Twelve seconds were left on the clock. Jack battled in the corner for the puck then swung around and passed it to Thirdy who took off across the rink. Jack pushed hard, his quads on fire, as he skated past one of the Hawks' D-men only to be checked by another. He pushed through it as the puck was back in his line of sight. Go! Jack took the shot, sending it Marty's way, who swooped in. With a strong flick of the wrist, it glided across the rink, right through the goalie’s legs. The goal sirens shrieked as Marty threw out his well-loved celly.
Jack quickly looked over his shoulder and found Eric, against the glass, screaming and hugging Lardo; the pom-pom on his Habs toque bounced vigorously. Jack grinned and joyfully slapped Marty's helmet.
"Oh my god, what a barn burner!" Eric said as he entered the locker room carrying a container filled with an assortment of cookies and pastries.
Ransom and Holster took the box away from Eric and eagerly dug in. The team surrounded Eric, smiling and laughing and enjoying their treats.
"Dude, if you ever want to break up with Jack, remember, we're totally available," Ransom said and helped himself to another macaron. Tater frowned in the background.
"And total gentlemen," Holster said as cookie crumbs flew out of his mouth.
Eric laughed. "Tempting, but I think I'll stick with who I got."
Jack's stomach pleasantly swooped as Eric winked at him.
"See you later, handsome," Eric said to Jack. "Enjoy your treats, fellas."
"Thanks, Bitty!" Everyone called out.
“See you at Mardey’s?” Poots asked.
“You know it.”
Eric waved goodbye and left.
"Hey, did you read Bitty's article about that WWII vet's French onion soup?" Snowy asked.
"Yes! Tabarnak, that was so good," Guy called back. "Who knew an article about soup could make you teary-eyed?"
Jack smiled with pride hearing the guys talk about Eric. Jack knew he was brilliant and loved it when others saw it as well.
"He's writing a follow up to that piece, you know." Jack added
"He's too good for you. You know that, right?" Snowy chirped.
Holster grinned. "Nah, they're just right."
Jack pulled up in front of Mardey and Lardo’s loft. Eric’s car was already there, and if Jack knew Eric he could already predict he was hard at work making snacks and desserts for everyone. Jack looked up at the window and could see movement. He smiled picturing Eric and Lardo dancing together, enjoying their close friendship that had developed.
“Hey, loverboy! Snap out of it!”
Jack turned to find Mardey standing outside his car window, a goofy grin planted firmly on his face.
“What are you doing there, you lurker.”
“I’m heading to the dep around the corner for some ice. Wanna come?” Mardey asked.
“Yeah, okay,” Jack replied.
He got out of his car and followed Mardey as they crossed the street.
“You ran out of ice already?”
“Nah. Lards thought I was getting some, and I thought she was and bam! No ice.”
The two walked silently for a bit then Mardey began to whistle. All of a sudden, he started to comically jostle Jack, trying to push him into a nearby bush. Jack laughed as he tried to trip Mardey. It continued for a few steps until Mardey snorted and called for a truce.
“All right, all right! If I come back all muddy or disheveled, Lards will have my head.”
“Why? How is that any different from most days?” Jack smirked as he took Mardey’s hand and shook on their truce.
“Fine, but let the record show you started it.” Mardey smiled as he opened the door to the dep. “After you, my lad.”
Jack quickly perused the candy counter.
“So, things still going well in paradise?” Mardey asked taking two bags of ketchup potato chips from the shelf.
“It’s hard for things to go bad with Eric around, you know?”
Mardey chuckled. “Brah, brah, braaaah….”
Jack pulled out two bags of ice from the freezer. “What?”
“I know you love Eric, but wow, you’ve got it bad,” Mardey said taking two Coffee Crisps from the counter.
Jack blushed. “So?”
“So nothing.” Mardey took a bottle of 1642 Cola from the refrigerator. “In all the years I’ve known you, it’s just great to see you like this. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. You are perfect for each other.”
Jack smiled as he recalled an interaction he had with Mardey in their sophomore year at McGill, many years ago…
“Do you believe in love at first sight?” Shitty had asked as they sat on the lower field, people watching and eating their lunch.
“Love at first sight? Sounds complicated,” Jack replied. He took a bite of his sandwich and thought about love in general.
