It starts as a favor.
Favor, obligation — it’s all the same, really, when you’re the current Stanley Cup MVP. Jack Zimmermann has been playing professionally for a decade, is the face of the current Stanley Cup-winning franchise, so he knows better than to decline management’s request that he take part in a charity event to raise money for youth hockey programs.
Which is how, on a Saturday morning early in the off-season, he finds himself dressed in padded cycling shorts and a Falconers singlet, ready to “ride for the kids” with four other Falcs and 20 fans who bid on the opportunity to take an indoor cycling class with them.
He arrives at Rise and Ride early, and is let in by Carrie and Gabby, the Falcs wives who co-own the small fitness studio. This fundraiser is as much for them as it is for the charity, an opportunity to give their business some much-need publicity in the face of competition from a major indoor cycling franchise about to open just a mile away.
Carrie greets Jack with a warm hug. “We were taking bets on whether you’d chicken out or not,” she says with a smile.
“Someone thought you’d be a no-show,” Gabby adds.
Across the room, Marty, dressed in the same shorts and singlet as Jack, barks out a laugh. “I was just saying, if I hadn’t already been obligated to be here because you’re my wife, I’d have considered bailing, myself.”
“Ah,” Jack shrugs. “I’m more at home on the ice, but it’s all for the kids, right? I just may need some pointers before we start; I’ve never done this before.”
Carrie hands Jack a towel and a water bottle emblazoned with the studio’s logo. “You’ll be fine,” she reassures him. “Eric’s a great teacher, especially if it’s your first time. We’re lucky SoulCycle wasn’t able to lure him away from us,” she says darkly. “Anyway, Jack, we’ll wait until everyone is here and do a brief orientation. A lot of the winning bidders are regulars here, but some are just fans who couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work out with their favorite players. Especially the one who happens to be a Stanley Cup MVP. “
“Of course,” Gabby adds with a wink, “if they want to sign up for new memberships after the ride, we won’t complain. In the meantime, let’s get you in some shoes. What size do you wear?”
Twenty minutes later, once everyone has arrived and somebody from the Falconers’ community relations team has explained how the post-ride meet-and-greet will work, the women lead the group into a dimly lit room filled with bikes. Jack selects the corner bike in the last row, hopefully far enough away to escape the notice of anybody who might be overly interested in seeing just how uncoordinated he is off the ice. Carrie and Gabby make the rounds, showing Jack and other first timers how to adjust the bikes and turn on their feedback monitors before turning things over to the instructor — Eric, Jack guesses — who is already on the bike on a platform at the front of the room.
“Hey, y’all!” Eric is fit, blonde, and in possession of one of the brightest smiles Jack has ever seen. “We’re all real grateful all of you could come out and support the Falconers in their mission to support youth hockey programs in the greater Providence area. Since some of you are new to this —” at this, Eric winks, and Jack could almost swear he’s winking at him — “we’ll start out with an easy warmup. Just remember, it’s not going to get easier, so you may want to pace yourself. This is a rhythm ride, so you can expect to have a lot of fun. Which shouldn’t be too hard, because I decided to make this an all-Beyoncé ride. Move with the music, dance up on the bike, heck, sing if you feel like it! And remember, everything you do counts! At the end of class you’ll get your rank. Let’s see how many of you can outride these professional athletes.” With that, Eric cues the music and the opening strains of “Halo” fill the room.
Jack had been idly pedaling during Eric’s intro, but the music acts as a cue and suddenly he’s in hockey robot — cycling robot? — mode, and all he can do is focus on his goal. Which, in this case, is to finish the workout without making a fool of himself.
Because this? Is one of the hardest things Jack has ever done. Whoever coined the phrase “just like riding a bike” clearly did not have the opportunity to take a class from Eric, whose teaching technique seems to combine Beyoncé’s dance moves with a drill sergeant’s intensity. When he glances at the monitor displaying his stats, he’s surprised to see they’re only 20 minutes in. “I see you back there, Jack Zimmermann!” Eric yells over “Crazy in Love.” “No need to treat this like a Sunday ride! Let’s see you pick up the pace a little!”
Jack isn’t called Jack “110-percent” Zimmermann for nothing, so he picks up the pace even as his heart feels like it’s about to beat right out of his chest.
The following song is another uptempo number, and once Eric has everybody on their feet, pedaling in time to the music, he hops off his bike and begins making the rounds, dancing all the while. He offers a few words of encouragement, along with a smile, to each person, although Jack notices he offers a more familiar pat on the back to Marty and Thirdy and some of the other riders. He hopes to escape Eric’s notice but the next time he looks up, he’s standing right in front of him.
