- Rough Draft
- *No Site Warnings Apply
Jack Zimmermann had been blessed with supportive parents who understood his drive for hockey. His father had the same drive on the ice. Jack’s ice sense was superior to most of the kids his age, and it was not all due to his father’s gifts. His mother had gifts of her own to impart, and Jack had been born Gilled.
His father made sure to take his small family to the border communities regularly when Jack was growing up. And he spent most off seasons in a reef community for his wife and son. Seeing them so happy to dive for hours everyday was the only reward Bob wanted or needed. And Bob Zimmermann had enough money to make sure they could drop everything and go when needed. That his bride Alicia was a successful model and actress and could ensure the same was just as grand.
Alicia Zimmermann almost didn’t let Bob woo and court her. She didn’t want a land-locked spouse. But he was so funny and charming, and two of his grandparents had been Gilled, so it was entirely possible they would pass the gift to their children.
They did. Jack was at home on the ice as he was in the water. The water gave him freedom that the ice did not. Jack was still an awkward kid – he went through a chunky stage before he shot up. He grew into his eyes and his ears.
He struggled as a teenager, and Alicia feared it wasn’t just because of the pressure of having a four-time Stanley Cup winner as his father. Something else weighed on him.
When he imploded spectacularly before the NHL draft, she figured she was right in thinking that his was feeling the pressure of being gay. Or bisexual. He hadn’t actually shared the specifics with his parents, but that he’d had a relationship with Kent wasn’t really a surprise – or a secret – at least to Alicia. Bob worried more for the survival of his son than he did about the bisexual. Or gay. They weren’t going to judge.
When Jack decided to take some time to see if hockey was still something he loved, he went to college. Alicia worried that the pressure of being Bob’s kid – and socially awkward to boot – would keep him from making friends.
That particular worry eased considerably when Jack had admitted that one of his team mates wouldn’t leave him alone and seemed to be determined to stick with him. He sounded a little baffled, but the first time B. Knight had stolen his phone and started telling her and Bob how great Jack was without even waiting for an introduction or even knowing who he was speaking to. She laughed when he told her sincerely to call him Shitty. Because his initials were B.S. and bullshit was no kind of name, was he right?
Bob was alarmed and then charmed by this seemingly loudmouthed young man who liked their son so much to make himself a pest.
Jack was baffled, but also kind of relieved there was someone who could take the spotlight off of him, and seemed to understand that his silences weren’t because he didn’t have anything to say, but because he couldn’t form the words.
That Shitty Knight was also Gilled was a surprise, but a welcome one. They’d sneak off to the ocean south of Rhode Island to swim when they could. Shitty admitted that his parents were a little horrified that he’d inherited the family “shame” – it was just one more thing that made them write him off.
Alicia could see that it hurt Shitty that his parents weren’t more supportive of his needs, so when their first year at college was done, they invited Shitty along to their border community beach home. He was just as charming and foul-mouthed in person, and kept excusing himself in Alicia’s company while she laughed.
With the three of them spending most days in the water, Bob got some good fishing in. He also combed the community for the freshest farmer’s market produce to further his cooking efforts.
Eric “Bitty” Bittle spent his first year at college trying to pass his classes, keep out of the way of his perennially angry team captain, and learn how to get along without outing himself. Outing himself accidentally, that is. He wanted to come out – at least at school – but having hidden himself so deeply in the closet he wasn’t sure how.
He wrote out a 3×5 note card with all of the points that he’d been telling himself for years at that point. “Its not WRONG, and I’m not WRONG for feeling this way!” so when he asked Shitty if they could talk one snowy afternoon Shitty just let him talk and talk and talk, telling Shitty all the things on his double-sided note card. Shitty merely said “Thank you for trusting me with this moment” like it was no big deal.
For his part, Shitty was no longer surprised when people up and told him they were gay. Or bi. Or pan. Or trans. He just thanked them very sincerely for trusting him and affirmed their feelings were a-okay in his book – not that they needed his approval or disapproval for speaking and living their truth. Shitty hadn’t had anyone ace or aro approach him yet, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it ever happened.
Bitty appreciated the matter of fact-ness of Shitty’s reaction. And it maybe gave him a little bit of confidence that maybe here, in college he could be who he really was. But in all the revelations, Bitty kept one to himself. He kept it secret that he was a Mer. It wasn’t something he was used to disclosing to outsiders – outside the family. The Phelps side had a remote beach place on the Gulf that he spent summers with a lot of his Phelps cousins. Coach only had a couple of relatives who were Gilled, but Mama had passels of them – most of the family, actually. It would have been weird if he hadn’t been Gilled. One more thing to set him apart from his rough and tumble Bittle relations. He was just as speedy in the water as he was on the ice. But New England was cold much of the year, so he hadn’t been able to swim since fall had truly set in. He was looking forward to going home for the holidays so he could swim in the more temperate waters of the Gulf Coast. MeeMaw had made sure he could get back to the Phelp’s compound for the holidays – he was flying right to Atlanta and then driving south and west.
Spring semester was when the more intense part of the hockey season would begin, and even with Jack “Hockey Robot” Zimmermann working with him nearly daily on his checking phobia, Bitty was still unsure he’d be able to help the team much.
Coach never understood Bitty’s fascination with ice. First with the figure skating and then with the hockey. Coach had always been more attuned to football, and coaching was something he was good at. He could see the plays and read the field – his spacial awareness was almost preternatural. He supposed being Gilled and spending most of his summers on salvage boats, diving to earn money for school growing up helped with his vision that way.
He never understood his son, but loved him and was proud of him. He didn’t really understand his wife or much of her family, either, so he figured it was a Phelps thing.