He recalled his parents’ interactions. How many times had Jack entered a room to find them kissing, hugging, whispering secrets in their own special language—the language that two people in love made up just for one another. He remembered how Zayde always gave Bubbe flowers at every Friday dinner. Bubbe would smile as she’d tell him he shouldn’t have but would put the flowers in a vase at the center of the table.
“If you can find it, I guess it’s great, but I don’t think ‘at first sight’ is a thing, man,” Jack said.
“Lards and I were hanging out in the couch room the other day, and I looked at her and thought to myself, ‘This is it.’ She’s who I want to be with for the rest of my life, but not like one of those—what do you call it? The dog thing?"
"Un chien de poche?"
“Right, that... I want to be her partner, brah. Then I realized that I always thought that about her. Like, from day one.”
Jack smiled at Shitty, seeing him so moony-eyed. Shitty laid back on the grass, put his arms under his head, and looked up at the clouds.
“She’s cool, she’s smart, she’s funny as fuck, and she doesn’t take shit from anyone but even more, she gets me, you know?”
“Huh,” Jack replied, the only thing he could think to say.
“I can tell her the secrets of my heart, all the best parts, and the worst parts, and I know they’ll be safe.”
“That’s pretty deep, Shits.”
“It has been known to happen, Jacko. Now gimme a bite of that grinder.”
Jack smiled as he handed his sandwich to Shitty. They stayed on the lawn as the afternoon slowly rolled by...
“Ten twenty-five,” the dep cashier said.
Mardey handed her the money and waited for his change. They took the bags and left.
“Here,” Mardey said. He gave Jack a Coffee Crisp.
They walked back toward the condo in relative silence and Jack became lost in thought. He knew that with Eric he had found someone to cherish, and was cherished in return. He trusted Eric implicitly with everything—his past, present, and future, and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Eric felt the same way. Had it been love at first sight? Did it matter?
“I can tell Eric the secrets of my heart,” Jack said as he took a bite of chocolate, “and I know they’ll be safe.”
Mardey grinned broadly, and Jack could have sworn he began to tear up.
“Jack-of-all-Trades, you remember that? My mind is blown! Fucking A, brah! If I wasn’t destined to be with Lards, I’d totally shack up with you.”
Jack smiled and shook his head as they reached the condo.
“So how exactly did you two meet? Thirdy is terrible at retelling stories,” Carrie asked as she stood in the kitchen with Eric.
Lardo laughed. “It’s really cute in a dorky kind of way. Total Jack.”
“He stole my pastries,” Eric said.
“He did what?”
“I was standing in line at Cheskie’s and that one,” Eric said as he pointed at Jack who was sitting on the couch with Tater, “pouted because I took the last babka.”
“Jack? Can you come here, please?” Carrie called out.
"If you're going to defame my good name, the least you can do is get the story right," Jack said as he joined them in the kitchen. "He took the last two babkas, and then I pouted about it."
Carrie laughed and Eric settled into Jack's arms.
"So he said his bubbe really wanted one and basically guilt-tripped me into giving him a babka."
"Jack, no!" Carrie laughed.
"I like how you conveniently leave out the part where you harassed me for photographic proof of Bubbe’s existence."
Eric looked up at Jack and grinned. "Sweetpea, that was just an excuse to see if there was a significant other on your phone screen."
"Imagine my surprise when I saw you had some weird team mascot as your lock screen," Eric said as he playfully poked Jack in the chest.
"It’s not some weird team mascot. It’s Youppi!" Jack said blushing. “Youppi!"
“This boy,” Eric said and pulled Jack down for a kiss.
Mardey turned down the music and walked into the middle of the living room.
“Everyone! Everyone! Can I have your attention, please?”
He held two champagne flutes and looked at Lardo who grinned and walked toward him. She had a bottle of champagne in her hands.
“Shitty and I wanted to thank all of you for coming tonight,” she said. “If you’re wondering why we’re throwing a random kegster, it’s because this isn't a random post-game kegster at all.”
Jack looked at Eric, with confusion, as Mardey kissed Lardo’s head. She wrapped her arms around his waist.
“After years of shacking up together, Lards and I decided to stop living in sin. We tied the knot in la belle province last week. Conjoints no more!”
“What?” Jack asked softly as everyone appeared happily shocked.
