“Crisse, what are you wearing?”
Eric looked down at his t-shirt.
“What? What's wrong with it? You like it? I found it at Renaissance,” Eric said as he pulled at his Maple Leafs shirt.
“You can’t wear that here. You'll get murdered,” Jack said. He quickly pulled Eric into his apartment and closed the door.
“Where? Your apartment?”
“Oh please! It's still Canada. What's the big deal?”
Jack shook his head. “The big deal is I don't want American blood on my hands. Montréal doesn't care what the R.O.C. is doing, only what Montréal is doing. Hold on. I'll be right back.”
Jack could hear Eric laugh as he ran to his bedroom and rummaged through his drawers. He pulled out a well-worn and loved Habs t-shirt. It was the first t-shirt he received after he was signed to the team.
“Here,” he said as he returned and found Eric sitting on the couch.
He tossed it to Eric, who in turn held it up. “I can't wear this. It's huge!”
Eric tossed it back to Jack.
“Marde. Okay, fine. I’ll buy you a t-shirt when we get to Centre Bell.”
“I'm perfectly capable of buying my own t-shirt, thank you very much.”
Jack eyeballed Eric’s Leafs t-shirt. “Obviously, you’re not.”
“Oh, you’re exaggerating,” Eric said with a dismissive wave.
Jack sighed. “We're going to get our asses kicked at home ice, and I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Eric smirked as he took a fishing magazine from the coffee table and began to leaf through it. “It’ll be fine. Lord, what am I looking at here?”
Jack smiled, in spite of himself. “Let me just finish getting my bag together and we can go. Make yourself comfortable.”
Eric gave him a salute.
“You know I'm just gonna nose around your kitchen, right?” he called out as Jack left the room.
Jack put the t-shirt back in the drawer and caught his reflection in the mirror. He was smiling. He looked flushed and happy. Shit. It occurred to him that his huge crush on Eric wasn’t going anywhere. He thought it might be okay and he’d get over it, and honestly, the way his stomach was so squirrely every time he was near Eric, Jack thought maybe it was indigestion. This was very inconvenient, to say the least.
For starters, he had no clue if Eric felt the same way. Sure, there were glances and touches, but maybe Eric was just naturally flirty. Yes, they’d text each other constantly, but what did that even mean? Jack ran his hands through his hair and exhaled.
Okay, for now, he would just continue on the friendship path and squash any desire he had to kiss Eric (which frankly, was present all the time… inconvenient) deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down. He did not want to spit down that well. Wait, or did he? Now he wasn’t sure which one was the good one. Damn metaphor had Jack all confused.
“Just act normal,” Jack told himself as a bead of sweat ran down his temple. “‘Chyeah, right. Tabarnak.”
When Jack returned, he found Eric looking at his photos on the bookshelves. He held up Jack’s bar mitzvah photo.
“Look at you! The day you became a man,” Eric said as he grinned. “Aw, you’re so cute.”
“God, don’t look at that,” Jack said.
“Come on, if you didn’t want people to look at it, you wouldn’t have it up here on display for the world to see.”
Jack grimaced. He got closer and peered over Eric’s shoulder. He could smell Eric’s soap or shampoo or whatever; an intoxicating concoction of vanilla, fresh linens, and pine. Jack scrubbed his face and exhaled.
“I was going through my awkward phase.”
Jack studied the 13-year-old Jack in the photo—all shaggy hair and a floppy smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. His yarmulke just barely visible in the photo; his tallit slightly askew around his shoulders.
“Awkward? No. You were just a shy little boy,” Eric said.
“Technically, a shy little man,” Jack said with a grin.
Eric smiled softly. “Look at your little suit.”
“I look like I could offer someone good interest rates on a bank loan.”
“Hush, you. You’re adorable, and I guarantee you, I would have had a crush on you. Of course, I was eight at the time, so maybe not right then and there—but 13-year-old me would have been into 13-year-old you.”
Jack coughed a little and watched Eric squirm with delight.
“That’s Bubbe Esther, right?”
“Yeah, that’s her, and that’s my mom.”
“Your mom is so pretty,” Eric said. “You have her eyes.”
Jack smiled then remembered how that day actually went. “They butted heads so much that day.”
“Why?” Eric asked with a frown.
Jack took the picture from Eric’s hand and sighed.