“Are you sure you’re working hard enough, Mr. Zimmermann? A fit guy like you, I’d expect you to be in the top five, but according to my stats up there you’re sitting pretty in seventh place,” he chirps. Before Jack can respond, he’s already dancing his way back to his bike. “This is our last sprint, y’all. I want you to give it all you’ve got in three, two, one …” All around him, riders are somehow spinning even faster and Jack has no choice but to follow suit.
By the end of class, Jack has improved his standing to second place and is looking forward to a shower and a nap. This indoor cycling is no joke. He’d like to head home but but he still has to get through the meet-and-greet, so makes his way to the yoga studio, which has been set up with a photo booth and a table of pastries and mimosas, and poses for sweaty selfies until the last charity rider has left.
“I thought we should do the selfies first, when everyone was fresh, but apparently everybody wanted ‘proof’ they actually worked out with the Falconers,” says a voice to Jack’s left. When he turns toward it, he’s greeted by Eric’s smiling face.
“Er, it’s fine. I’m used to doing press right after games so …” Jack shrugs. “Eric, right? Or … did Carrie and Gabby call you Bitty earlier?”
Eric smiles. “It’s Eric Bittle, yeah, which explains where ‘Bitty’ comes from. Old college nickname that’s kind of stuck.”
Bitty suits him, Jack thinks. He’s several inches shorter than Jack, fit and trim, muscular without being overly bulky — compact is the word that comes to mind.
“It’s good to finally meet you, by the way. Carrie and Gabby talk about you boys all the time, and I catch your games on TV when I can, but it’s nice to put a face with your name. Thanks for being a good sport in class, by the way.”
Jack shrugs again. It had been a little irritating but Eric — when he isn’t sitting on a bike and screaming at Jack — is so nice. “I was hoping nobody would notice me back there.”
Eric chuckles. “No offense, but a big guy like you is pretty hard to miss. And don’t worry, you did fine.” He gestures to the table full of treats. “Did you get a muffin? Fruit pocket? You just torched about 700 calories, you should probably eat something.” Jack follows Eric back to a table laden with food and doesn’t protest when he hands him a plate and begins piling it high with pastries. “You can take some of these home for later,” he says. “It’s just, everyone has left and I don’t really want to have to pack all of this up and take it back to my apartment.”
Eric keeps chattering as Jack bites into a blueberry muffin. “Be honest with me now. I tweaked my recipe and I’m not sure it’s quite right. Is it too sweet?”
“You made these?” Jack has made blueberry muffins from a boxed mix; this tastes more like the muffins from the little neighborhood bakery he sometimes stops at after his morning run. “This is fantastic.”
Eric’s smile gets a little bigger. “Wait’ll my mama hears Jack Zimmermann thinks my muffins are fantastic. You think I can get that on video?”
“Ha ha. How about a selfie instead?”
Eric whips out his phone, lightning-fast. “Ready?” He leans a little closer to Jack and snaps a quick photo. “I’m going to put this on the studio’s social accounts, if that’s okay with you.”
“Good idea,” Carrie says, joining them at the table. To Jack, she says, “I see you found the dessert. Eric went above and beyond to make sure we had everything we need for this morning’s event. If you think the muffins are good, you need to try his pie.”
Jack raises an eyebrow. “Pie?”
“It’s kind of my specialty,” Eric says with a nonchalant little shrug. “Muffins were easier for this morning’s event because you can just grab ‘em and go but if we’d had a full dessert bar you can be sure there’d have been pie.”
“Class would have had to be twice as long if he’d brought the pie,” Carrie laughs. “Trust me, it’s impossible to eat just one slice. It’s too bad for Providence that he’s leaving Polly’s. I’m going to miss his maple apple pie the most.”
“Hey now,” Eric says. “I always have pie for my friends. And I’ve trained my replacement. Granted, I’m keeping my maple apple recipe to myself, but Polly’s isn’t going to suffer just because I’m moving on.”
“Well, that’s a relief! The next time we have one of Eric’s pies,” she tells Jack, “we’ll be sure to invite you for dinner.” They make small talk for another five minutes or so until Jack, suddenly very aware he’s still wearing his sweaty gym clothes, thanks Eric and Carrie for the class and the pastries and tells them he needs to get home.
He doesn’t even make it to the shower. He promises himself he’s just going to sit down on the couch for a minute to check his email, but he falls asleep before he finishes scrolling through his new messages.
The next morning, Jack wakes up sore in places he didn’t know existed, which is saying a lot given his job description is “professional athlete.” Still, he gets outside for his morning run, as he does most days during the off-season. He doesn’t even notice he’s taken a different route than usual until he finds himself standing outside Rise and Ride. Through the window, he can see Gabby manning the front desk, and without really thinking about it he walks in.