“We got hitched, you hosers!” Lardo cried out.
Everyone cheered while Lardo and Mardey kissed.
“Right on!” Jack said.
Eric ran out of the room and returned from Mardey and Lardo’s bedroom with a two-tier wedding cake.
“It’s cake time!” he said.
“You knew?!” Jack asked incredulously.
“I am an excellent secret keeper, Mr. Zimmermann. Besides, they knew better than to ask someone else to bake their dang wedding cake.”
Mardey and Lardo eagerly cut into the cake, as everyone cheered and the champagne flowed. Lardo's white t-shirt and white jeans suddenly took on a whole new meaning. After the congratulations died down, Mardey scooped in and gave Jack a giant bear hug.
“Sorry we didn’t tell you, Jack. No one knew. It was sort of spontaneous and we knew we wanted to do it but didn’t want to make a big production about it. We’ve been together for so long, it just felt right. You know?”
“I get it, man. No need to apologize. I’m so happy for you, really.”
“Yeah, you get it, dude,” Lardo said as Jack pulled her in for a hug and a kiss.
“Mazel tov,” Jack said warmly.
Eric stood at the other side of the room, face shining with a huge smile.
The evening continued and Jack sat on the couch drinking some coffee taking in the room’s energy. He was thrilled to see his best friends so happy. Mardey and Lardo were slow dancing to some silly song from the ‘90s Jack couldn’t quite place. Everyone was smiling and laughing and it turned out to be a great wedding reception.
“Zimmboni, when am I going to be best man?” Tater chirped as he helped himself to another piece of wedding cake.
“Best man?” Jack asked without really thinking.
“For you and Little B.”
Eric looked at Jack from where he was chatting with Ransom, Holster, and Marty. He gave Jack a soft, sweet look.
“Hey, hey, hey!” Mardey called out, stopping his dance. “Don’t you even fucking dare, Mashkov. You’re in my house, drinking my booze, and you just got here!”
Jack threw his head back in laughter as Tater jumped off the couch and began to dance with Mardey, dipping him dramatically while Lardo doubled-over with laughter.
"Oh, god! Marty mentioned he wants to start doing shots of Sortilege, and I am not prepared for that," Eric said as he plopped himself onto Jack’s lap.
Jack pressed a kiss to Eric’s neck. “I can’t believe you knew about the wedding.”
“They told me well after the fact, if it's any consolation. I was dying to tell you. I hated keeping anything from you,” Eric said, “but I was sworn to secrecy until the big wedding party reveal.”
Eric snuggled up close to Jack.
“Do you know how difficult it was to bake an entire wedding cake on the sly?”
“I can only imagine.”
Jack grinned and yawned, sleepy-eyed and cozy.
“You ready to go home, mister?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
“Eric, can you stir the cholent?”
“Are you sure I can’t help with anything?” Jack asked.
“Listen, mister, don’t be getting jealous because I’m in here with Bubbe,” Eric said.
Esther laughed. “You can help with the cookies later, Jacky.”
Normally, Jack would have pouted being ousted from the kitchen, but seeing Eric and Esther have such a good time, he couldn’t help but smile.
“Is the cholent for tomorrow?” Jack asked as he peered into the slow cooker.
A waft of steam escaped. The richness of the short ribs combined with the smell of the beans, potatoes, onions, and paprika made Jack's mouth instantly water.
“Yes, and you and Eric are welcomed to stop by tomorrow to take some home with you.”
The oven beeped and Esther pulled out a loaf of challah.
“Look at this beauty!” she said. “Someone’s braiding skills are up to snuff”
Eric smiled as he admired his own handiwork.
“It’s pretty good, huh?” he said.
“Let’s not get cocky,” Esther chirped.
“Is dinner ready? Should we set the table?” Bob shouted from the living room.
“L’affaire est ketchup!” Eric replied.
“Nice one, Bits,” Jack said as he fist-bumped Eric.
“Can you please tell my son to stop yelling, and yes, Jacky. Can you all set the table?”
Eric took off his apron and hung it on the hook behind the door.
“Did he tell you about his promotion?” Jack said.
“Promotion?” Alicia asked.
“It’s nothing permanent yet, but I did get hired by Bon Appétit to write a couple of articles.”
“That’s amazing, son!” Bob said.
