Jack texts Bittle on his way back to the Haus. Jack's been in class all day and he's even more wrung out from the morning than he realized. He half-hopes Bittle has baked something today, even though that would be bad news for his diet plan because he definitely won't have the strength to resist eating some of whatever it is if Bittle has, just because there's something so, well, comforting about comfort food. (Well, some of the time. Sometimes it makes him want to gag. But that's most food, so.)
Jack to Bittle: Are you at the Haus?
Eric Bittle: yeah im in my room why?
Jack to Bittle: Can I come to your room?
Eric Bittle: oh my, that was forward!
Jack takes a minute, frowning at his phone, to understand what Bittle apparently thinks he's saying. When it hits him, he sighs even as heat rushes to his face.
Jack to Bittle: We've discussed how literal I am. I just want to see you. And maybe cuddle?
Eric Bittle: oh right sorry. yeah you can come to my room.
Jack texts back a smiley face and then puts his phone away for the remainder of the walk to the Haus. If he speedwalks a little, well, sue him; he wants to see his newly minted boyfriend. He's not out of breath when he arrives back at the Haus, of course—he's in peak shape and it's not like he was sprinting—and then he takes the stairs two at a time and knocks on Bittle's door.
Bittle answers the door. He's still in the smart-casual outfit he changed into after practice—he's not like Shitty, who usually sheds his clothes at the door of the Haus, or Holster, who tends to lounge in sweatpants whenever he can get away with it—but, even though Jack's used to Bittle being well dressed, he takes a moment to savor it anyway. Bittle's hair, however, is not as carefully arranged as it was when Jack saw him earlier; it looks like he's been running his hands though it, or maybe pulling on it.
For a few seconds, Bittle and Jack just stare at each other, smiling faintly, and then Bittle steps out of the doorway and says, "Well, I'm pretty sure you wanted to come inside."
"Yeah," says Jack quietly. He crosses the threshold and Bittle closes the door behind him. "Can I kiss you?" Jack asks when the door is shut.
"Yeah," Bittle breathes, and then he steps closer to Jack and Jack leans down to close the distance between their mouths. Jack isn't sure what kissing is like for other people, but he's pretty sure it's different for him because he's never connected with most of the written descriptions he's read. His nerve endings don't feel alight and there aren't fireworks in his brain or his stomach. Instead, his mind goes mostly blank, the way it does when the puck drops, and he just melts. No pyrotechnics—just calm.
When Bittle pulls away, Jack rests his forehead on Bittle's and says, "Okay?"
"Yeah," says Bittle.
Jack goes in for another kiss. When this one breaks, Bittle says, "I thought you said you just wanted to see me and maybe cuddle."
"Oops," says Jack. "Sorry? I did ask before I kissed you."
"Jack, it's fine," says Bittle. "I was just a little surprised. Would you like to cuddle now, though?"
"Okay," says Jack.
They move to the bed. Jack puts his arm around Bittle, and Bittle tucks himself into Jack's side. Jack tightens his grip on Bittle and then says, "Let me know if you want me to loosen my hold on you. Like I said, I like intense pressure, but I don't want to hurt you or make you uncomfortable."
"This is good," says Bittle.
"Cool," says Jack. "What have you been up to?"
"Well, I talked to Shitty," says Bittle. "He told me about the sundae bar theory. And he also said he loves me, which was nice."
"Of course he loves you, bud," says Jack. "What's not to love?"
Bittle squirms. "Typically the gay part."
Jack's heart aches for Bittle. "Bits. I'm so sorry you had to grow up that way, and I hope you know now that there are people who will love you for all of you."
"Pot, kettle?" says Bittle.
"Huh?" says Jack.
Bittle looks up at him and says, "Earlier, at Annie's, when I asked who could say no to you, it seemed like you weren't sure people would love you either." Then Bittle puts his head in his hands and says, "Lord, I think we just said the L-word."
"Sorry?" says Jack. "I mean, we've known each other for a year and a half, and I love everyone in the Haus, even if it is . . . different with you."