“Jack!” Gabby comes around from behind the desk. “I’m glad to see you survived yesterday. What brings you in?”
“Euh …” Jack isn’t really sure how he ended up here, actually. “I guess I just wanted to thank you again for yesterday, and see about taking some more classes? I enjoyed it. A few classes a week might be good for my conditioning.”
Gabby beams. “Of course. Now, you probably don’t want to buy a full membership because I don’t think your trainer will approve too many of our workouts during the season, but you can buy individual sessions. They can be used for our yoga classes, too. The more you buy, the better deal you get. Do you want to start with ten?”
Jack walks out with a class pack for 10 sessions and instructions for booking classes via an app, which he downloads as soon as he gets home. He takes a look at the class schedule and, after cross-referencing it with his own, books his first class.
“You’re back!” Eric’s surprise is evident as Jack walks into class on Tuesday morning. “Looks like my class wasn’t so bad after all.”
“Figured I might as well try to improve my standing, eh? Go for that number one spot?” Jack shrugs awkwardly.
Eric laughs. “Good luck. Tuesday mornings are hardcore. Maria’s stayed in that number one spot for as long as I’ve been teaching here, and Sally is usually a close second. Though, between you and me —” he lowers his voice and winks — “I think they could stand to get knocked down a peg or two. You remember how to set up the bike?”
Jack is pretty sure he does, so he chooses a bike in the center of the middle row and gets to work making the adjustments while Eric greets other students and gets them set up. He’s mortified when Eric introduces him to the class of regulars, saying, “This is my friend Jack’s second ride … but I went easy on him the first time, so I’m not sure he really knows what he’s in for. Let’s show him what this Tuesday class can do!”
And then the driving beat of “Disturbia” fills the room and Eric is yelling about “100 RPM, minimum!” and Jack doesn’t know if he’ll make it out of here alive.
He does make it out alive, and in third place. Eric was not joking about Maria and Sally.
“Number two. Not bad,” Eric notes at the end of Jack’s third class. Sally glares at them as she leaves the studio. “Steal first from Maria,” he whispers conspiratorially with a glance in her direction, “and I’ll make you my famous maple apple pie.”
After Jack’s fourth class with Eric, he’s ready to admit to himself that he may have a problem.
He’s always been able to block out everything but hockey when he’s on the ice. He goes into robot mode as soon as the puck drops, and remains focused on his goal until the game ends. Typically, he can transfer that focus to other activities, whether it’s a particularly intense game of Scrabble with his parents or a snowman building contest with Thirdy and Martys’ kids. Tonight, his focus keeps slipping. Eric’s wearing a crop top. Every time Jack tries to focus on his pace and form, the numbers on his monitor that tell him how hard he’s working, his eyes instead drift toward Eric, whose nicely toned (but not outrageous) abs are on display.
He’s pretty sure Eric has noticed, too, because when he gets off his bike to work the room, as he typically does once or twice per class, he gives an extra shimmy as he walks past Jack. He seems to sparkle a little, too. Jack blames it on being overheated and takes a long drink from his water bottle.
When class ends and the lights come on, he realizes that Eric is, indeed, leaving a trail of glitter in his wake. When he points it out — and yeah, he is aware that now he’s just looking for excuses to talk to Eric after class — he absently runs a hand through his hair and laughs. As he does, a few pieces of glitter float to the floor. “Can’t get anything past you, can I, Mr. Zimmermann? Yesterday was my last day at the bakery. A few of my co-workers took me out and ... there may have been glitter involved? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine, it all started to go fuzzy after about 1 a.m.”
“You can party all night and get up in the morning to teach a spin class? I don’t know if I should be impressed or worried.”
“I lived in a frat house in college and played NCAA hockey, Mr. Zimmermann. My tolerance is pretty high. Though, between you and me, I think I’m getting too old for this.”
“Between you and me, I think I’ve always been too old for it,” Jack admits. “Or maybe I just got it all out of my system in high school. I can’t say I was ever glitter bombed, though.”
“Not even in a victory, parade?”
Jack thinks about it. He’s had his share of Gatorade dumped on him, and gotten caught in more than a few confetti storms, but has somehow avoided glitter.
“Actually, I don’t think so.”
“Well, that’s just sad.” Eric ruffles his hair again and, with a wicked little smile, places his palm on Jack’s cheek, leaving a smudge of glitter behind when he pulls away.
“There. Now you can say you have been.”
Eric latches on to Jack’s elbow as he’s leaving his fifth class. “I noticed you getting lazy with your form in class today. Want some pointers?”
“Er …” It would be easy to be irritated, or embarrassed, but Eric is so obviously trying to be helpful that Jack just shrugs and lets him lead him back to the bike he’s come to think of as his.
