Note:- This blog post is the second update of my first ever novel titled ‘Choices and Consequences’. Find the link to the first chapter right here
Before we begin the chapter, I would like to ask you something. Especially non-FRIENDS fans. I wanted to know whether you were comfortable reading the story or whether you were feeling as though you were being left out/ felt that something was missing. Pray let me know if so. Since it’s my first attempt at writing a full fledged novel, a fandom based at that, all kinds of feedback would be very welcome. 😊
And on that note, let’s get started!
2. One week later.
“So Mon told me to hold Erica like that… ” Chandler said, sounding cheerful as he narrated one of the first experiences of his life as a father. It had been a week since the twins Jack and Erica were born and adopted by Ross’s sister Monica and her husband Chandler, who had been Ross’s buddy since college. The week, according to Chandler, had been the busiest week anybody on this planet could’ve ever had. What with having twins and moving in into their new house almost simultaneously, perhaps he was right.
For some strange reason, even Phoebe and Joey had not been able to make it to their usual cozy corner, Central Perk even once in the last week. Which was weird seeing that it was a place where they had met practically everyday in the past ten years. What was even more suspicious though were the excuses they had come up with.
Joey had said that it was about time he had taken his ‘professional’ life seriously and was now in search of a new agent who could give a ‘new direction’ to his acting career. If it had been anyone else, then Ross might have believed it to be true. But Joey had always been a loyal friend first, never letting his career come in the way of his best friends.
On the other hand, Phoebe claimed that she and her husband were now trying to have kids. Seeing that they had been happily married for the past few months and what with her best friend adopting kids just the last week, Ross could definitely accept it as a possibility. But then, should that take up ALL of her free time? Phoebe was a passionate lover yes, but surely this was taking it a little too far?! he thought, cringing involuntarily at the image of Mike and her going at it non stop.
May be they were giving him some space Ross mused, as his mind zoned out Chandler’s speech for the umpteenth time. It was actually very unusual, seeing that they had all been a ‘tight knit’ group for so long. But Ross had been grateful for it all the same. Because the week had given him plenty of time to try to regain interest in the mundane things which were a part of his daily life now. And to atleast try losing interest in those that weren’t. That didn’t mean that he had made much progress though.
“Ross?” Chandler asked, after hearing nothing but static for the greater part of a minute.
“Huh?” was all that Ross could come up with, having not paid any attention at all.
“I just told you that we are having a housewarming party tomorrow evening. Man, I got a better reaction from that old lady at the other end of our lane!” he said, producing a laugh which failed miserably to hide the concern underneath.
It took a while for Ross to come up with a plausible answer.
“Oh. That’s great!” he said, finally finding his voice back.
Chandler obviously had been taken aback, for that’s really not how one responds to an invitation.
“So?” he asked eventually.
“So?” Ross replied, confused.
“You’ll be coming right?” Chandler asked, a bit taken aback by the fact that he was actually meaning it as a question rather than assuming the answer.
“Tomorrow evening… ” Ross spoke slowly, hunting for a excuse, as he went through his schedule for the next day. Disappointed, he realised that he actually left early tomorrow and had way too much time to make it to Westchester, which was barely an hour’s drive from the university. But today’s conversation only proved that he wasn’t exactly ready. He still needed time to pretend that he was completely alright. To his relief though, he realised that he had a made-up excuse at hand.
” I’m so sorry Chandler I won’t be there. I have this event in campus with a leading historian coming all the way from London. I simply cannot miss the opportunity of meeting him.” he said, as he referred to an event scheduled to take place in the university the next month.
“Oh! I see.” Chandler replied, a bit skeptic.
“Well then, what about a Knicks game next week? Joey’s been badgering me for ages and luckily Mon has a single morning shift that day, so I’m off diaper duty after four!” he asked, choosing to believe Ross’s excuse.
Next week? That would give him more time. Plus it would be just the guys. So no deep questions. And even then, once the game started, he knew that they would not talk about anything else. Sure, he thought to himself.
“Yeah!” he replied, while trying to infuse enthusiasm in his rather flat voice. “I’m in!”
Before he could say anything else though, he heard his sister’s voice calling out for Chandler. Ross let out a chuckle, feeling a bit sorry for his best friend.
“Gotta go! Bye!” Chandler said, ending the call in a hurry.
