(Disclaimer:- The scene written below has been copied from the script of FRIENDS Season 2 Episode 20:- The one where Old Yeller dies. But the rest of the chapter is my content/fan fiction.)
8 years ago…
“Hi, we’re visiting. It’s Ben and his da-da. Da-da. Can you say da-da? Look, I’m gonna tell your mommy you said it anyway so you might as well try.” Ross said, as he entered the cafe with a toddler in his arms.
“No luck, huh?” said Rachel, her eyes empathic as she did so.
“Naa. A while ago I got a sah out of him, which I thought, ya know, might turn into sah-condary caregiver but…” Ross trailed.
“Hey, would you uh, would you hold him for a sec, ’cause I, I gotta take this off.” he continued, while pointing at his backpack.
“Oh, yeah sure, Ok.” Rachel replied, as she took Ben from him.
There was a distinctive difference in the way she was holding the same almost one year old though. And it was something that Ross noticed immediately.
“What’re you doing?” Ross asked, his look a mixture of annoyance and confusion.
“Uh, I’m holding Ben.” Rachel dumbly responded. She wasn’t lying. Technically, she was holding him. But her manner was almost as if…
“Yeah, well, he’s a baby not a bomb.” Ross replied sarcastically, in reference to Rachel holding him as far away as she could from her body.
“Ok.” she responded, unresponsive.
“Well just hold him like you’d hold a football.” Ross said, trying again.
“This is how I would hold a football.” came Rachel’s reply.
Well of course. It was a girl he was talking to. Girls and football didn’t usually go great together.
“Ok, here, here. There we go.” Ross said, as he rearranged Ben in her arms in a more appropriate manner.
“Ok, I’m sorry, I’m just not very good with babies. I mean I haven’t been around them, I mean, you know, since I was one.” Rachel replied, a bit embarrassed by her discomfort and inexperience with babies.
“It’s all right, it’s no big deal.” Ross replied reassuringly.
“Really?” Rachel asked, looking at her boyfriend adoringly.
“Yeah, definitely, I’m sure you’ll feel totally different when it’s our baby.” Ross said in a manner which suggested that it wasn’t exactly his first time thinking about it.
“What?!” Rachel asked, now looking at her boyfriend of 6 weeks as though he had gotten a screw loose.
“What?” Ross asked, completely nonplussed with the magnitude of his own words.
“You think about stuff like that?” Rachel asked, her voice a bit shaky.
“Uhh, yeah. I mean, actually I kinda think that we’ll have, we’ll have two babies.” Ross replied, as though it was a very normal thing to think about.
“Two…. two babies?” Rachel asked, her face atleast two shades paler than what it had been before the start of this conversation.
“Yeah. Ya know, a boy and a girl. Hopefully the girl will come first so Ben here won’t feel too competitive.” Ross replied, not even noticing how uncomfortable his girlfriend had become.
“Then what’s gonna happen?” Rachel asked, wanting to know just how far he had fantasized.
“Well, we won’t wanna raise kids in the city so we’ll probably move to uh, Scarsdale.” Ross replied, practically in his own world right now.
“Uh-huh.” Rachel said, probably because that was all that she could manage at that point.
“Yeah, that way I figure, ya know, we’ll be far enough away from our parents that we don’t have to see them all the time but close enough that they can come over and baby-sit whenever we want. And yes, I know, the taxes are a little higher than, let’s say, Nassau County but the school system’s supposedly great.” Ross continued.
Rachel could literally feel the ground slide under her feet by now.
“Wow. Wow, that’s great. Great. Ok, wow, you know what?” she said, while trying to collect herself.
“Huh?” Ross asked, only now beginning to notice the discomfort she was in.
“I’m off my break now so uh, um here you take this” she said, while handing Ben back to him,
“And um, I am gonna go pour these very nice people some coffee.” she continued, as she cleaned her hands on her apron.
Only now did she notice that she didn’t have a pot.