“When you’re in third position — go ahead, get up on the bike and get in third position, Jack — your hips are too far forward. Bring them back, like this.” Eric gently places his hands on Jack’s hips and guides them to the proper position. “And keep your head up, face forward! Eyes on me, not your hands. Let me see you try to put it all together.”
Feeling a little silly, especially without Eric’s loud pop music as a distraction, Jack demonstrates his pedaling technique. “Better,” Eric observes. “That’s how I want to see you doing it on Tuesday.”
“Who says I’ll be here on Tuesday?”
“You haven’t missed one of my classes since you started coming in. You’ll be here,” Eric says, confident.
Jack is in that hazy state between wakefulness and sleep, and all he can think about is how Eric’s hands felt on his hips. It’s a warm feeling, comfortable. If Eric’s hands fit on his hips so well, he thinks, in what other ways might they fit well together?
His eyes fly open. His heart is beating as though he’s just run suicides.
After his sixth class, Jack buys a membership. Eric sells it to him. “You might as well take a T-shirt,” he says, handing Jack a soft gray shirt with the bright yellow Rise and Ride logo on it.
Jack, already in the process of slipping his credit card back into his wallet, pulls it out again. Eric waves him off. “On the house, if you promise to actually wear it.” He winks. “You’re good advertising.”
Marty brings it up during their Saturday morning run, a ritual they’ve kept up since Jack’s rookie year, when he and Thirdy took it upon themselves to look out for him. Apparently, Marty and Thirdy have noticed a pattern to Jack’s class attendance. Or, rather, their wives have noticed a pattern to Jack’s attendance and let them in on their insider knowledge.
“Seems like you’ve been enjoying your classes at the studio,” Marty says casually as they follow the curve of the trail.
“They’re fun,” Jack says. “Something different.”
“Gabby wants to know why you haven’t taken her class yet.”
“I go on Tuesday and Sunday mornings,” Jack replies. “Sometimes Thursday nights. Eric’s usually teaching.”
“Yeah, we know Bitty’s teaching,” Thirdy says. “You’re in there three times a week, and you only take his classes. If you want his number, all you have to do is ask.”
“I don’t …” Jack starts to protest.
“He’s cute, Jack, and your type.”
“Small,” Marty says. “Blonde. Played hockey. Makes great pies.”
Jack grunts. He’s come to terms with his crush, but it’s not like he’s going to hit on the guy while they’re working out.
Thirdy elbows him in the ribs. “Come on, Jack. When’s the last time you brought somebody besides your parents to the home opener? If you make your move soon enough, he can sit with them in the family suite.”
Jack responds by hip checking him off the trail.
Jack wears his new shirt to his next class, provoking a smirk from Eric when he notices it. “I think you need to learn how advertising works, Mr. Zimmermann. It’s not the people already in this class you need to convince. It’s a dark room anyway, who’s even gonna see that?”
“What if I wear it to get coffee after class?” Jack asks, suddenly bold.
“You could join me,” he says, like this is a spur of the moment offer and not something he’s been thinking about for days. “I probably owe you a coffee anyway. For the shirt. And, you know, all the pointers in class.”
“Jack, you’re paying for my expertise. It’s part of my job. But if you’re serious about coffee, I can meet you at the little cafe a few doors down? I have a few things to do in the studio before I leave.”
Jack feels like he’s working extra hard in class, but that may be because of nerves.
Whether it’s effort or nerves, he finishes in first place.
Eric arrives at the cafe about ten minutes after Jack. He’s changed into a fitted, faded Samwell Hockey T-shirt and a pair of athletic shorts. Jack has to stop himself from staring at his forearms, and the way his shirt clings to his chest. They order two black coffees — Eric adds a liberal amount of cream and sugar to his — and find a table on the patio outside. Jack asks about Eric’s college hockey team (he was captain his senior year) and how he got into teaching cycling classes (he started taking classes after college to stay in shape and was so good at it the studio paid for his instructor training and certification), and answers his questions about what it was like to win the Cup, and it’s easily the best first date conversation Jack has ever had.
Well, assuming this is actually a date. Their knees are touching under the table and Eric keeps smiling which, well, Eric smiles at everyone, including the crabby woman who sits front and center every class and spends the whole ride looking miserable, so maybe that’s not a good indicator of how well this date — or not-date — is going. He’s going to have an anxiety attack if he over analyzes this, though, so he turns his full attention back toward Eric.
“I loved college,” he says, “but after I graduated I realized the parts I loved most were playing hockey and baking for the guys I lived with. I didn’t really think about a career until I was about to graduate. I got an entry level job doing social media for a food magazine right after graduation and while I was at Polly’s taking pictures for a story one of our writers was working on, I mentioned to the owner that I developed my own recipes. Just chit chat, you know? Her head baker had just left to open a food truck so she asked me to come in for a working interview that weekend. One bite of my maple apple pie and she hired me on the spot.”