As Ross kept the receiver back in it’s place, he got a feeling that Monica would not be convinced. He knew that staying in his home tomorrow would not be an option. He had to plan something to do tomorrow. Something other than work, taking care of his daughter or his daily routine.
It was something he hadn’t even considered since the past seven days.
* * *
Frowning at the take away she had only just picked up from a nearby restaurant, she made her way to her apartment. The smell coming from the food wasn’t exactly appetising, but she decided that she would make do. It was still a million times better than the disaster she had ‘created’ while trying to cook her own meal last evening. The challenges of living alone were only just beginning to dawn on her.
Ever since childhood, she had never actually fended for herself. Before running away from her life in Long Island, it had been her parents and her fiancé, Barry. Then, in the Big Apple, it had been her friends who had taken good care of her. She had always relied on either Monica or Phoebe or Ross for those home-cooked meals. And with Joey it had either been raiding Monica’s kitchen or the takeaways he brought.
Hence, she found herself helpless upon entering the restaurant. And her ‘less than average’ French only added insult to the injury. Finally, her co-worker had to come to her rescue, translating enough of the waiter’s French for her to place an order.
Regardless, she was glad and kind of proud of herself that she had made through her first week. Work had actually been much easier than she had expected. All the same, however it had demanded her full dedication. Which meant that she had done practically nothing else but work,eat and sleep throughout the week. Now, with the promise of a respite which only a weekend could provide, she could focus her attention on the stuff she had missed on.
She visibly relaxed on seeing the familiar street of her building. Walking as fast as her heels would allow, she reached the lobby in a couple of minutes. As it turned out, her apartment was only a couple of miles away from work. It was a nice two bedroom place, with modern interiors and was decently furnished. As of now however, it failed to feel like home. Maybe the weekend would change things, she thought.
On entering, the first thing she reminded herself was that she had to find a maid. She was no good at such stuff, which was obvious on casting a brief look around the place. Keeping the take away on the table (having had to move a few things in the process), she turned towards the landline to check for messages. She had two messages waiting. The first one instantly set off a ripple of guilt throughout her body. Monica’s chirpy tone reminded her that she had not contacted her after that one time she had called her friends and family on the day of her arrival in Paris.
She freshened and changed into comfortable clothes, all the while listening to Monica go on and on about the twins and the preparations of their housewarming party. Tears slid down her face as she was suddenly reminded of the things which she was going to miss out. It was just beginning to dawn on to her that she was no longer a part of their daily lives. Her tear strained face split into a smile when Chandler apparently snatched the phone from her to finally get a turn to speak. Apparently though, Monica was not done as Chandler barely had time to speak hello before she was back. She could just imagine Monica elbowing Chandler out of the way, letting out a laugh as the scene played out in her mind. Rachel’s body, which was slumped over the sofa, suddenly tensed on hearing her last few words.
‘Listen.. I really wanted to talk to you about Ross. He sounded kind of put out yesterday and he’s also not coming to our party. Some University stuff he claimed… Honestly, he has been like that since you left. He won’t say anything but I know he misses you a lot. Just call him and let me know, okay? Call me as soon as you get this. Love you.’
Rachel barely heard the next message as her brain re-ran through Monica’s words. He did sound alright the last time she had heard him, but the fact that the time difference coupled with their work mostly restricted them to messaging definitely wasn’t a help. Glancing at her watch, she figured that it would be early evening in New York. He would most likely be at work, but she decided that she would try calling him all the same.
* * *
He was pathetic. Really, really pathetic, he thought to himself as he took yet another swig from the bottle of beer seated just beside him.
Around midday, Ross had begun thinking of ways he could spend the evening away from his sister, his parents and his closest friends. But it was not until his last lecture late in the afternoon that he realised that there was nothing that could possibly uplift him from this.
Depressed, he simply roamed the city, not really interested in the direction in which his feet led him. Exhausted after a few hours of such meaningless meandering, he got himself a six pack of beer and took a cab home.
So that was how he had found himself sitting on the sofa and sifting through the TV channels for the eighth night in a row. The only difference was that today there was the added guilt of being a terrible person in life, overall.
He glanced over at his daughter, the child who though had been born out of wedlock, had been showered with the complete love and attention which a child deserved. Until a week ago, that is. Gently patting the tiny sleeping peacefully in her crib, Ross realised that he was surely going to miss her a lot. For he did agree with Rachel that Emma couldn’t stay without her mother, and her relentless bawling in the past week had only added insult to injury.
