Jack’s knee was wet where he knelt on the ice. Bitty stared down at him as he finished everything just like he’d rehearsed, popping open the ring box.
“Eric Bittle. Will you marry me?”
Bitty’s eyes had been getting wider and wider as he spoke and now they seemed to lose focus entirely.
“Uh. Bits.” Jack stuttered. Bitty swayed. “Bits— Hah. Oh my god. Bittle.”
Jack reached out and caught him as he fell, cushioning the drop with one hand so as not to drop the ring.
“Bitty?” No reply. “Bittle. Bitty? Hey bud, come on, say something.”
Finally, Bitty’s eyes opened and he stared up at Jack.
“Or you can pass out at center ice,” Jack joked. “I’m getting deja vu.”
Bitty reached up and laid a hand on Jack’s cheek.
“Oh honey,” he said. This was not quite the reaction Jack was expecting but he could roll with it.
“Is that a yes?”
“Jack, I love you so much,” Bitty said gently.
He didn’t like where this was going.
“But sweetheart I’m not ready to get married yet.”
Shit, this was definitely not the reaction he was expecting. “Oh. Well. We could have a long engagement?”
“Why don’t we get off the ice and talk about this?” Bitty offered. That was probably a good idea, they were both getting quite damp laying there.
They got up and back onto their skates when the clatter of their friends broke out and made themselves known.
“Oh!” Bitty exclaimed.
“We’ll leave you guys to talk,” Shitty said, shooing the others in front of him back down the tunnel. Bitty’s cheeks were dark pink when Jack chanced a look at him, but they made their way to the bench.
Jack sat first, letting Bitty decide how close they’d be, and he was pleased when Bitty pressed against his side and took his hand.
“I thought you wanted to get married,” Jack said, trying to explain himself. “You seemed so excited about it when we were in Georgia.”
“Sweetheart, I do want to marry you someday. I really do.”
That was good to hear, at least.
“But Jack, I’m twenty-two. We’ve only been together for two years and most of that has been long distance. Not to mention the stress of your rookie year and coming out.”
Jack shrugged. “I just thought that made us stronger.”
“It did, Jack. But that’s not enough to build a marriage off of. I want to live with you as an adult, with my own job and my own life,” Bitty said softly. “If we got engaged right now, well, that would be my life. It would be wedding plans and being a SOAP and there’s just so much else happening right now I’m not ready.”
“Okay,” Jack agreed, his throat tight. He could respect Bitty’s choices.
“I’m so sorry to ruin your plan, honey.”
“It’s okay.” Jack tried to smile. “I’m glad you told me how you were feeling.”
“You could have asked before, you know,” Bitty said.
“I wanted to surprise you,” Jack tried to explain.
“Well, it’s like my Moomaw says, ‘a proposal should be a surprise, but an engagement shouldn’t be’.”
“Huh. I never thought about it like that,” Jack admitted. “We’ll talk about it later?”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Bitty promised with a squeeze of his hand.
“Do you still wanna play hockey?” Jack asked.
“Oh lord, Jack, I have figure skates on!” Bitty laughed, loud and fond. “Oh fine, yes, you know I won’t turn down one last game at Farber.”
“Shits! Come back!” Jack shouted, making Bitty laugh again.
Shitty popped his head back into the rink a moment later. “You good, brahs?”
“We’re gonna put a pin in the marriage thing,” Bitty answered for them, squeezing Jack’s hand again. “But since y’all are here I do believe there’s hockey to be played.”
“Fuck yeah!” shouted Shitty.
_/ _/ _/
Jack was thirty years old today. He had a wonderful day planned with his boyfriend and his excitement woke him early. He snuck out of bed to work off a little energy in the weight room of their house before Bitty woke up.
Matilda, their dog, wagged her tail a couple of times and Jack smiled as he patted his leg for her to follow. They went for a warm up jog around the block together before Jack left her with her morning kibble and headed for the spare room where he kept some free weights.
As he got into his workout, he let his mind wander over the past few years. He and Bitty had celebrated six years together in June, four years living together and a year since they bought the house. It had been Bitty’s idea to buy a place when Jack officially got a no-trade clause in his contract his fourth year with the Falcs. He had assumed they wouldn’t trade an A but it was nice to have on paper.