“They each had their own idea of how they wanted the day to go. Bubbe finally told maman she really didn't have a say in the day and things got pretty tense. Hence the constipated expression on my face.”
“How come?” Eric said turning to look at Jack.
“She's Irish Catholic… my mom. Or was, I guess. She’s from the U.S., too. Born in Boston.”
“Oh. Do they not get along?”
Jack shook his head and put the frame back on the shelf.
“No, no, they totally do—it’s just that back then, once in a while…” Jack shrugged. “Head butts.”
“That stinks. And you and your poor dad were stuck in the middle, huh?”
Jack stroked the picture frame and recalled the tension of that day. Maman wanted something more low-key while Bubbe wanted to go all out—neither one asking Jack what he wanted.
“Bubbe loves maman, she really does. They both have very strong opinions and sometimes they’re equally stubborn about things. In the past it was always interesting navigating the holidays,” Jack said with a shrug.
Eric stroked Jack’s arm. “But everything is okay now?”
“Yes, thankfully. It’s not like maman was active in the Catholic church back then or anything. She’s more active in the synagogue now.”
Jack looked at Eric’s hand and felt that love indigestion again. Jack pulled away slightly.
“I hope you don’t mind getting to Centre Bell so early. The game won't start for another couple of hours, but Mardey said he’ll show you around and watch the game with you.”
“No, it'll be fun. I don't mind. I finally get to meet the infamous Mardey.”
Jack’s phone beeped. He took it out and smiled. “Quand on parle du loup. It’s him wondering if we were still coming. Hold on.”
Jack shot Mardey a quick reply and grinned.
Jack had met Mardey when they attended McGill for undergrad and were both on the hockey team. Jack had been committed to getting his life back on track: school, hockey and that would be that. He hadn’t expected Mardey’s persistent friendship. In him, Jack soon found the brother he never had. Their senior year, Mardey announced he’d be staying at McGill for law school, and when he got a job working for the Habs legal team, their life-long friendship was solidified.
“He’s originally from Boston, too. He and my mom get along so well, Mardey said he’s unofficially a Zimmermann now.”
“Boston, really? Wouldn’t it have been crazy if our paths had crossed when I was at school? It’s not too far from Boston, you know.”
“Where did you go to school?” Jack asked.
“This tiny little school—you’ve probably never heard of it. Samwell University.”
Jack paused. “You went to Samwell?”
“Uh-huh. It’s a liberal arts college about 30 minutes from Boston.”
“No, I know Samwell.”
“You do not!”
“I do! My mother went there,” Jack said stunned. “I almost went there.”
“You did not!” Eric said incredulously.
“Why would I make that up?” Jack said smiling.
“That’s so bizarre! You meet how many people in your lifetime, and then you move to a different country and bam! The mom of one of your closest friends went to the same school as you did. Guess it’s kismet, Jack.”
Eric grinned and booped Jack’s nose.
“Did you just seriously boop my nose, Bittle?”
“Bittle?” Eric laughed. “Wow, must have touched a nerve there.”
Jack leaned in. “It was more like my nose, actually.”
Eric booped his nose again. The two smiled, leaning ever-so-slightly closer toward one another.
“You ready or what?” Eric asked with a teasing voice, their faces a few inches apart. “I have some hockeying to watch.”
The two looked at each other for a moment, then Eric finally stepped away.
“Let’s go, Canadiens! Let’s go!” he began to chant.
“Please don’t call it hockeying when we’re there,” Jack said as he hitched his duffle over his shoulder.
“Pssh! It’s just hockey, Jack. Don’t take it so seriously,” Eric deadpanned as he followed Jack to the front door.
“Can you close the lights?” Jack asked, keys in the lock.
“Close the lights?”
“Do you mean turn them off?”
“I guess, yeah.”
Eric smirked. “Lord, fine.”
“Uh, okay, Mr. Zimmermann,” Eric said with a chirpy grin. “Excuse you! You did not tell me your gigantic modelesque mug was going to greet us here.”
The two stood in front of the enormous mural at the main entrance of Centre Bell which featured Jack, Tater, Pricey, and Thirdy. The arena was oddly quiet, only a few people making their way to and fro as concession stand workers began to set up shop.
“Haha,” Jack said uncomfortably while Eric posed for a selfie in front of it. “It’s not a big deal. You, euh, don’t have to pose with it.”