“Ok. Oh look at that, I don’t have a pot. I don’t have a pot!” she exclaimed, her voice now sounding desperate.
“Well, hey, maybe I’ve got one at home, or in Scarsdale. Hey is that a door?” she said, before skipping out of the cafe and avoiding embarrassing herself anymore than she already had.
Confused, Ross followed her as she made her way to her apartment which was only a couple storeys above the cafe she was currently employed in.
“Ok, what the hell happened back there?” Ross asked, as he entered the apartment right behind her.
“I don’t know, you tell me. One minute I’m holding Ben like a football, the next thing I know, I’ve got two kids, I’m living in Scarsdale complaining about the taxes.” Rachel replied in exasperation as she threw the apron on to the kitchen counter.
“Well I’m sorry, I think about stuff. Ya know, I mean, you’re at work, you’re assembling bones, your mind wanders.” Ross replied in a low voice as he referred to his dull job at the museum.
“Ross, you have planned out the next 20 years of our lives, we’ve been dating for six weeks!” she exclaimed.
“C’mon, what, you never think about our future?” Ross asked in defence.
“Yes, but I, I think about who’s apartment we’re gonna sleep at tomorrow night and, and where we’re gonna have dinner next Saturday night. I do not think about what our children’s names are gonna be!” Rachel said. Then as she noticed Ross’s expression, she came to yet another realisation.
“You know what our children’s names are gonna be!” she exclaimed in shock.
“No, no, I mean, ya know, I, I read a book and there was a girl named Emily and I thought, I thought that might be good.” Ross shyly responded, not exactly meeting Rachel’s eyes.
“What was the book?” Rachel asked, while looking at him with suspicion.
“The big book of childrens’ names.” He replied, his voice at it’s lowest note so far.
This time, Rachel was comparatively composed as she had had time to prepare herself.
“Ok, Ross, Ross, ok listen, what we have is amazing.” she said, trying to explain him.
“Yeah.” Ross replied, nodding in assertion.
“But I do not want to have everything decided for me. I spent my whole life like that. It was one of the reasons why I left Long Island. I…. I like not knowing right now and I’m sorry if that scares you but if you want to be with me you are gonna have to deal with that.” Rachel said, finally succeeding in explaining her point of view.
“Ok fine.” Ross replied.
“Thank you.” Rachel responded, sounding relieved.
“We’re not done.” Ross continued, while looking at her pointedly.
“Ok, then you’re gonna have to understand that you’re with a guy who’s not gonna stop planning his future with you because he knows that we’re gonna end up together and if that scares you, tough, ’cause you’re gonna have to deal with that.” Ross said, sounding firm.
“Fine, I will.” came Rachel’s response, sounding just about the same.
“Good, ’cause I love you.” Ross said.
“Oh yeah?” Rachel challenged.
“Yeah.” He replied, looking at her with determination.
“Well I love you too.” She responded.
“Well that’s the first time we’ve said that.” Ross said, as he realised it.
“Yes it is.” Rachel responded, as she came to the same conclusion.
“Well, I’m gonna kiss you.” Ross said, closing in.
“Well you better.” Rachel replied, her body responding assertively.
* * *
The slight note of panic in Rachel’s voice made it very clear that she had been taken aback by his words.
“Well… yeah! I mean, like how are we gonna handle Emma’s custody? Like for how long she’ll stay with whom… her schooling… you know.. all that stuff.” Ross swiftly replied, the facade back on his face.
“Oh!… Oh!… You mean… Yeah!” Rachel’s heart, which had begun pumping furiously only moments ago, slowly made it’s way back to normal, as she found herself cursing for the way her words had come out earlier. God, he had come so close, she thought. She had been no fool. She knew that he had been hiding something all along.