Matilda had come along in their first year living together when long days home alone for Bitty resulted in some emotional conversations and a half-joking, half-serious conversation about getting an animal to keep Bitty company while he worked on his book and vlog and Jack travelled. It became more serious, coming up at dinner and on phone calls home, until one day Bitty had sent Jack Matilda’s page on a shelter and Jack had fallen in love.
It was everything Jack wanted in his life with Bitty except for one thing: they still weren’t married.
They’d talked about it, of course. They were good about talking about things. After Bitty graduated and Jack had proposed and… well. They had talked. Bitty insisted he become his own adult, work on his book, establish himself as more than Jack Zimmerman’s boyfriend, before they got married. Jack had said he thought Bitty already had, but it was Bitty’s opinion that mattered. So they had shelved it.
Jack still had the ring though, even had it resized a couple of years ago when Bitty had tried on his old class ring and found he wasn’t quite as fit as he had been in college and it was too snug to be comfortable. Just a half size up, that was all. An easy enough adjustment for both the class ring and the engagement ring.
But Jack didn’t want to presume. They’d talked about getting married since then, of course they had. Bitty was in favor these days but the timing never seemed right. At their six year anniversary he’d brought it up again but the Falcs were on a Cup run and Jack had agreed he still wanted to but the timing. Always the timing.
But it was his birthday! His thirtieth birthday! He wouldn’t be sad about timing today. Today everything would go right.
“Sweetpea, please tell me you’re not working out at 6:30 in the morning on your birthday,” came a sleepy voice from the doorway.
Jack turned and smiled. “Sorry, Bits. Couldn’t sleep anymore. Too excited.”
“You ridiculous man,” Bitty said with a fond smile. He pushed off the doorframe and leaned up to kiss Jack. “Happy birthday, Jack.”
“Thanks bud.” Jack kissed him again.
“Tilly already go out?”
“Yeah, she was my warm up.”
Bitty rolled his eyes but he was still smiling. “Be sure to leave time to shower before breakfast with your parents,” he called as he wandered out of the room. “I’m putting on a pot.”
Jack smiled to himself and began his reps again.
\_ \_ \_
Breakfast was wonderful, if embarrassing. His parents were just teasers, it was to be expected. They gave him a giant card with his baby photo on it, the one with the puck on his butt, with the words “You’re 30!” printed on the front.
“Did you have this custom printed?” Jack groaned as he pulled it from the oversized envelope.
“Of course!” his dad laughed. “Only the best for our baby.”
“Aw, you were such a cute baby, I love that photo,” Bitty crooned.
“Do you want kids, Eric?” Jack’s mom asked.
Bitty blushed a bit but smiled and reached for Jack’s hand. “We’ve talked about it. It’s something we want to look into, you know, down the road.”
Jack’s heart was going to burst out of his chest; he would not survive this day if Bitty kept looking at him like that. He just squeezed Bitty’s hand and smiled back.
Whenever the topic of future babies Jack and Bitty might have came up, he always pictured them with Bitty’s big brown eyes and a mop of blond hair. The way he was looking at Jack, though, made him think the opposite might be true for Bitty.
A conversation for another time.
Once breakfast was over, Bitty took Jack to a park nearby where friends of theirs from college and adulthood were waiting with beers and grills for lunch later. Tater had swung by the house and picked up Matilda and she greeted them with enthusiasm like she hadn’t seen them in days instead of hours, knocking Bitty down in her excitement. Jack had trained her to jump up to hug his shoulders and she never quite got the idea that Bitty wasn’t quite tall enough for the same move.
Jack received hugs, cards, sloppy cheek kisses (from Shitty), and an occasional baby to hold, as he made his way around the party. Bitty chatted and caught up with people but was always by Jack’s side. Jack didn’t think he’d ever had a better birthday.
“Jack you beaut!” Shitty warned mid-afternoon before jumping on Jack’s back.
“Hey Shits,” Jack laughed. Shitty had a way of making him feel like a kid again in the best way. “Glad you both could make it.”
