bitty has outgrown this place, and the people in it.
tw: homophobic language/slurs
word count: 1800
for @stitchedopen, 3rd place winner in my fic giveaway! i hope you like it!
The clinking of Jack’s fork against his plate as he sets it down is very unnerving. It’s not the only sound in the room but it’s by far the loudest, to him at least. Even louder than Suzanne’s pleasant babbling (no wonder where Bitty gets it from) and the gentle lull of music being played on a radio somewhere in another room. Probably the kitchen, where Bitty’s finishing up supper.
There’s a shuffling around the corner and Coach becomes visible as he nears the bottom of the staircase. “Jack,” he mumbles gruffly in greeting, giving him a nod and sitting at the head of the table.
“Hello, Mr. Bittle,” Jack replies, smiling a little. “How’s the season going? Still the reigning champs of Morgan County?” If there’s one thing Jack knows he can get Coach to talk about, it’s football. It might be a much different sport than hockey, Jack surmises, but the passion they share for their sports is more than enough for them to hold a conversation.
“Oh, they lost their first game of the season last week. Nevin’s got an injury and we had to switch around the lineups– you remember, Nevin, receiver, curly hair, he’s in the team picture in the living room– anyway, I’m sure it hurt their chemistry.” Coach would talk strategy with Jack for hours, if it was up to him, but Eric is coming into the dining room now. He’s got on yellow oven mitts with tiny white flowers, and he’s holding a tray with a roast and some vegetables.
“The meat’s a little dry, Lord help me, I should stick to baking,” Eric laughs, setting the tray down on the table. “But all the vegetables should be good and I’ve got some pumpkin muffins with a fantastic cream cheese frosting waiting for us in the kitchen.” Everyone starts to serve themselves. The meat’s not dry at all, but Jack keeps that to himself. Sometimes Bitty needs little things to dwell on, to keep himself busy so he’s not worrying so much about the big stuff. Jack knows that.
“So,” Suzanne starts after a minute, and Jack can tell that this is going to be a long one. He glances up at her, a signal that he’s listening. “The Gardeners are having a potluck this Friday, and they sent us an invitation.”
Bitty nearly drops his fork. “The Gardeners?” he hisses. “As in, Melissa and Kyle?”
“Those Gardeners,” Suzanne replies smugly. Jack and Coach exchange a look, humor gleaming in both of their eyes. The drama is about to unfold, they can tell. “What right do they think they’ve got, inviting us to their potluck after what happened at ours?”
Bitty turns to Jack, waving his hands as he speaks. “Two summers ago, we held a potluck here for the neighborhood, and when the Gardeners showed up, Kyle was drunk as a skunk and knocked over our entire dessert table. The whole thing! It was all ruined! And it would have been okay, but they didn’t even bring anything to the potluck in the first place, and they never apologized, and oh, it was such a mess, everyone tried to act like it wasn’t a big deal but darlin’ you should’ve seen the look on Moomaw’s face, I swear she was on the verge of a heart attack.” He shifts abruptly back toward Suzanne. “Mama, we’ve got to go.”
“Oh, I know that, of course we do. Dicky, what you’ve gotta do is bake the best pie those folks have ever tasted, let them know exactly what they were destroying when they had the nerve-”
Jack hums quietly, making a mental note. Potluck on Friday. Prepare for a spectacle.
Bitty’s fingers press against Jack’s neck as he helps him straighten his collar. Jack doesn’t really need the help, he supposes, but the contact is welcome, brief but full of warmth, not the kind of affection Jack usually gets when they’re with Bitty’s parents. They’ve been trying really hard, Jack can tell, and Bitty has too. But he understands why Eric sometimes has trouble being soft with Jack around Suzanne and Coach.
“Don’t you just look dashing,” Bitty says with a smile, placing his hand flat on Jack’s chest.
“Only because you picked my outfit,” Jack laughs. Bitty laughs with him, nodding in agreement. He’s got little crinkles at the edges of his eyes when he laughs, and Jack rubs his thumb over them, absent minded.
“You ready, Dicky?” Suzanne calls from the kitchen. The noises of the coffee pot stop and Jack can hear her pouring herself a cup.
“All ready!” Bits yells back. He reaches up his hand and squeezes Jack’s wrist before whirling around into the kitchen. Jack watches Bitty’s hips swing as he leaves, his jeans a little tighter than usual since he’s outgrown some of the clothes that he left here during the school year, and wonders if wore them on purpose.
The potluck is bustling. There are people of all ages, from the tiny toddlers playing in the Slip ‘N Slide far left in the back yard to the old ladies knitting underneath the sugar maple next to the house in a comically stereotypical manner. Jack opens Eric’s door for him not out of chivalry but out of necessity– when he emerges from the car, his arms are full of tupperware containers.
“Let me take some, bud” Jack offers, but Bitty shakes his head.
“I’ve got to bring them over myself.”