“Oh, stop. It’s not a big deal,” Eric said as he blushed.
“It is a big deal. They loved his WWII French onion soup story and reached out to him—not the other way around,” Jack said.
“Eric, that’s wonderful. I bet soon enough you’ll be writing for them all the time,” Alicia added.
Eric took a sip of water. “It’s exciting, that’s for sure. Some articles here and there are nice, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too high.”
“Nonsense, they looked for you when they saw something they liked,” Esther said.
“That’s what I told him,” Jack quickly added. He looked at Eric, who was visibly blushing. “You’re so good at what you do. It was only a matter of time for everyone else to see it.”
“Y’all are gonna give me a big head. I mean, eventually, I’d love to write a book, so this would definitely be a step in the right direction.”
“That’s my boy,” Esther said.
Jack heartily agreed.
Sometimes it was too much; the feelings and intensity of it all were overwhelming. When Jack pressed against Eric in bed, and all Eric could do is bite at Jack’s shoulder—breath hanging heavy in the air—grasping wildly, pushing and pulling, sometimes, it was just too much.
As they both tumbled toward the precipice, it’s all Jack could do to anchor himself to keep from floating away forever lost in a whirlwind of love and lust, never to return. Was it ever like this before Eric? No, never. The two had such an easy, loving relationship, Jack wondered how he could have ever thought what he had with anyone else was any good.
Every night they spent together, Eric loved taking Jack apart. Jack would quiver as Eric dismantled him with his mouth, with his fingers, with his body, only to put him back together and start all over again. And each time, Jack was more than willing to be Eric’s jigsaw puzzle.
The slow roll and snap of the hips; the hot, damp kisses frantically exchanged; the hands that clutched greedily as voices begged. Jack slotted his lips together with Eric’s, then parted his lips. Jack shivered as Eric slipped his tongue in, lush and warm. Their legs slowly intertwined as toes touched toes. He ground his hips into Jack and made Jack moan softly.
“Do you know how beautiful you are?” Jack asked.
“No,” Eric said with a soft laugh, “tell me again.”
Jack smiled and kissed Eric’s neck. Eric threw his head back and giggled as Jack sucked gently onto his neck.
“You’re beautiful,” Jack said as he pulled back and caressed his face.
Eric blushed and wrapped his arms around Jack’s neck then dove in for a kiss. The scent of Eric encapsulated him.
“What do you want?” Eric asked.
“Anything,” Jack said and began to kiss him again.
The kisses were messy and wet and became deeper and deeper. Jack stopped abruptly and looked into Eric’s eyes.
Eric stilled. “What is it?”
Jack kissed Eric slowly and whispered, “Let’s live together.”
Jack smiled and kissed Eric’s nose. “Let’s live together.”
Eric stared at Jack incredulously. “I just… we’ve never talked about it.”
“You don’t want to?”
“No, it’s not that. Just...”
“Just what? I want to take steps with you Eric, and this seems like the next logical step. If you’re ready, that is. If you want to—and if you don’t, I’ll wait. No pressure.”
Eric began to laugh. “You’re serious!”
“Yes, I am!”
“I swear, Mr. One-hundred and ten percent.”
Jack urgently pressed his mouth onto Eric’s, becoming momentarily lost in deep kisses only to pull away with a gasp.
“What do you say, mon p’tit loup?” Jack asked.
Eric wrinkled his nose. “I’m not a wolf. You’re the wolf.”
“Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s move in together.”
“Ouais,” Eric said.
The two began to kiss some more as Eric’s clever hands moved lower. It was at that point that Jack’s mouth fell open, and the only sound coming from inside the room was the heavy breathing that accompanied each rock, each roll.
The oven beeped, rudely interrupting their discussion.
“So we can either move into my place or get a new place altogether,” Jack said.
He pulled out the cookie sheet from the oven and placed it on top of the stove.
“I like how you’ve just altogether eliminated my place as a possible contender,” Eric said.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean anything! I--”
“Jack it’s okay. I was kidding,” Eric said, rolling out the last bit of mohn cookie dough.
“We can move in here if you want. I don’t care where we live; I just want to be with you.”
Eric grinned and shrugged. “Keep talking like that, and you’ll get lucky again tonight, mister.”
“I’m exhausted!” Jack teased.