“The hell, you say,” Eric said posing exaggeratedly for another selfie, tongue sticking out throwing out a peace sign. “I bet your face is on a bus, too, huh?”
“The STM fucking loves that beaut of a face,” someone behind them said.
Jack and Eric turned and there stood Mardey, greeting them with arms opened and mustache twitching.
“B.S. Knight, Esquire, at your service,” Mardey said. “Bring it in, Jacko and company. Bring! It! In!”
“Ignore that,” Jack laughed. “Eric, this is my best friend, Mardey. Mardey, this is Eric Bittle.”
"Shitty,” he said.
“Excuse me?” Eric replied.
“Shitty. I told all of these fuckers my name is Shitty, but they went all international with it and it stuck. So now I'm Mardey, as in marde, but you, young squire, can call me Shitty."
“Are--are you sure?” Eric asked, forehead wrinkled.
Mardey threw his head back and laughed. “I like him, Jack. I like him a lot. I see what you mean.”
“Va chier, Mardey,” Jack muttered under his breath as Mardey grinned. “So Mardey is going to give you a tour, and then bring you to the locker room a bit later.”
“Sounds fun,” Eric said.
“But first,” Jack said as he leaned in and stage whispered to Mardey, “he needs a new t-shirt. Can you take him to one of the gift shops and get him something? On me?”
“Oh, sweet Mary,” Eric said with an eye roll.
“Why? What’s wrong with what he’s wearing?”
“Show him.” Jack nudged Eric. “Go on.”
Eric sighed and unzipped his hoodie.
“Holy shit!” Mardey roared with laughter as Eric quickly zipped it back up again. “Holy fucking shit, that is amazing. Brah, I think I love you.”
“I still don’t get what the big deal is!” Eric said as he threw his arms up.
“Bitty, you’re from the south, right?”
“Bitty?” Eric said.
Jack and Eric exchanged a glance.
“So imagine, if you will, that you’re at a Dawgs game. You got your brew in one hand, a UGA pennant in the other, pile of nachos on your lap, but what’s this? Someone made you show up wearing a Gators’ t-shirt?!”
“Oh… OH!” Eric said as his eyes grew wide with understanding.
“He gets it now, Jackabelle,” Mardey said as he elbowed Jack in the ribs.
“Lord, Shitty. Point me to the gift shop, tout suite,” Eric said zipping up his hoodie a little bit higher.
“I’ll take care of you, Bitty. No worries!”
“Again with the Bitty, what in the world?” Eric said as Shitty flung his arms around his shoulders.
“Don’t worry, Jacko. I’ll take good care of your boy. I’m gonna show him the place: the lounge, the VIP room, the stick room. Unless you wanna do that, show him the stick room...” Shitty said then wagged his eyebrows.
Jack sputtered and looked at Eric who appeared positively confused.
“So, bring him to the locker room in an hour?” Shitty asked innocently.
“Euh, yes. That works.”
“Break a leg, Jack,” Eric called out as Shitty began pulling him away.
Eric jogged back to Jack, “Yeah?”
“I’ll try to get you a hattie,” Jack said shyly.
“Along with the t-shirt?” Eric asked.
“God, he’s adorable!” Shitty yelled.
“You have the little cutie here today, right?” Snowy asked.
“Who told you?” Jack groaned.
“Mardey!” everyone replied in unison.
“That crosseur,” Jack muttered.
He knew that the guys would realize Eric was at the game—he was coming to the locker room after all—but he didn’t think he would have to endure chirping so soon.
“Yes, he’s coming here,” Jack said sounding defeated.
Jack’s phone beeped and he practically dove for it as it sat on the end of the bench.
“Damn, Jack. Show a little restraint and decorum,” Guy said as Thirdy tsked behind him.
Eric: How big of a TV screen does a bar need? Good lord!
Jack: Haha. Are you at Taverne 1909?
Eric: Shitty took me there for a beer and sugar pie. Remind me to make you a decent sugar pie soon.
Jack: Oh, you bake?
Jack: Also I want to apologize in advance for whatever the guys are going to say when you get here.
Eric: that makes me nervous Jack! I’m not gonna lie.
Jack: No! Sorry! It’s nothing like that. I just mean they are probably going to be chirping and inappropriate. So sorry.
Eric: Is that all? Pssh! That I can handle. I know my way around a locker room you know.
Jack smiled, and knew that Eric was right. He knew Eric well enough to know that he could hold his own almost anywhere.