“This one’s cherry with a lattice crust,” Eric is explaining as he removes the lid from the nearest tupperware container. The egregious Melissa Gardener turns out to be a petite brunette with a smattering of freckles across her upturned nose. “And this one’s pumpkin, I know it’s not really the season but I had some materials left over from the muffins I made the other night and I’m sure it’ll be just delightful, I made the whipped cream myself– now, they’re all desserts. I was sure you’d need some.”
Jack stifles a laugh. The bite in Bitty’s voice is unmistakable. “Where should I set them?” Eric asks, still sweet as sugar but with a lilt that suggests this isn’t an innocent question. “This table seems a little… unsteady. I wouldn’t want them to fall, heaven forbid.”
“This table’s fine,” Melissa ensures him, smiling. “Thank you so much for the contributions.”
“It’s nothing at all.”
They burst out laughing as soon as she leaves, Bitty collapsing into Jack’s chest. Jack’s arms come around him automatically and squeeze. “Bits, that was cold.”
“Really? Here I was, thinking I was being so courteous.”
They stay in the embrace for a few more seconds before Bitty shifts away from Jack. It’s subtle, but Jack understands. He squeezes Bitty’s shoulder and then takes a step away. Bitty’s out to everyone who matters, but some people don’t know. And some still have their prejudices.
“Bits, where’s the bathroom?” Jack asks. The noise is already getting to him. He knows he’s got a while of this to go, and he’s sure he’ll be fine, but he just needs a minute to adjust. Eric points him in the right direction, then goes back to arranging the pies on the table.
“Eric!” Bitty whips around. It’s a tall guy with acne scars in a red polo shirt. Bitty looks up, his face ghostly stricken for a second, then paints a big smile on.
“Hey, Todd,” he replies as the guy moves closer. “How have you been.”
“I’ve been fine, thanks,” Todd says. Eric tugs on the bottom of his shirt and glances over at Jack, entering the house. “Who’s the guy?” Todd asks, nodding toward him.
“Jack,” Eric says. “My… my boyfriend.”
Todd smiles. He turns his gaze to Bitty. “I’ve gotta say, Eric, I’m impressed! I expected you to come home with some twinky faggot in a pink H&M scarf.”
Eric inhales sharply. “Go away,” he says quietly, looking at his shoes. “My love life is none of your business.”
“We all knew you were a homo, Bittle, I guess it’s just a little surprising that you’re still showing your face around here. Are you queers ever gonna stop shoving your agenda in our faces? Huh? Go back to Samwell, eh?” He’s inching closer now, and Eric’s cheeks are flaming red.
“Go fuck yourself,” Eric mutters, turning his back. He unstacks a tin of macadamia nut cookies from his lemon meringue, and opens it. His hands are shaking as he spreads them out artfully.
Todd ignores his response, instead reaching over Bitty and sweeping up several cookies. “Don’t mind if I do,” he says as he stuffs one in his mouth. “Mmm,” he replies, smirking. “They’re a little bit… fruity, don’t you think?”
“That’s not even funny,” Eric rolls his eyes. “Get the hell away from me.”
“And if I don’t?”
There’s a hand on the back of Bitty’s neck and he’s flinching, he’s freezing, he can’t move he can’t breathe–
“If you don’t,” Jack whispers, his voice robotic and cold. “I’ll beat the shit out of you, and you can crawl home to your mother and tell her you got your ass handed to you by a faggot. Does that sound like a good enough reason to stop?”
Todd takes a step back. “Don’t you fucking touch me,” he hisses at Jack. “You’re not from around here, are you? You don’t know who my dad is, do you?”
“Let me guess. Mayor of some town I’ve never heard of? Principal of the local high school? Do you know who my father is, noune?” Jack puffs up his shoulders. “Because I can guaran-fucking-tee that my dad is a hell of a lot worse to mess with than yours. So you might just wanna step off.”
“Whatever. I shouldn’t be talking to y’all anyway. Just in case it’s contagious, you know?” Todd smirks.
“I’m going to fucking kill you,” Jack says, still matter of fact, balling his fists and lunging toward Todd. Todd flinches, but the blow doesn’t come. Bitty’s caught the back of Jack’s t-shirt in his hand.
“Jack, honey, it’s okay. I can handle it.”
“But this– this asshole–”
“Trust me, sweetpea, I’ve got this.” Eric smiles.
“Yeah, you’re sure gonna take care of me, Bittle, what can you weigh, a hundred and ten? I bet you couldn’t even–”
“Pity,” Eric says sweetly as the pie tin slides down Todd’s face, then down his shirt, coating him in cherry filling. “That lattice crust was gorgeous.”
“You– you–” Todd splutters, wiping cherry crud out of his eyes, but Bitty and Jack are already walking away.
“Enjoy the snacks, Melissa,” Eric calls over his shoulder as they make their way to the car. “We’re gonna head out.”