Finding himself close to breaking down yet again, Ross was sorely tempted to find solace by intoxicating himself with the wine in his cupboard. But he knew that it was his prime weakness. Not only did it fail in burying his sorrows, but it also made him extremely liable to antics which he would later regret for years to come. Antics which had only ended up driving ‘her‘ away from him.
No. Not anymore. She was happy to be away from him and he wasn’t going to be the one to snatch it away from her by making a drunken phone call.
Ironically though, his phone rang at that precise moment.
* * *
Rachel woke up with a start from the sofa, surprised to find herself sleeping there when she had a queen sized bed all set for her in the bedroom. Slowly, as her sleep wore off though, she remembered the reason behind it. Apparently, she had tried calling Ross in vain for an hour or so and ended up deciding to call him a bit after midnight, when he would finally be home in accordance with the New York time. She glanced at her watch. 5:45, it proclaimed. She had slept through the night. No wonder she was so stiff.
As she freshened and got herself a cup of coffee, she recollected why she had tried to call him urgently in the first place. Something was wrong with him, Monica said. Rachel decided that she had to find out as soon as possible, and despite it being almost midnight there, she picked up the phone and was determined to atleast leave a message this time.
* * *
Ross stated at the machine as it rang, debating with himself whether to pick it up or let the machine take over. He was seriously doubting his capacity of keeping his emotions in control in an actual conversation. Although he knew it was inevitable. Emma would always get wound up on hearing her voice and it was about time she got to talk to her mother.
For now though, he decided to use Emma’s sleep as an advantage and refrained himself from picking up the phone.
Eventually, the machine beeped to ask Rachel to leave him a message. Which she did promptly.
‘Hey Ross! It’s me. You were right when you said that French was never really my strength. I’m having a hard time here because of that!‘
Ross’s heart, which had elated a bit on hearing that, deflated immediately as he heard her say,
‘But the job is really great. I’m loving it! And tomorrow I’m finally going to have time on my hands to explore Paris!’
Dang it! Even now, why did he allow himself to hope?! She. Was. Loving. Her job. How difficult was that to remember?!
‘By the way, you should really tell me some good French dishes. I ordered one taking the advice of Paul and it really is making me feel queasy. Anyways, how’s Emma? Tell her that Mommy misses her a lot. And we should try talking live to each other. This messaging is getting on my nerves now.’
After a short pause, she continued.
‘So, Monica left me a message updating me with every detail of their new life. And my God, the twins sound so cute! I felt almost as if I should just catch the next flight to New York and have those two in my arms as soon as I can!’
Luckily, this time Ross had prepared himself for the blow.
‘Who am I kidding though? Flights every week will cost me more than my salary. I’ll be bankrupt in no time!’
Did she have any idea how bad her casual references to the physical distance between them hurt? Probably not.
‘Anyways, Monica told me that they were having a housewarming party today… ‘
Rachel’s tone, which was light and cheerful, suddenly became somewhat tense and cautious, giving Ross the feeling that this had been the actual reason behind her trying so hard to call him.
‘And she told me that errmm.. that you had some stuff at the University. She didn’t sound happy. Ross, I don’t know what is happening, but will you please be honest with me? What’s going on? Phoebe and Joey also avoid mentioning you as much as possible and when I ask whether you guys meet, they always find ways to distract me with something else. And I don’t want to sound accusing, but the time difference really isn’t that big an issue that we can’t manage an actual conversation. For I’ve had a proper talk with almost everyone important, including my parents. Have you been avoiding it on purpose? Monica also said that you were not yourself since I left.’
Rachel suddenly paused and let out a sigh, as though controlling her emotions, which apparently also contained some amount of annoyance at him.
‘Talk to me tomorrow alright? No messaging. I want to talk to Emma as well. Goodnight. I love you.’
Not in that sense, Ross said to himself as the machine clicked, indicating the end of the message. He just sat there and let the peaceful silence of the night take over. The TV was still on, displaying a documentary of some sort. Uninterested, he got up from the sofa and stared into the distance, mulling over her words.
Even though his brain was in overdrive, one thing had become absolutely clear to him. He wasn’t putting on a good show. He had to do better. Then be it for himself or for his friends or for his child.
But most importantly, he had to do it for her.