«What’s up with you, kiddo»? Marty asked. «You’re being a bit of an ass today».
«More than usual»? Ransom chirped.
Jack towel-dried his hair. «I don’t know what you mean».
The locker room was filled with the usual post-skate cacophony: monumental chirps, jockstraps being hurled across the room, Holster sang selections from Pirates of Penzance, the sound of pads being tossed onto the floor as the smell of musty hockey gear permeated the area.
“What did he do now?” Snowy asked as he walked in from the showers.
The truth was, Jack knew he’d been on edge for the last week or so. And if he were being even more truthful, he knew it was ever since he saw the Cheskie’s guy and didn’t get his number. He realized it was all on him because the guy just stood there waiting for Jack to make a move, one that never came.
“Nothing. I just…” Jack shrugged. “I’m kind of in the moon today.”
Holster studied Jack for a beat.
“Hold the phone! HOLD THE PHONE!” Holster bellowed. He marched right up to Jack and pressed his face up close to Jack’s so they were nose to nose. Jack blinked and pulled back slightly as Holster stared intently through his glasses which began to fog up.
“I knew it,” he whispered. “I KNEW IT!”
“What?” Marty asked. “What do you know?”
“This one,” Holster said with glee as he danced and pointed at Jack, “has a crush!”
“How the hell did you know?” Jack asked, completely taken aback.
“Dude, I didn’t,” Holster cackled. “You’re just so fucking easy!”
Everyone laughed as Jack pouted.
“Jack, you like someone?” Snowy asked.
“I guess so? Maybe? I ran into him twice and totally blew it. I didn’t even get his coordinates. I can’t call him or anything. En tout cas, it’s not like I’ll run into him again. So that’s that.”
Tater shook his head and whistled. “Sound like you definitely blew it, Zimmboni.”
“‘Chyeah, I know.”
“You know what you need?” Ransom asked.
“Cinq à sept! Cinq à sept!” Holster began to chant, gaining volume after each refrain, “Cinq à sept! Cinq à sept!”
“No, I don’t feel like going out.”
“Come on, Jack. You never go out with us,” Snowy said. “A little cinq à sept will do you some good.”
“I don’t know,” Jack said as he pulled his t-shirt on.
“Jack, as your captain, I am ordering you,” Marty said.
“You’re not that kind of captain, Marty.”
“We’re going to Le Mal,” Guy said.
“That hipster tiki bar again?” Poots asked with a scowl.
“Hey, it’s the hipster places that let us drink in peace. They don’t care that we’re there, man,” Guy said as he clapped Poots on the back.
“Come on, Jack. Just this once,” Ransom pleaded.
One drink, Jack thought. One drink with his friends wouldn’t kill him.
Jack looked at his watch again. Ugh. He gave himself an hour and then he’d head home. He sipped at whatever fruity cocktail it was that Ransom placed in front of him, and then began to chew on the pineapple slice that sat on the rim of his glass.
Jack looked at his teammates and couldn’t help but chuckle. Guy poured something from a huge pitcher into Poot’s glass—Poots, who was now wearing a lei—Ransom and Holster scrolled through Ransom’s phone and burst out laughing at something or another. Snowy tried throwing tiny dumplings into Tater’s mouth from across the table, and Marty and Thirdy swayed to the beat of the loud music that was getting to be a bit much for Jack. Jack was just happy they could be out together in relative peace and not be harassed by overzealous hockey fans.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” Jack said to no one in particular. Guy gave him a thumbs up.
Jack gently pushed through the crowd making his way toward the general direction of the bathrooms.
«Bathrooms»? Jack asked the bartender at the bar in the back.
«Down there, to your left».
“You’re welcome,” a voice he recognized replied.
He quickly turned, and sitting at the bar was the Cheskie’s guy.
“It’s you,” Jack said with a huge grin.
“Yeah, it’s me,” the guy said then casually took a sip of his cocktail. “You stalkin’ me?”
Jack frowned. “Euh, no.”
“Oh, sorry. Is this your drink or something?” he asked sassily and raised his glass in Jack’s direction.
“Haha. No, it’s not.”
“I know that, silly,” he said with a grin. “I’m just messing with you.”
The woman sitting next to him cleared her throat.
“This is Marguerite,” the guy said. “We work together. Marguerite, this is… um…”
“Jack,” he said as he extended his hand.
“Yeah, hi,” she said with an excited smile.
“This is the babka fella,” the guy said to Marguerite.
Marguerite’s smile grew exponentially. “This is babka fella! Him?!”
The guy gently elbowed her as she giggled.
Jack then offered him his hand. “I’m Jack. Nice to officially meet you.”
“Eric,” the guy said brightly.
The two grinned at each other without saying a word. Jack wasn’t sure if it had been for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, he just knew it felt good, then Marguerite cleared her throat again.
“Eric, sorry. I just remembered that I have to go.”
“Go? Where? We just got here. It’s barely 5:30!”