Bittle puts his hands down. He's blushing, and it's cute. "You sure know how to charm a boy, Jack Zimmermann."
Jack grins. "Thanks." Then he remembers what he wondered on the say to the Haus and asks, "Have you baked anything today?"
"No," Bittle says, "but Lord have I been thinking about it. I have this test tomorrow and I've been trying to study but I absolutely cannot focus. I just keep messing with my hair and staring out the window."
Jack realizes something and retracts his arm from around Bittle as he stands.
"Um, Jack?" says Bittle as Jack reaches the door.
Jack stops and turns toward Bittle. Right. He needs to explain himself, because Bittle can't actually read his mind. "I'm going to my room to get something. I'll be right back."
"O . . . kay?" says Bittle.
Jack hurries to his room, opens the top drawer of his desk, and pulls out his favorite three stim toys. The first is a plastic figure eight with pliant rubber stretched over the two circles the eight makes. When you push on the rubber, it goes from being convex to concave and then back again. The second stim toy is a set of interlocking curved pieces of hard plastic that can be twisted into a coil, pulled open into a sort of wavy circle, or otherwise manipulated into a different shape. The third stim toy is a pencil with plastic wings toward the top that can be twisted so that they spin down the pencil and back up it again. With the three toys in hand, Jack hurries back to Bittle's room.
"Hi," says Bittle. "What was that about? What are you holding?"
"You know how I usually do my homework in my room, not in the library?" Jack says instead of giving a direct reply.
"Yeah," says Bittle. "I figured it was hard for you to be around the people in the library."
"Well, that's part of it," says Jack. "But also, I focus better sometimes when I use these." He dumps the stim toys on Bittle's bed, next to Bittle, and remains standing. "They're called stim toys. 'Stim' is short for 'self-stimulation,' and no, that's not a euphemism. It just means giving yourself sensory input, because sometimes brains crave more sensory input and can't focus or calm down without it. That's especially common for people with autism or ADHD. And I can't believe I didn't notice this before, but I think you might have ADHD."
Bittle picks up the pencil with wings and pushes on the wings experimentally. They spiral down until they hit the end of their track, and then Bittle pushes on them again and they spiral back upward. "This helps you focus?" he asks at last, quietly.
"Yeah," says Jack. "But I only use one at a time, so we can share them if you want to try them out. And I'd be happy to get you your own if it turns out you like them."
Bittle looks up at Jack and says, "You really think I might have ADHD?"
"Yeah," says Jack. "I mean, I'm not a professional, but when you're in the neurodivergent community, even secretly, you start to hear things and notice things and come across things that other people might not hear or notice or come across. Since my autism diagnosis, I've learned a lot about ADHD and dyslexia and stuff too, not even because I meant to—it just sort of happened. In your case, you definitely get distracted easily, but it's not just that. It's the way you can get super focused on something when it really matters to you, like hockey or baking—that's nicknamed the 'hyperfocus highway'—and the way you take negative feedback so, so hard, and the way your obsessions with Beyonce and food might be hyperfixations—that's kind of the ADHD version of a special interest. And the way you talk a lot sometimes. I'm pretty sure you've infodumped about pop music and pastry crusts to me before."
Bittle rubs his knuckles across his forehead. "I really thought this morning was enough new information for one day."
"Sorry?" says Jack for the third time in the past 15 minutes. "We don't have to talk about this right now."
"No, it's okay," says Bittle. "But can we talk about it while cuddling?"
"Sure, bud," says Jack, clearing away the two stim toys Bittle isn't holding so that there's room for him to sit back down on the bed and pull Bittle close again.
Eric is pretty sure he passes his test in the morning. Jack hadn't stayed long the night before, cuddling for maybe half an hour before standing, kissing Eric on the forehead, and wishing him luck with his studying. And miraculously, with that pencil with the wings that Jack gave him, Eric was able to concentrate more than a little better than usual. In fact, even with thoughts of Jack distracting him, he'd had a pretty successful study session, which was hardly his norm.