He hadn’t intended to specifically woo and win a Gilled spouse, but he was lucky that the girl he fell hard for almost before he really knew what he was doing both loved him back and was Gilled to boot. His family had a few Gilled members, but Suzie’s family was almost exclusively Gilled. They had a whole beach compound. It was a very slim possibility that Junior would NOT be Gilled, so the birth happened in a Gilled birthing pool.
Bitty had felt like his world was changing so fast. He watched two of his best friends graduate and one was moving north to Cambridge for Law School, and one was moving south to Providence to join the Providence Falconers. Chowder would move into Jack’s room in the Haus, and it hurt that Jack would be gone. He’d settled into the fact he’d had a massive crush on his Captain, even if he tried not to. Straight boys were never open to a gay man feeling for them.
He would be leaving campus for the summer, but even the prospect of being within his Gilled relatives at the compound for much of the summer did not excite him the way it usually did. Baking with MooMaw and spending most of the day underwater with his Phelps cousins would be a good change of pace. And since his college ended earlier than most of the schools down south, he, Mama and MooMaw would have the compound almost completely to themselves for a few weeks.
When Jack burst in and kissed him – not once but THREE TIMES, he almost didn’t know what to do. He’d been deep in a small pity party while folding Chowder’s things for storage over the summer in the Haus before leaving for his Uber to the airport. Lardo was still around, and she promised to lock up the Haus when she left after a meal with the Knights.
Jack texted him almost immediately after he left, and they began a epistolary romance through texts. Jack always spelled everything correctly and used initial caps when appropriate. He didn’t seem to understand how to emoji, but Bitty knew all of this about Jack already and it had never mattered to him before.
So he was ensconced in the bosom of his Mer family and wanting to invite Jack to the fourth of July celebration.
Except he’d never told Jack he was a Mer. He didn’t think Jack would care – Canada had one of the most open policies for all of their peoples. There were even whole Inuit and First Nations communities that took tourist Mer on ice dives in specialized heated suits that still allowed the Mer to breathe normally under water.
But how to “out” himself again? So he talked to his MooMaw first, floating the idea of inviting a friend from college to the compound for the long weekend. She had considered for a long moment, and told him that she would support his invite. Mama was so pleased he was making friends she also seemed to support it. Coach just nodded his own support before asking if Jack knew they were Gilled.
Bitty had to admit he hadn’t told Jack. And Mama pish-poshed and told them both Jack’s own Mama was Gilled, so he shouldn’t have any issues with it. She even pulled up the swimsuit photoshoot a very very young Alicia Zimmermann (before she was a Zimmermann) did on the reefs of the Caribbean where you could clearly see her Gills working in the brilliantly clear water. Mama had also said it was in her contracts as a young woman that they could not airbrush the gills out of the picture if they were visible.
Because of that photoshoot, Victoria Secret had done a whole line of lacy bikinis that avoided interfering with the working of Gills. Alicia was front and center, but there were a number of other Mer Models.
For Bitty, that Alicia Zimmermann was Gilled was a bit of a revelation. Maybe Jack wouldn’t mind. He clearly didn’t mind that Bitty was male, was Bitty being Gilled that bad? So he texted Jack, rapid-fire before he chickened out.
The thing is, sweetpea, is not that I don’t want you to come for the Fourth.
But I have to tell you something.
We’re gonna go to the Phelps Compound.
Mama is a Phelps.
And if your Mama is Gilled, maybe you understand what the Phelps compound is.
Maybe not. I mean I don’t know if the Phelps are known in Canada.
Oh, lord, just SAY it.
I’m Gilled. I’m a Mer.
I hope that doesn’t change anything.
And I hope you’re not mad that I kept it a secret.
Being Gilled in Madison Georgia.
The Phelps compound is on the Gulf coast, though.
Jack for his part had been doing some training when Bitty had started barraging his phone with texts. When he got back to the locker room to find out his phone had 22 unread texts, most all of them from Bitty, he was concerned.
Bitty tended to text in stream of consciousness, but 22 in less than an hour seemed either excessive, or something was wrong.
He quickly read the string of texts and almost dropped the phone. Sure he remembered his mother had done her first underwater photo shoot before she had married his father. He’d even seen some of the photos – there was one up on the wall in his father’s study – pride of place over the fireplace. The framed Stanley Cup jerseys were relegated to the walls on either side of the door – two up, two down.
But that photo of his mother, she was glancing at the photographer over her shoulder in a rather modest bikini by today’s standards, her Gills open and working, tiny air bubbles decoratively filling the water around her.
And Bitty didn’t realize that Jack was also Gilled. Wait – Phelps Compound. That rang a bell.
He called his mother.
“Maman, I have, eh, kind of a weird question?”
“The Phelps compound. Why does that sound familiar?”
“Where did you… Nevermind. The Phelps’ are one of the largest Gilled Families in the continental US. There are bigger families in Hawaii, of course, and one of the First Nations families in Alaska might top them in sheer size of land territory. But the Phelpses are across the Southern US from North Carolina to the Gulf coast of Texas. They made it a point to accept all the abandoned Gilled children after the Awakening in the eighteen hundreds. Why?”
“Bitty’s a Phelps on his mother’s side.”
“Oh. Oh, my! Jack – I did my first underwater photoshoot with a Phelps photographer. She was sweet. And knew exactly how I should move for the photos. She’s also the one who made me promise to never “correct” photos to erase my Gills.”
“Isn’t that photographer Angelina?” Angelina had beautiful dark brown skin, wore her hair in no-nonsense box braids, and was over six feet tall. She was fierce and talented and spent most of her professional life shooting Gilled models in various underwater spots, exotic and mundane. Jack admired her use of light and movement in static photography.
“I did say they adopted ALL the abandoned Gilled they could find, sweetheart. In no way did they reject Gilled children based on the color of their skin. I think the heads of the family during the Awakening were mixed race themselves.”