She smiled at Jack as she hopped off the barstool.
“I have to go… uh, to the dép for something.”
“The dép?” Eric asked. “Right now?”
“Yeah, super important.” Marguerite nodded and grabbed her purse and kissed Eric on the cheek. “See you on Monday. Very nice meeting you, Jack. Good luck on Sunday! À la prochaine.”
Eric watched her with wide eyes as she quickly left.
“Good luck on Sunday? What?” He watched as Marguerite waved one more time, then turned to look at Jack. “So… she was acting totally weird. No clue what that was all about. Sorry.”
“Don’t you have a bathroom to go to?” Eric asked as he folded his arms across his chest.
“Bathroom?” Eric said with a dismissive wave. “Don’t let me keep you.”
Jack frowned then realized Eric’s last memory of Jack was him standing, silently, outside St-Viateur. So he could understand why Eric wouldn’t be too thrilled about seeing him again.
“Right, bathroom. Will, euh, you still be here when I get back?”
“That depends. How long you planning on taking?” Eric asked.
Jack laughed as he shook his head. “Be right back.”
“Well then, I guess I’ll be right here finishing my drink.”
“Okay, let me go tell the people I’m with that I’m going to sit with you.”
“Oh, you are, are you?”
Jack froze. “I mean, if you want me to.”
Eric laughed. “Sure. But don’t you have to use the little boy’s room first?”
Jack scrambled toward the bathroom.
“I ran into a friend and I’m going to catch up with them, so I’ll see you later,” Jack said as nonchalantly as he could while he pointed toward the back.
“Friend? What friend?” Ransom looked around the table and counted everyone. “We’re all here, and so which friend are you taberfucking talking about?”
“I have friends.”
Everyone paused to look at him.
“Bubbe Esther is back there?” Tater asked. “Mardey?”
“We haven’t even ordered a Dragon Boat, yet, man,” Thirdy said sadly.
“It’s the guy. Okay? The guy! I have to go, bye.”
“Atta babe!” Holster called out as everyone clapped.
“Where are you sitting?” Snowy asked with a smile, a mile wide.
“Nowhere. Leave us alone. Bye,” Jack said as he grinned and walked back to Eric.
He settled into Marguerite’s empty bar stool.
“I see,” Eric smiled.
“Do you want another drink?” Jack asked.
“Sure, another one of these,” Eric said to the bartender as he tapped his glass.
Jack held up two fingers and the bartender nodded.
“So,” they both said at the same time, then smiled.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again,” Jack said.
“Really? I didn’t think you wanted to see me again.”
“I’m... shy?” Jack supplied.
“Shy, right. You were definitely super shy when you accosted me for my babka.”
Jack covered his face as he blushed. “I have no idea where that came from.”
“Clearly from your love for your bubbe.”
“Yes, that’s it,” Jack said, face still red.
Eric smiled. “You really are shy, huh? Too bad. I’m only looking to make outgoing friends here in my new city.”
Jack smiled. “And how long have you been here?”
“Mmm, about two months. I came here for work.”
“What do you do?” Jack felt that was capable of maintaining that level of small talk.
He wanted to keep talking to Eric. He didn’t care about what. There was just something joyful about Eric that Jack really liked. He had Tater’s humor, Holster’s brashness, but could see some softness underneath it all. He seemed like a really kind soul.
“I’m a food writer, and an opportunity to work for Quench came up. I just couldn’t pass it up.”
Eric took his cocktail napkin and began to fold it. He kept talking as he did.
“It’s an amazing food magazine. I’m surprised you’ve never heard of it. I write print and online stuff for them.”
“Recipes and things?” Jack asked watching Eric continue his folding.
The bartender put their drinks down.
“Sometimes. But most of the time I write about the food world: people, restaurants, slice of life kind of things.”
“And you’re writing about all that here?”
“So are you bilingual?”
“Bilingual? Lord, no. Unless you count Southern. Then, yes, I’m fluent in passive aggressivity, bless your heart.”
Jack laughed. “I don’t know what that means.”
Eric laughed. “That’s good—if you don’t know what that means you haven’t gotten on my bad side.”
After the last fold, he handed Jack a simple origami dog. Jack smiled, charmed. Eric’s eyes met Jack, and Jack felt his stomach do a pleasant flip. Eric cleared his throat and took a sip from his drink.
“Sadly, no French. A little bit of Franglais, though. I’m trying. I'm taking a French immersion class. News flash! I suck at languages. I’m basically the reverse of yes, no, toaster.”
“Oui, non, pamplemousse,” Jack replied with a smile.
“No, nothing. Go on.” Jack appreciated all the Quebecois slang Eric was using like a natural. “How do you like Montréal so far? You have enough to write about?”
He felt like he could listen to Eric speak forever.
“I like it a lot. Can you believe some guy just up and bought me breakfast the other day?”
Jack laughed. “Is that so? Génial.”
