“Yeah! She looks like she’s cried through the whole weekend!”
These were only a few amongst the buzz of whispers and murmurs that Rachel could make out as she made way towards her desk about half an hour late. To make matters worse, most of her co-workers were jabbering in rapid French, a language which she couldn’t quite decipher even after spending a month in that country. Fortunately for her, being on a superior position meant that she got an isolated chamber for herself. And of course, asking your boss what the hell have they been up to didn’t really qualify as ‘appropriate’ in a corporate set up.
After sitting in her office for two hours & doing nothing but staring blankly at the walls, Rachel was forced to accept the fact that she wasn’t able to concentrate. However, she knew that going home could only make it worse. And hence, she rise from her chair, opting for a cup of coffee and a breath of fresh air instead.
On reaching the cafeteria, Rachel headed straight for the vending machine. If only she had looked around, she would’ve known that she had been followed the whole time.
“Hi, Rachel!” exclaimed a chirpy voice belonging to a fellow colleague who took a cup in her hand to join her at the vending machine.
“Hi, Sam” Rachel replied in a small, faint voice, which was aptly accompanied by a spectacular failure at a smile.
Out of all the people in her department, Samantha had been the only one to whom Rachel had taken an immediate liking. It wasn’t like the rest of her colleagues weren’t helpful or polite, it was just that their backgrounds were a perfect match. Being brought up as a spoiled princess, running away from their families only to turn into a self-sufficient businesswoman in a metropolis were only a few amongst the several things they had in common. Needless to say, Rachel had formed quite a good bond with her in the short span of a month.
“Let me guess… Guy problems?” Sam asked sympathetically, her face exhibiting a knowing smile.
“Yeah…” Rachel slowly replied, sounding a bit shy as she sipped her coffee.
“Hmm. You two together? Or no longer?” Sam asked as the machine dispensed her coffee.
Several seconds went by as Rachel debated over the right answer. Finally, she came to the conclusion that her relationship with Ross had been way too complicated to fit into either of the two ‘classic’ categories.
“Neither… actually. Though we haven’t been together for more than seven years now..” Rachel trailed. She had been about to continue, when she was interrupted by a sudden outburst from her colleague.
“Seven years! Are you kidding me?! Wow!” Sam exclaimed animatedly, rolling her eyes as she did so.
Rachel smiled fondly at her, as Sam reminded her of a younger version of her own self. Young and carefree. Perhaps it was just the relief of being able to vent it all out, but somehow Rachel was beginning to find herself much more at ease.
“You see, that’s not all. He’s also the father of my child.”
“Emma, right?” Sam asked, to which Rachel gave her an assertive nod, the smile now broader.
“God, I have to meet her! She looks so damn cute in all those pictures you’ve shown!” Sam exclaimed, practically bouncing off her feet as she did so.
“She sure is.” Rachel replied, her voice exuding the pride she felt for her daughter.
“Hang on for a moment. You said that you guys haven’t been together for seven years. Then how the hell could you bear a two year old child with him?!” Sam asked, confused.
Rachel let out a soft chuckle as she realised how strange her and Ross’s story would appear to any stranger. “Me and Ross… it’s not that simple, Sam. We’ve been through a lot”
“Is this the same Ross who came to visit you just a week ago?” she asked. And then, as Rachel nodded, she continued “But you said he was a dear friend! I specifically remember asking you that!”
“He was. He still is, actually. And it was only when he went back to New York did I realise that I still loved him.” Rachel clarified. It was only now that she realised that it was the first time she was talking about this since Ross’s disastrous phone call about the job.
“Oh, you poor thing! Haven’t you told him then?” Sam asked, sounding sympathetic.
“I was about to. But before I could say anything, he informed me that he had been offered a promotion in New York. What was I to do? I ended up telling him to apply. Because he really deserved it. And so he did. I…. I can’t blame him. ‘Cuz that’s exactly what I’ve done.” Rachel replied, barely able to keep her tears at bay.
“Oh. I’m so sorry to hear this.” Sam said, rubbing Rachel’s shoulder in consolation.
“So what are you gonna do now?” she asked, sounding worried.
“I don’t know. I really don’t!” Rachel replied, her eyelids finally giving away to the sheer volume of tears bursting through her eyes. Alarmed, Samantha relieved their hands of the coffee mugs and took Rachel in her arms as she gradually steadied herself.
“Help me.” Rachel whispered, as she broke the embrace to look into her colleague’s eyes
“Listen. From what you tell me, it appears that he has moved on, and however hard you might find it to accept, you will have to accept it, Rach.” Sam said, her eyes empathic but at the same time, determined.
