” he said with a smile so genuine, Jack couldn’t help but smile back. “And give your bubbe a big ole hug.”

“Thanks, really.”

The man smiled at Jack once again, then shook his head, and playfully rolled his eyes.

“Have a good one,” he called out as he walked away.

Jack stood there, grinning as he watched the cute stranger disappear around the corner.

It's a little fudgy, a little yeasty, and a whole lot of chocolatey. This trans-Atlantic Jewish delight is a delicious hybrid between bread and pastry, and without a doubt, Cheskie's babka is the best. If you’re lucky enough to snag one. The texture, with its coiled layers of pure bliss, houses luscious chocolate within its beautifully laminated pastry. It’s rare for a loaf to make it home in one piece as you can’t help but nibble on it. The lines at Cheskie's are not unwarranted, and the history of babka and Cheskie’s are just as delicious as the treat itself...

+++

When Jack wasn’t on a roadie, his routine was the same each morning. He’d get up at five, go for a run, stop at St-Viateur for a bagel and coffee, make his way home, shower, eat breakfast, and head to Centre Bell. There was comfort in routine. And so it was that one week later, Jack arrived at St-Viateur at 7:00 a.m. and got in line not thinking much of it.

The bagel shop had its usual size crowd, not too bad for a weekday morning. A man ahead of him took a picture of the menu on the wall with a very expensive DSLR camera—with flash, no less. He then turned, saw Jack, and did a double-take. The man excitedly whispered to his wife and nodded at Jack, who, in turn, nodded back.

Living in Montréal, Jack was used to tourists, to cameras everywhere; being on the Habs, doubly so. This was life in Montréal. This was life as a hockey player in Montréal. Jack averted his gaze and looked at the brown and white fan lazily whirling overhead. He moved up one step as he exhaled softly.

“Please don't take the last bagel,” a voice said behind him. “My MooMaw wants it.”

Jack turned, and it was him. The guy from Cheskie’s, and he was just as attractive as Jack remembered.

Jack smirked and squashed down the butterflies dancing in his belly. “No guarantees.”

“Fancy meeting you here,” the guy said.

“We’re probably neighbors and don’t even know it,” Jack said.

“Well, it’d be nice to actually know some people in the neighborhood, that’s for sure.”

The line moved again.

“Yeah?”

“I just relocated here from the states. You know, in case the accent didn’t give it away.”

“Really? I could have sworn you were a native Montréaler,” Jack chirped.

The guy grinned. “I could see how you would think that.”

They moved up closer.

“Well, you seem to know all the good places already,” Jack said. “You've already been to Cheskie’s, and now you’re here.”

“Those were easy. Everyone knows about St-Viateur, and my coworker told me about Cheskie’s. I wish I had some more intel, though. Someone to tell me all the Secret Squirrel places in the city.”

“Secret Squirrel?”

“You know, Secret Squirrel?”

Jack shook his head.

“It’s an old cartoon from, like, the ‘70s or something. Anyway, it means the secret places. The good places only locals would know about. All the best parts.”

Jack smiled and realized every time he had run into this guy, that’s what he did. He smiled. Maybe it was his open, friendly manner or how he chirped Jack as easily as anyone on the team. Of course, Jack knew the fact that he found him so good looking might have also had something to do with it.

“I wouldn’t mind--” Jack began.

The guy pointed with his chin that the line had moved.

“You’re up.”

“Oh.”

Jack looked at the guy, all big brown eyes and warm smiles.

“What would you like?” Jack asked as he stepped up to the register.

“What? No, I couldn’t,” he replied.

“It’s only fair since you gave me your babka.”

“I gave it to your granny, not you. Totally different,” the guy said.

“I’m good for it. Please, let me.”

“Um, okay,” he said as his face lit up. “You pick.”

"Deux bagels au romarin," Jack said to the cashier.

“And two coffees, please,” the guy added cheekily.

Jack turned to look at him as he smirked.

“What? I wasn’t going to choke it down dry. Besides, I have it on good authority you’re good for it.”

Jack chuckled. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he knew he liked it. He handed the guy his coffee and the little paper bag; an illustrated blue bagel waved at them.

“Here,” he said. “Enjoy.”

“Now, there’s the Canadian politeness I’ve heard so much about.”

“Only to be rivaled by Southern politeness, I guess.”

The guy laughed as they exited the bakery. “Well, thanks for breakfast.”

They paused, and both stood awkwardly on the sidewalk, apparently waiting for the other to say something.

With the early morning sun shining on the guy’s sweet face, his hair gently whipping around his forehead in the soft fall breeze, Jack found he easily pictured himself with the guy. Could Jack date right now? He surprised himself by even asking. For starters, Jack didn’t know if the guy was straight or not. Hell, he didn’t even know his name for crying out loud.

Dating was a complicated thing for Jack—always had been. It wasn’t easy when he’d dated women, much less men. Not that his team wasn’t supportive, they were. Marty, Guy, Tater, Holster, Ransom, Pricey, George—everyone had his back. The team wasn’t the problem; it was usually the people he would date. They didn’t know how to handle being in the public eye, constantly under a microscope. It was fine during the off-season, but Jack knew it could get a little intense during the rest of the year.

The guy frowned and finally broke the silence as he looked a little embarrassed.

“All right then... Guess I should go. Thanks again.”

“But--”

He quickly turned and crossed the street, and Jack was once again left watching him walk away.

In 1953, Myer Lewkowicz arrived in Canada with not much more than a handful of dreams and great ambition. A survivor of Camp Buchenwald, he’s often quoted as saying, “At Buchenwald, all I wanted was a piece of bread.” Mr. Lewkowicz didn't know the first thing about baking, so it's extraordinary that with his journey from Poland to Montréal came the birth of St-Viateur bagel shop. Their wood oven-baked bagels are a thing of beauty that should be held as often as possible...