But he hadn’t been completely successful at it. There had been moments. Moments like the one which had taken place only seconds ago, where she had seen hints of herRoss. The Ross who had loved her unconditionally for the one year they had been truly together. Like their almost kiss at the Eiffel Tower. It had been an involuntary reaction, right? Like ‘living in the moment’?… right?! Yet… Yet, Rachel could’ve sworn she saw the ‘in love’ glint in his eyes. And had seen the same mirrored in her reflection. What did it mean?
“Ross?” she asked, in a low voice so as to not wake Emma and in case he had fallen asleep, Ross.
“Hmm?” came his voice from the other side. He was still awake, gently stroking Emma’s hair, a small smile playing on his lips as he did so.
“Thank you.” said Rachel.
“For what?” Ross asked, his hand stuck in his daughter’s hair as he looked quizzically at her.
“For the past two days, Ross. Thank you. It was really amazing. ” Rachel elaborated, sincerity flowing through her voice.
” Don’t be ridiculous Rach. You need not thank me. The pleasure was all mine.” Ross replied, smiling. Time seemed to have come to at a standstill as they smiled, their eyes locked onto each other, words seemingly unnecessary.
“Ross?” Rachel said eventually, breaking their trance.
“Hmm?” Ross asked.
“Can I ask you something?” she asked, sounding serious.
“Sure.” Ross replied, nonplussed.
“What do you see when you think about our future?” she asked, genuinely curious.
To her surprise, Ross let out a chuckle.
“Are you sure you want me to answer that?” he asked, smiling.
“Yeah. Why?” Rachel replied, confused.
” ‘Cuz the last time I checked, you were not a big fan of knowing my views about the future.” he replied, his tone mocking.
” Wha…?” was all she managed, before she was reminded of the first and perhaps the only time they had seriously discussed theirfuture. And the way she had freaked out after hearing her entire life planned out.
“That was a LONG time ago, Ross.” she said, surprised that he could still recall the memory that fast.
“I know.” he replied, his smile appearing more like a grimace this time.
“I promise not to freak out this time.” she said, smiling.
Ross took a measured pause as he contemplated his response. Truth be told, all he wanted to do was to describe her that very image of them being that happy family in Paris. Yet his conscience warned him that it’s consequences could be disastrous if she or rather they didn’t handle it well. So he chose to compromise. He decided to tell her his thoughts until right BEFORE that image had struck him.
“I… honestly… I don’t know, Rach. I mean, it’s all… obscure.” he said.
“Obscure?” Rachel asked, wanting him to elaborate.
“Yeah. I mean look at it my way, Rach. Life was so simple for me fifteen years ago. I had just been engaged to Carol and I thought that was it. And that the picture would only become clearer as time passed. But as it turned out, life simply doesn’t follow a path just because you have planned it to. All of a sudden, my life spiralled wildly out of control and I could do nothing but stare, feeling helpless. And now I’m in a phase where I just cannot figure it out. Boy, if you would’ve told me that this is how my life would be, then I surely would have had a hard time believing you.” he said, letting out a sigh.
He didn’t know why the hell was he talking about stuff which Rachel already knew. All he knew was that his mind was in a desperate need of a release and today the words seemed to flow out quite naturally.
Rachel took his hand in hers and comforted him the best she could, which was a difficult task seeing that Emma was parting the two. Then, as though struck by a thought, her lips split into a crooked smile and with an air of mischief, she said,
“C’mon! It hasn’t been that bad!”
Ross couldn’t help but smile at that.
“Yeah, I know that several great things have come out of the deal…” he began, purposely avoiding the specifics.
“.. but that was not what I meant… ” he trailed, his face regaining it’s serious expressions.
“I guess I understand because, as you know, it had been kinda the same for me. There I was, a daddy’s girl, destined to marry a rich person and live like the ‘spoiled bitch’ forever. ” said Rachel, air tagging the words, and snorting as she did so.
” You would’ve aced that.” Ross said, his voice mocking. As expected, Rachel rose to the bait.