“That’s incredible,” Jack says. “Right place at the right time, eh?”
“It was. But it’s time for a change. The older I get, the harder it is to keep baker’s hours.”
Jack laughs. “You’re what, in your early twenties? Hardly an old man.”
“Twenty-four, Mr. Zimmermann. But this job has aged me, I swear. So, last year I decided to go back to school for my teaching certificate. Come fall I’ll be teaching culinary arts at a couple of the local high schools.”
“So you’re saying spending the day with teenagers is preferable to getting up before dawn?” Jack chirps.
“Lord, yes. As you may have noticed, I enjoy teaching. But also, I haven’t had much of a social life since college. The only people I meet are little old ladies who are picking up dessert for their book clubs and soccer parents who stop in with their kids for an after school snack. Not that I wouldn’t date a guy with a kid, but it’s hard to date at all when I’m in bed by 9 p.m. Even on my days off, I’m up early to teach a morning class.”
“I get that. It’s similar with hockey. I mean, I guess there are fewer soccer parents but, ah, the social life thing gets tricky. The guys I’m close to all have families. They’re good about including me in things, but it’s still a little awkward to be the third wheel.”
Eric flashes him a teasing half smile. “And here I thought you’d have your choice of all the eligible hockey fans.”
“There are some guys who ... enjoy that whole post-game bar scene, but I think I spent way too much time doing that in the Q for it to be very appealing now.” He doesn’t need to tell Eric that his partying, combined with his anxiety, had nearly killed him. Either he’s enough of a fan that he already knows, or it will come up in the future. And the longer they linger here, Jack thinks, the more likely it seems there will be an opportunity for it to come up in the future.
“I don’t lead the glamorous life off the ice a lot of people seem to think I do," he continues. “It’s hard to meet someone who doesn’t mind dinner at home and dessert over a Netflix documentary. Or the fact that I get up at 5:30 to run almost every weekday morning. It turns out I’m a great matchmaker, though. My last two exes are together thanks to me.”
“No!” Eric’s bright peal of laughter rings throughout the patio. “Jack, how?”
“Well, Camilla — Collins, she won a bronze medal in tennis — we met when we presented an award together at the ESPYS. And Michael was a reporter I met a year or so after Camilla and I broke up. A few months after the thing with Michael ended he asked me for Camilla’s number — for a story, he said. Long story short, I went to their wedding last year and they’re expecting a baby in October.”
“I’m sorry, it’s not funny,” Eric manages to gasp through his laughter. “It’s just ...”
“No, it is. The guys are still chirping me about it.”
“My last ex dumped me for a backup dancer in Britney Spears’ Vegas show.”
“Wow. That’s. Wow. “
“My pie was voted Best in Providence three years running,” Eric says with a mock pout, “but I guess I just can’t compete with Britney.”
“A friend of mine took me to that show when we were out there to play the Aces once. It was pretty impressive.”
“Oh, stop it.”
“You forget I haven’t tried your pie, though. I think I’ll need to try that pie before I can make an informed decision.”
“Keep up the chirping, Mr. Zimmermann, and you won’t get to try my pie.”
“Would it help if I tell you I went to that concert, and I still can’t name a Britney Spears song?”
Eric looks aghast. “Oh, Jack. Please tell me you’re joking.”
He shrugs. “It’s only thanks to your class that I know who Beyoncé is.”
“Bless your heart. What do you listen to?”
“Er, rock? Some classic country? Oldies? The guys call it dad rock. I’ve been listening to that ‘Halo’ song a lot though, since you played it in class.” Jack doesn’t add that the reason he’s had the song on repeat during his morning runs is because it reminds him of Eric.
“Well, Mr. Zimmermann, there may be hope for you yet.” Eric picks up Jack’s empty cup. “Do you want a refill?”
Jack really doesn’t want a refill. But he also doesn’t want whatever this is to end, so he lets Eric take their cups back to the counter and get two refills and by the time they finally go their separate ways Jack has to admit to himself that he’s really and truly screwed. One maybe-date, and he’s halfway in love with Eric Bittle.
Although the summer isn’t as busy as hockey season, Jack’s days are still full. There are workout sessions, charity obligations, dinners with friends he doesn’t see as often as he’d like during the season, and lots of time spent catching up on his reading and the Netflix documentaries he hasn’t had time for. He’s so busy he almost forgets, until they bring it up the night before their arrival, that his parents are coming in for a few days in mid-July, right before the intensity of his pre-season workouts begins to ramp up.
They arrive on Wednesday afternoon, looking tanned and relaxed after a week in the Maldives.