The two grinned, and Eric began to cut out the cookies with his round cutter.
“This place is too small. It’s great for me, and I love it, but we both can’t live here.”
“Anywhere you want to live. You name the arrondissement, and we’ll move there.”
“Okay, I can’t think straight with you putting cookies on a cooling rack wearing nothing but your undies and an apron,” Eric said. “It’s totally unfair how hot that is.”
Jack smiled and shook his butt. He offered Eric a cookie, who took a bite.
“That’s a good cookie,” Eric said.
“Yeah? I learned from the best,” Jack said as he leaned in for another kiss.
Sometimes, the feelings he had for Eric felt like too much for Jack, and in the end, they were never enough.
One year later...
Eric: Are you almost here? The line is starting to get longer.
Jack: Two seconds away.
Eric: I’m just going to get in line and get the babka.
Jack: Wait for me!
Jack sprinted to Cheskie’s and found Eric patiently waiting outside. He turned and as he looked for Jack. Eric’s face lit up when they locked eyes, and instantly Jack smiled.
The past year had been monumental for them both. The Habs won the cup, Jack began researching graduate schools, Eric’s YouTube channel began to really take off, they had gone to Madison to visit Eric’s family, and Eric was writing regularly for Bon Appétit. But more importantly, they also moved in together.
It was a bit of an adjustment (“Really, Jack? If I find your duffle bag in the middle of the hallway one more time!” “Bittle, would it kill you to close the lights?”) but overall their new living arrangement was filled with laughter, respect, mutual understanding, compromise, and above all, love.
“There you are,” Eric said as Jack gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
“And there you are,” Jack teased.
“Come on, they’re almost out.”
The two walked in and got in line. Five people stood ahead of them, and the line moved quickly.
“A babka, please,” Jack said.
The woman at the counter smiled. She nodded and gave Jack a babka tied with a red ribbon.
“Just one?” Eric asked. “I thought Bubbe Esther wanted one, too?”
“Just one,” Jack said.
Eric shrugged, “All right.”
They left Cheskie’s, hand in hand, and passed a quiet garden as they made their way to Bubbe’s. Jack paused.
“Do you want a piece?” Jack asked.
“That’s okay. I can wait. I don’t want to take a half-eaten babka to dinner.”
Jack gnawed on his lip. “Euh...”
Jack took Eric by the hand and led him to a bench inside the garden.
“Let’s just sit and eat a piece, okay?”
Eric smiled, looking somewhat confused. “Okay. If you really have a hankering.”
The two sat, surrounded by hydrangeas and daisies. Jack pulled the babka out, ripped a chunk off the top and gave it to Eric.
Eric took a nibble and pulled it back abruptly.
“What in the world? There’s something in here,” he said as he looked closer.
He squinted and then his eyes grew wide. He pulled out a ring and looked at Jack, who was already on one knee.
“Eric, it was here where we met in a way that appeared to be purely by accident, but I think we were meant to be all along.”
Jack took Eric’s hand—Eric who was now crying—and continued.
“I showed you all the best parts of Montréal, but in the end, what we have is the best part. Eric Richard Bittle, will you marry me?”
“Yes,” Eric said as Jack took the ring and slipped it on his finger. “Yes, I will.”
Jack cupped Eric’s face and the two happily kissed.
Eric wiped his tears and laughed. “Oh god, what would you have done if I would have swallowed the darn thing, or cracked a tooth?”
“Ask you to marry me at the dentist’s?”
“Come here, you moose!”
The two kissed again as some people across the street cheered them on.
Review: All the Best Parts by Eric Bittle-Zimmermann.
Perhaps you fell in love with food writer, and pastry chef, Eric Bittle-Zimmermann’s work on his YouTube channel, A Baker's Table, or maybe you've been to his tiny café, MooMaw + Bubbe’s, in Montréal’s Plateau neighborhood. Either way, you’ll love All the Best Parts. Both memoir and cookbook, All the Best Parts is Bittle-Zimmermann’s love letter to Montréal. A Montréal resident for the past ten years, Bittle-Zimmermann’s book delves into the history of Montréal’s favorite eateries, bakeries, bars, and coffee shops as well as sharing family-inspired recipes from his biscuits and gravy to his kugel. The book is a joy to read for anyone interested in food, history, nostalgia, and, above all, love.