“What?!” she shouted, and then immediately stopped as she realised that it was the middle of the night. Ross shushed her but that had been rather unnecessary. Both tensed and looked at their daughter for any signs of distress. Luckily, she was still asleep. Both heaved a sigh of relief and exchanged that typical ‘parent’ smile.
“I just didn’t want something which seemed so… final. With no hopes of change. Well.. you know the rest. I ran away and came to New York. And just when I was thinking that I could shape out my own self, you came along, planning everything for me yet again.” she continued, purposefully making light of the subject.
“I know and I’m sorry.” Ross replied, sincerely. He really had dropped a bomb on her that day.
“You know what’s the fun part though?” Rachel asked.
“No” Ross said, nonplussed.
“That future didn’t scare me half as much as the one I’m facing right now.” Rachel continued in a low voice, confessing.
“This… future… scares you?” Ross asked, unable to conceal that little hope that fluttered in his chest.
Rachel took a moment to respond.
“It’s… complicated.” she finally said, hesitatingly.
“We have all night to us, Rach.” Ross said, wanting her to explain further.
“I don’t know!” she said, venting frustration on her inability to comprehend her own thoughts.
“I mean, I still haven’t changed Ross! Even after all these years, I’m still the type of person who’d rather have their future a secret, you know? Always being excited about what’s about to happen, hoping it’ll be something different every time… I mean sure I’m scared as hell but just because I’m scared doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a bad thing, you know. ” she continued.
“I get it.” Ross replied,his body language suggesting that he did know how sometimes fear could lead you to a better place in your life. But that bubble of hope yearned him to try a different track. And he did.
“But don’t you think that there’s always that phase in your life when you do want to know what’s going to happen? Like, you want that sense of comfort and security of knowing that you are finally home?” he asked, hoping to somehow steer the conversation towards a possible future together.
“Maybe. But I’m not sure I’m quite there yet.” Rachel replied, her expression radiating uncertainty.
“Oh.” was all that Ross could manage.
“Having something still doesn’t mean that you won’t lose it though.” Rachel added as an afterthought. And it was something which she regretted instantaneously.
For though the words had been innocent enough by themselves, the discussion about theirfuture just prior to them had given the phrase a whole new meaning.
“What do you mean?” Ross asked with caution, although his face was now giving away a little of the annoyance which he felt.
‘God, Rach! Shut up right now!’ Rachel’s mind scolded itself. But she said it anyways.
“I mean, we were so positive that we were gonna make it, weren’t we?”
Rachel wanted to swallow the words as soon as they were out. But it was too late. Ross’s expressions quickly transitioned from anguish to anger and then back to a cold mask.
“Well let me tell you about the thing which I do have for certain! I have a tenured job in New York that basically guarantees me a salary for life unless I chose to resign myself. And I don’t think I’ll be doing that anytime soon.” he replied, all the thoughts of the ‘Paris vision’ seemingly forgotten.
It’s moments like these which can go a long, long way in changing one’s life. Though both regretted their words, there seemed to be no turning back now. Ross’s face now had the same guilty expression which Rachel had only moments before whilst Rachel suddenly seemed hurt.
“You know what, Ross? Today was a rather long day. So I’m gonna call it a night.” she replied somewhat spitefully and turned towards her side of the bed.
“Good! Goodnight.” Ross replied, taken aback. What had he said to make her so upset? Shouldn’t he have been the one to react like that? Why would Rachel care if he stayed or did not stay put with his job?
As Rachel glanced through the window, she let out a tiny stifled sob. It was only then that she realised that she had been subconsciously visualising a future with Ross in the past couple of days. In Paris. Like the happy family they had been until just now.
Because she didn’t want things to be just a dream.
* * *
When Ross’s alarm woke them up in the morning, it took them both quite a while to recollect the events of the day before. The guy at the museum. Their almost kiss atop the Eiffel Tower, followed by a heavenly dinner afterwards. And… and the discussion they had had in that very bed.