“It was amazing, Jack,” Alicia gushes as they wait in baggage claim. “We had our own private bungalow with a dock that led right out to the ocean. A private chef. Bikes that we could ride around the island. Kayaks. Next time, you’ll have to come with us.”
“Next time, don’t schedule a trip for right after the Cup,” Jack says, but he’s smiling. “Or plan it for a year we don’t go all the way.”
Instead of going out for dinner, they order pizza and eat it in Jack’s living room while they watch Jeopardy! and he catches them up on the press he’s done and the documentaries he’s watched.
“So,” Alicia begins during a break at the top of the hour. Jack sees the specific tilt of her head and glint in her eye and knows what’s coming. “Is there anybody in your life we should know about?”
“Jack. It’s okay if there is. We want you to find someone who will eat cookies in bed with you.”
Jack buries his head in his hands. “Mama. I was five. When are you going to let me live that down?”
“She isn’t. She’s going to tell that story at your wedding,” Bob says.
“It’s cute,” Alicia insists.
“You think you’re cute,” Jack mutters.
“Your mother is adorable,” Bob agrees. “And brilliant. I think it was very clever of her to tell you the reason you couldn’t sleep in our bed with us was because we were eating cookies, and you had to go back to your own bed because you’d already brushed your teeth.”
“And when I put you back in your bed, you told me you couldn’t wait to get married and eat cookies in bed.”
Jack groans. “And no. I’m not eating cookies in bed with anybody.”
“That’s a shame,” Bob says. “Cookies are delicious.”
On Thursday, the entire Zimmermann family meets a reporter and photographer at a rented, furnished home outside Providence for their first post-Cup interview as a family. The first part of the day is spent doing the photoshoot. The article is slated to run over the holidays, to coincide with a holiday movie Alicia will be promoting for the Hallmark Channel, and the stylist has managed to find near replicas of the Fair Isle sweaters they all wore for an InStyle photoshoot they did when Jack was a toddler. The photographer spends the morning posing them in front of a white backdrop, at the table with hot chocolate and gingerbread, in front of the living room fireplace.
The reporter joins them afterward and asks the questions everyone asks, beginning with questions about Bob’s occasional hockey commentating and Alicia’s recurring role as a political operative on one of HBO’s critically acclaimed comedies. Then she turns to Jack, with more of the usual: “How does it feel to follow so closely in your father’s footsteps? Now that you have a Stanley Cup win, any chance you’ll go for an Emmy like your mom? It’s been a while since we’ve seen you out and about with anybody, Jack. Are you seeing anyone?”
Bob, seated next to Jack, gives his shoulder a little squeeze as he gives his usual answer: “I’m just focused on hockey. My schedule makes it hard to date during the season.” He suddenly remembers the way Eric’s hands felt on his hips, the way his eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles, the easy flow of their conversation, and adds, “Maybe by the time this article comes out … who knows.” He studiously avoids his looking either of his parents in the eye for the rest of the interview.
On their way to Jack’s car, once they’re out of the earshot of the reporter, Alicia gives Jack a playful shove. “I knew there was someone!” she whoops.
“There’s nobody, Mama.”
“I know you, Jack Laurent. You’ve never answered that question like that before.”
“There is … maybe the idea of someone,” Jack concedes. Alicia beams and Bob slings an arm around Jack’s shoulders as they make their way back to the car.
On the way home, Alicia decides Jack’s apartment needs a refresher (to impress his “idea of someone,” he’s sure), so she orders him to drive to the mall. There, Jack allows her to choose new linens and towels and Bob spends a small fortune at Sur la Table. By the time they leave, Jack is the proud new owner of a sous vide machine Bob claims will “change your life.”
“Your father took a class on sous vide cooking at the rec center a few months ago,” Alicia explains. “He’s become quite the evangelist.”
“I appreciate it,” Jack says, “I just don’t know when I’ll have time to use this.”
“Oh, it’s easy,” Bob reassures him. “I’ll teach you a few things before we leave. Did you know you can use this to make those egg bite things they sell at Starbucks? Protein, Jack!”
“Or I could … just go to Starbucks.” It’s almost embarrassing, really, the way his parents insist on buying him things every time they visit.
“Let him have this one,” Alicia says.
So Jack does, because this close, easy relationship he has with his parents wasn’t easy to come by. It’s one thing to be loved and adored by the hockey world at large, and quite another to be loved and adored by Bob and Alicia Zimmermann. When he was younger, the sheer intensity of their adoration often felt more like expectation, and it’s only recently that Jack has been able to discern the difference.