Jack: Did you buy a t-shirt yet?
Eric: YES DAD. Sheesh! Also, I met Lardo. She’s the best! <333
Jack: Ouais. She is.
Lardo was Shitty’s partner. They all met their second year at McGill. Like Shitty, Lardo was also from the Boston area. Lardo was the hockey team’s manager and Shitty was gone on her the second they met. She now owned an art gallery in the area. Lardo was a tiny bundle of energy, sarcasm, and honesty that hid a very sweet personality. Eric and Lardo were similar in many ways, so Jack wasn’t surprised that they got along.
Eric: You still want us to come by and say hi? I don’t wanna get in the way of your game routine or anything.
Jack: Please come. Remember, the guys are waiting for you.
Eric: Okay! We’re almost there. See you in a bit. ( ˆ ‿ ˆ )
Jack began to feel a bit nervous. What if the guys chirped Eric so much he’d never want to come to another game? What if Jack lost? What if Eric ended up hating hockey? He pulled his socks over the shin guards and sat, waiting for Eric.
“It’s going to be fine. Don’t worry. We’ll behave for your chum,” Marty said as he clapped Jack on the back.
“He’s just a friend, so please don’t say anything… weird,” Jack pleaded with everyone.
“Just a friend?” Poots asked.
“Yes, a friend,” Jack said once again.
“Joy killer!’ Holster called out. “Ransom, you hearing this shit?”
Ransom shook his head. “It’s like you don’t even care about us, Jack.”
“Knock! Knock!” Shitty called out. “Cover up, you hosers. We have visitors so say hello,”
Eric and Lardo walked in behind him.
“I swear to god, if I step on anyone’s loogies, there will be hell to pay,” Lardo shouted.
“Hey, Lardo!” Holster called out as he gave her a fist bump.
Eric smiled shyly when Tater quickly approached.
“E! Is good to see you again.”
“Tater, right? Yes, nice to see you.”
“And, by the by,” Shitty said, “his name is Bitty now. Eric is dead, long live Bitty.”
“Really?” Eric asked as everyone yelled out, “LONG LIVE BITTY!”
The team gathered near Eric saying hello, asking questions, and Jack began to panic wondering if Eric would feel like he’s under a microscope. Eric finally made his way to Jack.
“Hey,” he said softly.
“Hey, you survived,” Jack said.
“Was I meant not to?” Eric teased. “And lord, are they serious with this Bitty business?”
Jack laughed. “Yeah, I think they are. That means you’re part of the team now.”
“I guess I’m flattered?”
“You excited for your first hockey game?” Jack asked.
“Totally! I’m about to try a Centre Bell steamie, so you know.”
“Oh,” Jack said trying not to sound crestfallen.
“Jack, I’m kidding!” Eric said. “Of course, I’m excited to see you play—not just the food I promise. Now, will you promise me something?”
“Promise to win.”
“Ouais,” Jack said with a smile. “I can do that.”
“See you when you’re done,” Eric smiled shyly. “‘Cause, you’re my ride home and all.”
Jack laughed. “See you.”
Jack quickly looked over his shoulder and saw Mardey, Lardo, and Eric watching him intently jumping up and down pressed against the glass. Jack skated quickly to help Poots who was battling in the corner. When the Jets D-man flubbed the puck into his own skates, Jack quickly seized the opportunity. He spun around and shot the puck which flew straight in between the goalie’s legs. The goal sirens shrieked as the crowd exploded into cheers, and Jack’s celly extended all the way to the glass in front of Eric who screamed and cheered as he watched him, eyes shining brightly.
The Habs beat the Jets that night, six to one—thanks to Jack’s two assists and hattie.
There are as many opinions on who has the best steamé as there are on who is the best hockey player ever. This Quebec classic is a steamed hot dog lovingly encased in a pillowy bun. The opinions are the same, however, it that it should be ordered all-dressed just as nature intended. Topped with a vinegary coleslaw, relish, mustard, and chopped onions, the steamé is a regional classic that doesn’t disappoint. Some people pledge allegiance to Gibeau Orange Julep, while others still swear by Chien Chaud Victoire. Oddly enough, hockey and the steamé come together to create a perfect celly at Centre Bell, not so much for its taste but for the overall experience. A beer in one hand, a Centre Bell steamie in the other, while watching the beloved Canadiens play—what could be better?