But it was not like they had a lot of time on their hands to think about it. Ross’s flight was due in four hours and they had a lot to do before that. So they shunned all possible discussion and focused their attention on the matters requiring immediate attention. Like taking Emma to the daycare which had the best recommendations yet was also at a plausible distance from the apartment. Luckily, Rachel had already found one that met their expectations, the courtesy of her colleagues. Ross was visibly impressed by the facility and they spent the next hour making sure their daughter was comfortable. Ross’s emotions intensified as time passed, knowing that he wouldn’t be seeing his daughter for the next few months at least. After glancing at his watch for the millionth time, he finally forced himself to give his daughter a last hug and a kiss and make his way to the airport.
So that was how, yet again, they found themselves alone in the back of a cab heading to the airport. This time, however, the roles were reversed. Almost as if someone had planned a sadistic parody of the earlier version.
For it was Ross who was boarding a plane and leaving his family behind. It was him who seemed to choose his job security over an unpredictable future. And also, it was Rachel who was wondering whether she should ask him to prolong his stay.
Their thoughts were also similarly altered. Ross was speculating whether he could really try getting a job at the Louvre. He knew that as art history was not his speciality, it was a long shot. But he did have a doctorate in history, not to mention a decent knowledge about the Louvre’s collections. He definitely stood a chance. Besides he had always loved working at a museum over his current job at the University. Not to mention that Louvre was the gem amongst museums all over the world. And why Louvre? Surely, there were many museums in and around Paris who would welcome a Paleontologist. The possibilities were endless. But why even try when Rachel had already closed the doors towards their relationship?
Rachel in the meanwhile was visualising her past two days with Ross. She knew she didn’t want him to leave, she just didn’t know why. Why was it so difficult for her to understand? It was simple. She was in denial. She was ignorant of the depth of her affection for Ross, as was mostly the case.
“I guess this is goodbye then.” Ross said as they had stepped outside the cab onto the curb to face each other. God, he was getting sick of airport farewells.
“Yeah.” Rachel replied, nodding.
Even after saying a rather long goodbye to their daughter, they hadn’t exchanged much of either words or gestures, both wanting the other to start first. It was only now that they were finally forced to face their current situation.
“Rach?” Ross asked.
Rachel suddenly realised that she had withdrawn herself into a trance and had to actively detach herself to focus her attention on to him.
“Promise me something.”
“What?” she asked, tensed.
“Promise me to keep Emma in one piece.” Ross said, chuckling as he did so.
” Of course! What kind of mother do you think I am?” Rachel asked rolling her eyes.
“A little careless.” Ross replied, shrugging.
Rachel smiled in good humour, for she knew his insecurities weren’t without reason.
“And Rach, take care.”
Rachel locked eyes with him to see them flowing with sincerity, showing no trace of the way things had ended up yesterday .
“Only if you promise to do the same yourself.” she replied, her voice coming out as a whisper.
Their looks intensified and regained that very same expression of passionate compassion. As Ross closed in on her yet again, she closed her eyes, mentally preparing herself for the kiss, deciding there and then that the moment Ross’s lips parted hers would be the moment when she told him that she wanted him to stay.
That moment never came.
“Goodbye, Rach. I hope we’ll see each other very soon.” he said, his voice composed yet heavy.
Rachel opened her eyes in confusion to notice Ross standing farther away from her than before. It was only then that she noticed the wetness on her forehead. Rachel’s eyes welled with tears as she realised that Ross had never intended to kiss her on her lips. She only nodded in response, careful not to spill her tears in front of him.
After a last smile, Ross turned to face the glass doors of the terminal. Rachel could only stare, the roles perfectly reversed.
As she continued staring at his back, the lone tear on her cheek soon evolved into a continuous stream.
‘Why was it so hard to watch him go?’ she thought as she wiped her eyes in an attempt to regain her composition. It was only then when a possible answer struck her…