They stop at the grocery store on the way home so Bob can buy the ingredients for beef Wellington and the egg things he won’t stop talking about. Back in Jack’s kitchen, Bob is unpacking the groceries and Alicia is uncorking a bottle of wine when Jack realizes it’s Thursday night. Eric’s class is in an hour.
“I just remembered I have class tonight, Papa. Can we do dinner tomorrow night instead?”
“Class?” Alicia pauses in the middle of pouring a glass of wine.
“Remember that charity event I did last month, right after the Cup? It was an indoor cycling thing and it was tough, but I liked it. I’ve been going a couple times a week.”
“Your trainer okay with that?” Bob asks.
“Probably not during the season,” Jack admits. “But it’s fine for the summer. And … it’s fun?”
Alicia smacks her palm against the marble counter, causing her wine glass to scoot across the surface. “Well, let’s go! You think there’s room in class for two more?”
This is not happening. This is absolutely not happening. Lord only knows what will happen if his parents accompany him to this class. Already, Jack can imagine the chirps from all sides. From Bob. From Alicia. From Eric. Because if there’s one thing he is absolutely certain of, it’s that his parents and Eric will get along like a house on fire.
“It’s been years since I’ve taken a spin class,” Alicia says.
“I’ve never taken one,” Bob says. “But I’m game.”
Internally, Jack sighs, but he knows the more he protests, the more they’ll insist, so he helps Bob put the food away and accepts that this is happening. A half hour later, all three Zimmermanns, clad in their workout gear, have registered Bob and Alicia as new riders and are taking the new client tour of the Rise and Ride facilities.
“These are the changing rooms, with showers,” Ella, the college student who runs the front desk in the evenings, tells them. “The lounge, over here, has cucumber water and hot beverages if you’d like to relax for a bit before or after class. And the cycling studio is right this way. Eric is teaching tonight. I think he’s already setting up, if you’d like to meet him before class starts.” Bob and Alicia enthusiastically follow her, Jack a few steps behind.
Eric, in headphones, is on the instructor’s platform, his attention directed toward the tablet he uses to control the studio’s sound and lighting systems. He levels a glare at the tablet and taps on it in apparent frustration, and Jack has to bite his lip to keep from laughing. Ella taps him on the shoulder, then gestures at Jack and his parents in the doorway.
“Oh, gosh! Where are my manners? I didn’t realize I had company. Just trying to get this sound system working for tonight’s class. We have a new instructor teaching in the afternoons and I’m not sure what she did, but I can’t find my playlist anywhere.” Eric frowns a little, and Jack can pinpoint the exact moment he recognizes his parents as Bob and Alicia Zimmermann, as opposed to a couple of random strangers who happened to arrive at the same time as Jack, because his eyes go wide and he visibly blushes. It’s adorable.
“My parents are visiting and insisted on coming with me,” Jack explains with a shrug, even as Eric and Bob are shaking hands and handling their own introductions. Eric asks if they’ve ever done this before and Alicia admits it’s been years, so he quickly shows them the basics. “Jack can help you if you need more help adjusting your bikes,” he tells them before going back to his platform.
At 6:30 on the dot, Eric introduces himself over the opening strains of “Seven Nation Army” and adds, “As my regulars know, I occasionally take requests. Jack, I did my best to find some good dad rock that worked for this class.”
Alicia catches Jack’s eye and raises one perfectly sculpted brow. Jack ignores her and avoids looking at her through “Free Fallin'” and “Beautiful Day.” When the latter fades into a much slower beat, Eric tells the class to “flip those sprint shifts to the right and make your legs real heavy!” This instruction is accompanied by a full body roll and Jack is pretty sure he might die right here and now. Alicia mimics the move, Bob lets out an actual cat call, Eric points at them and yells, “I’m inviting y’all back!” and Jack is now absolutely, 100-percent positive he has died.
The ghost of Jack somehow makes it through class and manages to shepherd his parents out of the studio — they both enthusiastically wave goodbye to Eric, who calls out, “I hope to see y’all again!” in return — before they can cause him further embarrassment. Really, he should know by now that he can’t take them anywhere. As he’s ushering them out the door, however, Bob doubles back. “I forgot to get some of that cucumber water,” he explains.
“We’ll wait in the car,” Jack says.
As they walk to the parking lot, Alicia leans in toward Jack. “He’s cute.”
“Jack. Your father is cute but he’s not who I’m talking about.”
Jack waits until they’re settled in his SUV before he responds.
“He’s really nice. And cute. And we got coffee once after class but I’d really like to go on a real date.”
“So go out with him. Ask him to dinner.”
“Mama. It’s not that easy.”