Now he's back in his room trying to get through a reading for a different class. It's going surprisingly okay, and then some movement in his periphery catches his eye. Huh. He's been playing with the winged pencil with his left hand without even realizing it.
He doesn't want to break his concentration, since it's pretty rare for him to be able to focus like this, so he powers through the rest of the reading, but when he finishes it and gets out homework for a different class he finds himself unable to focus on that, at which point he decides it's okay to take a break. He gets out his phone and texts Jack:
Eric to Jack: do you have any info on adhd that you could give me? i think you might be right and i want to find out more.
Eric to Jack: or info about autism! i definitely want to learn more about you too.
Jack Zimmermann: Yeah, I have some of both. Should I email it all to you or do you want printouts? I'd have to go to the library for that.
Eric Bittle: email is fine. thanks!
Jack doesn't respond via text, but two emails hit Eric's inbox in the next ten minutes: first one with a bunch of links regarding autism, and then another with the same sort of list for ADHD. Eric feels a bit bad, but he ignores the one about autism as soon as he sees the one about ADHD. He opens the first link and starts reading a bullet-pointed list of things someone with ADHD tends to experience, written by someone with ADHD.
Eric feels like he's stepping under a hot shower after a game. He'd been a bit—annoyed? Frustrated? Something like that—yesterday when Jack had mentioned ADHD. It's not like Eric can never focus on things he cares about, or like his head snaps around every time he sees a squirrel. (There are so many squirrels at Samwell that doing so would be a good way to break his neck.) But apparently ADHD isn't never being able to focus, and it definitely doesn't have anything to do with squirrels. It's focusing hard on certain things but not always the right things, and having trouble switching tasks, and talking too much about your passions, and feeling really terrible whenever someone criticizes you even slightly. It's all the things that Eric thought just made him lazy or weird or immature but were maybe actually his brain just working differently than other people's brains.
Eric reminds himself not to get ahead of himself. He doesn't have a diagnosis. Just because this feels right doesn't mean it's accurate. But if this is how Jack feels when he reads things about autism, then Eric can see how Jack would be able to talk about the condition without seeming ashamed or embarrassed.
Eric makes it through all the links about ADHD before realizing he's late for meeting Jack for lunch. He texts Jack an apology and then runs to the dining hall. He gets a bit sweaty, which he's not happy about, but he's pretty sure Jack's seen him in worse shape, so he tries not to worry too much about it. When he finally sits down with his tray, Jack looks up from a textbook and says, "Hey, bud."
Eric smiles and feels breathless again even though he stopped running a few minutes ago. "Hi."
"Did you forget about lunch?"
"No," says Eric. "I think I hit the hyperfocus highway. I read every single article you sent me about ADHD."
Jack chuckles. "That does sound like the hyperfocus highway."
"Do you, um, do you know how I would go about trying to get diagnosed? It just—everything I read, it felt like looking in the mirror without a mask for the first time and seeing my actual face, or stepping under a hot shower after a game, or—I don't know, like really being understood for the first time ever. And I don't know if, like, medication would help me with school or whatever—I haven't gotten there yet—but I think I want to know if this is really me, at least. You know?"
"Yeah," says Jack. "That's how I felt when I started reading about autism. That was after my diagnosis, so the context was a little different, but it makes sense. I can ask my therapist for recommendations of where to start for an ADHD diagnosis. She specializes in autism and I bet she knows about ADHD diagnoses or at least knows what's available around here. Otherwise I'm pretty sure Disability Services would have resources."
Eric lets out a breath. "Thanks. I think I need to just digest this information for a little while. But I want to look into a diagnosis at some point."
Jack nods and smiles. "Take your time. I'll buy you some stim toys in the meantime."
Eric mock-glares. "Jack, you cannot just buy me things—"
"But I'm your boyfriend, and stim toys would improve your life," Jack points out.
Eric puts his face in his hands to hide the fact that he's probably blushing. "This boy."
"That's me," says Jack.
Eric lowers his hands and looks up at Jack. "Yeah. It is. It's always you."