Lardo appeared at Shitty’s side with a bottle of water in hand. “Hydrating, smart.”
Shitty and Lardo exchanged a look and a mutual shrug before Lardo leaned in and told Jack in a stage whisper. “I’m not drinking today because we’re expecting actually. But shh!”
“We’re not really telling people yet,” Shitty added, sliding an arm around Lardo.
“That’s so exciting!” Bitty grinned, matching Lardo’s whisper. “When are y’all due?”
“Early December,” Lardo smiled. “Almost four months along right now.”
Jack looked down at Bitty and again thought about tiny babies in their future as he gushed over Lardo. They would have that, he hoped soon. Maybe he could bring it up over dinner.
For now, he just pulled his best friends in for a hug and congratulated them in quiet voices. “I’m so happy for you two.”
“Thanks, bro. And happy birthday, old man.”
Jack pulled him into a noogie.
Eventually, they made their way back to the car, exhausted dog in tow, and back to the house. Bitty had promised a special dinner, just the two of them, but had refused to give any details.
“Need any help, Bits?” Jack offered.
“It is your birthday, mister, no helping. Why don’t you feed Matilda and go take a nap. Dinner will take a bit.”
“A nap, eh? Will I need my energy later?” Jack teased, wrapping his arms around Bitty’s waist and nibbling affectionately on his ear.
“You’ll just have to wait and find out,” Bitty grinned, leaning up for a kiss. “Now out of my kitchen, birthday boy.”
Jack dropped a kiss on the crown of his head and let himself be ushered out. He fed Matilda and then curled up for a nap with her.
\_ \_ \_
“Rise and shine,” Bitty sang, dropping a kiss on Jack’s forehead. “Dinner’s ready.”
Jack rubbed sleep from his eyes and followed his boyfriend to the dining room.
“Pulled out the nice stuff,” Jack noted.
Bitty hummed and fixed his hair where he had been sleeping on it. “It’s a special day.”
Jack leaned in for another kiss and then turned to examine the table. “It looks great, bud.”
“Oh, shoot, I forgot to grab the wine. Would you get it from the fridge, sweetpea?”
“Sure,” Jack ducked into the kitchen, found the bottle, and pushed open the door to the dining room again before he froze in his footsteps and nearly dropped the wine.
Because Bitty was on one knee with a ring box in his hand.
“Jack Zimmermann,” he began.
“Yes!” Jack shouted, before slapping his hand over his mouth. “Sorry.”
Bitty laughed before he tried again. “Jack Zimmermann. I love you so much and I love the life we’ve built together. Will you do me the honor of becoming my husband?”
“Yes,” Jack said again, softer and with tears in his eyes. “Of course I will, Bits. God I love you.”
Bitty stood and slid the ring on Jack’s finger before letting Jack pull him up for a kiss.
A long kiss.
God, he didn’t think this birthday could get any better! He could tell he was still crying but he didn’t care. They were engaged!
“Wait here,” Jack said when they pulled back at last. He darted upstairs to their bedroom and dug around in his drawer for the ring box.
He returned to the dining room to find Bitty still standing where he’d left him but with the ring box now closed on the table. Jack sank to his own knee.
“Eric Bittle, I asked you once before we were ready but I knew we’d make it here one day so I kept the ring. Will you wear it now and be my husband?”
“Oh you big softie,” Bitty said through his own tears. “Of course I will.”
Jack slid his ring onto Bitty’s finger and another long minute was lost to kissing each other.
“The food’s gonna be cold, you know,” Bitty pointed out.
“That’s what you get for proposing before dinner,” Jack chirped, but let Bitty lead him to the table.
Dinner was delicious as always, and afterwards, Bitty handed him a card. It was addressed to “my fiancé.”
“You seem pretty sure I would say yes,” Jack chirped.
“We were ready this time,” Bitty smiled. “Like Moomaw always said, ‘a proposal should be a surprise,”
“‘An engagement shouldn’t be’,” Jack finished. “I love you, Bitty,” he said, leaning over to kiss his fiancé again.
Fiancé. At last.