Apparently it is that easy, because Bob is back before Alicia has a chance to reply and, to Jack’s horror, Eric is with him. “Look who I found when I went back for water!” he announces. “Eric hasn’t eaten either so I asked him to join us. I thought we could go to that casual little Thai place that’s not too far from here. That okay, Jack?” He practically shoves Eric into the passenger seat next to Jack before he slides into the back seat next to Alicia.
For the first time since Jack has met him, Eric seems unsure of himself. Perched on the edge of his seat, he shoots a quizzical glance at Jack.
Jack meets his eye and offers a small smile and nods his head, hoping the gesture says everything he can’t. Eric visibly relaxes and finally closes the door and buckles his seat belt. “Somebody needs to pinch me or call the cops, because either I’m dreaming, or I just got kidnapped by Bad Bob Zimmermann.”
Everybody laughs at that, even Jack, and the remaining tension in the car dissipates. When he catches his mother’s eye in the rearview mirror, she raises an eyebrow and offers him the smallest of smiles, half “I told you so” and half “You’ve got this.”
To Jack’s surprise, his parents behave themselves during dinner. Or, they behave themselves as well as they can, because they are Zimmermanns, after all. By the time their appetizers arrive, Jack is pretty sure Eric has realized the glamorous couple he’s seen showing off their vacation home in magazine spreads, and posing on the red carpet before awards shows, is a carefully managed fiction. He cracks up during Alicia’s story about the time she handed her car keys to George Clooney outside a Beverly Hills restaurant because she thought he was the valet, and turns out to be the perfect audience for Bob’s adventures in sous vide cooking. Jack can tell his parents are equally charmed when Eric tells them about going to the Frozen Four with his college hockey team and mentions he’s about to start his first teaching job. Bob even asks if he can get the syllabus and follow along with the class from their home in Montreal. By the time their waiter is boxing up their leftover curry and pad thai and Bob is reaching for the check, Jack can tell his parents are ready to either adopt Eric or propose marriage on his behalf.
Jack insists he drive Eric back to the studio, where he left his car.
“I can’t possibly take up any more of your time with your family, Jack,” Eric says. “It’s a nice night, and it’s still a bit light out. I don’t mind walking the few blocks to the studio.”
“It’s not really out of the way,” Jack says, not quite ready to say goodbye.
“You know,” Alicia interrupts. “I need to pick up a few things at the store. Why don’t you walk with Eric back to his car, and Papa and I can meet you at your place.”
“But we were just at the —”
“I just remembered I ate the last of the Oreos that were in your pantry. I should replace them.”
“Oh my god,” Jack mutters at the ground.
“Mrs. Zimmermann, did you just suggest getting store-bought cookies in front of a professional baker? I can whip up a dozen real quick if you want dessert.”
Bob looks positively gleeful.
“Let’s go!” Jack decides, before either of his parents can say any more. He tosses the keys to Alicia. “I’ll walk home.”
“I’ll drive him home,” Eric corrects.
“Bring cookies!” Bob yells out the window as Alicia peels out of the parking lot. Jack and Eric are left alone, illuminated by the streetlights that are just turning on.
“I’m sorry about them,” he apologizes as they begin their walk.
“Jack, your parents are wonderful.”
“Yeah. They really are. But they can be ... a lot.”
“They did seem very enthusiastic about the cookies,” Eric agrees.
“It’s an old family joke. I’ll tell you about it someday.”
“It’s probably not a first date joke,” Jack explains.
Eric leans toward Jack a little and bumps him with his shoulder. “I thought this was our second date.”
“It’s more like a fourth or fifth date joke. Or sixth, or, you know what, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on any dates at all and you’re the first person I’ve ever thought about telling that story to so who knows, maybe it is a third date joke. If you want to have a third date.”
“Does it count as a third date if we go back to my place and make some cookies to take to your parents?”
“Why don’t you teach me to make the pie you owe me, and we can save the cookies for later?”
“But your dad —”
“I promise, they don’t really want cookies. I mean, they probably do, but they really want to make sure I’m the one who gets the cookies. As long as we bring them back something, they’ll be fine.”
“Well, then.” Eric bumps shoulders with Jack again and this time, their hands find each other. “I have to warn you, I’m a pretty tough teacher.” Eric gives Jack’s hand a little squeeze.
“Yeah? As tough as this one teacher who screamed at me for an hour the first time I took his class? He was pretty cute, but man, he was bossy.”
“If you think I’m bossy on the bike, you should see me in the kitchen.” It sounds like a challenge, and damn if Jack’s heart isn’t racing the way it does when Eric is playing “Crazy in Love” and screaming at him to work harder.
Jack thinks yes, and please, and wonders if it really is too early to tell Eric the cookie story. For now, he settles for holding hands and walking back to Eric’s car. If they’re a little late taking the pie back to his parents because they decide to whip up a quick batch of cookies, well, his parents don’t need to know.