“Yep, a bagel and coffee. Canadian politeness, I guess,” Eric replied with a smirk. He sighed and continued, “I’m getting settled. Learning about the city every day. The cost of living here is way more affordable than back home, so I love that. I have a really cute three-and-a-half in La Petite-Patrie that I’m crazy about. There’s no way I’d ever be able to rent a place like that in the states.”
Jack nodded. “That’s a nice area. I had some really good pupusas at a place there once. A really small place, blink and you’ll miss it—but the food was so good.”
“See? That’s what I need!”
“No, someone to tell me all the places I need to know about. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em hidden gems.”
“Yeah, you mentioned that when we got bagels.”
“Aw, and you remembered?”
“I did,” Jack said, voice a bit husky.
It was then Eric’s turn to blush. Jack was about to invite Eric for some pupusas when he felt a pair—or several pairs—of eyes on them.
“Uh...” Eric said and pointed. Jack turned and groaned.
The entire Habs gang was there, clustered together, smiling right behind them.
“Guys, this is Eric,” Jack said as he sighed and scrubbed his face. “Eric, that’s Poots, Snowy, Tater, Guy, Thirdy, Marty, Ransom, and Holster.”
“Hi, y’all,” Eric said with a shy wave.
“Y’all?” Snowy said. “Wow, you are American with a capital A.”
“Okay, you came and said hello, and now Eric and I would like to continue talking. You can leave.”
“Fine, but if he gets too boring,” Holster said to Eric, “come and sit with us.”
“Leave,” Jack said. He shooed them away and was met with several boos as Eric giggled.
“Nice meeting you,” he called out as they made their way to their table.
The guys waved and laughed, then Poots scampered back, gave his lei to Eric and left again.
“Those your friends?” Eric asked and put the lei aside next to his drink.
“Coworkers, I guess?” Jack said as he saw Tater waving at them maniacally. Jack grinned. “Yeah, they’re my friends.”
“They seem like a fun bunch,” Eric laughed as he waved at Tater.
“They make work fun, that’s for sure. So… do you like hockey?” Jack asked. "I can get tickets for the next Habs game.”
“Can't say I know much about it. I know! Major sin since hockey is God here, but I come from the land of holy football. Still, it might be fun to go watch a game together.”
“Watch a game together?” Jack was confused. It then dawned on him what Eric was saying, and he broke into a huge smile. “Yeah, that would be fun but… wow.”
“Wow, what?” Eric asked. “What’s so funny?”
Jack began to chuckle and shook his head.
“What? What's going on?" Eric asked. “Don’t tease me! I don’t like it. What did I do?”
“It's just that, well, I'm… I’m on the team.”
“The Canadiens. You know, the Habs?”
“You’re on the team?" Eric laughed. "Lord! See? I told you I don't know much about it!”
Jack averted his gaze. “No, it's okay. I...”
“I really like that,” Jack said softly as he ducked his head to fiddle with his drink.
Jack was so used to people immediately recognizing him, people wanting things from him, taking without asking, that meeting someone who had no idea about his family, his fame, his past—it delighted Jack to no end.
“Oh,” Eric replied just as softly. “Yeah, a game might be fun.”
Eric pulled out his phone, began typing rapidly, then showed it to Jack.
“Look at you!” He had the team website up. “This looks like your mugshot.” Eric laughed. “So serious!”
“I don’t like having my picture taken.” Jack frowned despite being charmed by Eric. “I always end up looking like that! Like I robbed a Burger King.”
Eric laughed. “You're really funny, anyone ever tell you that?”
“No,” Jack said smiling earnestly. “I try, so thanks for noticing.”
“Oh no,” Eric said with a grin. His face was rosy and flushed. Why?
“No, nothing.” Eric shook his head then drained his glass then looked down at his phone. He exhaled and continued scrolling through the website. “I just had to set myself straight there… anyway, wish I knew what the heck these numbers meant, but I’m gonna assume it’s all good.”
“Yes, it is, but that’s not important. Listen,” Jack said as Eric put his phone away, “if you want, I can help you.”
“You know—find all the best parts,” Jack said quickly before he lost his nerve.
“Find all the best parts?”
“In the city.”
“Really? Me and you?”
“Sure. It’ll be fun. A couple of friends hanging out around town.”
“Friends,” Eric said, nose wrinkling slightly.
“Yeah, friends,” Jack said with a tight smile. “Right on.”
Often times, Jack realized he was his own worst enemy. There was no worry in anyone else sabotaging him when he was perfectly capable of doing it to himself, brilliantly.
“I’d like that,” Eric said as he raised his glass to Jack. “To new beginnings, new cities, and new friends.”
“To new friends,” Jack added.
“It’s nice to meet you, Jack.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Eric.”
There's happy hour, and then there's cinq à sept. No other city does after-work drinks quite like Montréal. The cinq à sept offers coworkers a chance to unwind, have a drink, and maybe even make new friends. If you find a bar with a gorgeous terrasse, what else do you need?