“I know.” Rachel replied, nodding.
“I’ll tell you what. Come with me tonight to the bar. My mom will babysit Emma, so you don’t have to worry about her. We’ll have a few drinks and meet up a few guys. I am a regular there, so I know the crowd. It’s pretty decent. Why don’t we set you up, huh? Get you back into the groove.” Sam continued.
“I really don’t think that’s a good idea Sam, I’m sorry.” Rachel replied, knowing that she wasn’t in the right place.
“Come on! Give yourself a break! You can’t beat yourself up like this. It’s been what, seven years since you guys were in a proper relationship, right?! Don’t you think it’s about time?” Sam asked, attempting to reason.
“I’m… I just… I can’t do this right now.” Rachel pleaded, as she dried her face on a tissue.
“Well, I can’t just watch you like this…” Sam replied, her gaze softening on seeing her friend’s pathetic state.
“Hold on, there might be another way out of this…” she continued, frowning. A moment later, her eyes suddenly brightened as she said,
“Oh yeah. ‘Move’ on!” Sam exclaimed, air-tagging the word move as she did so.
“What do you mean?” Rachel asked, confused.
“I know it sounds weird and it’s completely unorthodox, but who knows, it might just work in your case.” Sam replied, excited at the prospect.
“I still don’t get it.” Rachel said, nonplussed.
“Real estate. Buy a house!” Sam exclaimed, as though it was something that one did every other day.
Rachel smirked, though she was more intrigued than amused by her friend’s ‘out of the blue’ suggestion
“How will that help?” she asked, her eyebrows raised.
“Well, think about it like this. As of today, you have a stable, high earning job. One that can very easily pay the rent of a house in the suburbs. Which, by the way, is something that you will be needing sooner or later for you and your daughter. So why not buy it now? Plus, you won’t even have to mortgage! I bet if you run it through the directors, they’ll readily offer you a loan based on your salary. And I know quite a few agents who’d offer you great places at a very reasonable price.” Sam said.
‘She does have a point’ Rachel thought to herself as she listened to Sam’s explanation.
“Besides, having a house of your own gives you a sense of independence and novelty in your life. It’ll be like starting afresh. And I truly believe that it’ll help you heal.” Sam concluded, looking into her friend’s eyes to gauge her reaction.
Nodding slowly, Rachel responded
“But, buying a house…. I mean… That’s a huge step, Sam.” she said, sounding unsure.
“It sure is. But so was running away from a lavish lifestyle. And that turned out pretty good, right?” Sam asked, winking at her co-worker.
Rachel chuckled as she realised the validity of Sam’s words.
“Think about it.” Sam said, as she patted Rachel’s shoulder as she stood still, slowly soaking in her friend’s words.
She definitely would. After all, for the first time in a week she finally had something new to ponder on.
* * *
“Wow! This is huge!” Phoebe exclaimed, taking in the vastness of the office.
“Yup.” Ross replied, sounding smug.
It had been a week since Ross had submitted his application for the job. And to nobody’s surprise, he had gotten it straightaway, no contest. He was given the keys to the office earlier that day and hence decided to invite the rest for a tour of the same.
So that was how the office happened to host five people after hours on a Friday evening. Five people who were busy scrutinizing and admiring every aspect of it. Actually, only four of them were simply scrutinising, for the fifth had now gone a step ahead.
“DON’T TOUCH IT, JOE! How many times do I have to tell you?! Fossils are delicate.” Ross exclaimed, admonishing Joey who had only just lifted up an ancient looking artefact from one of the numerous shelves the office held.
“Delicate, you say huh?! How the hell did they stay put for millions of years then?” Joey countered.
Ross opened his mouth to respond when he realised that he had been rendered speechless, having not expected such a comeback.
“That’s right! I watch the Discovery channel!” Joey said, as he noticed Ross’s dumbstruck expression.
“Since when did YOU start watching the discovery channel?!” Chandler asked, taken aback as well.
Joey turned a deep shade of red as he replied, “Well, I turned on the TV one day and couldn’t find the remote. But I was feeling too lazy to manually flip through the channels and so I thought I’d just watch what was running.” he said, while Chandler rolled his eyes at his response.
“So where was the remote?” Phoebe asked, jumping into the conversation all of a sudden.
” As it turns out, I had been sitting on it the whole time.” Joey replied, the way only he could. Unabashed.
“So that was why we had to buy a new one?!” Chandler exclaimed, shocked.
“But you told me it was because our operator had changed the substratum!” he continued, his voice continually rising in it’s pitch as he did so.
“What’s a substratum?!” Phoebe asked, intrigued.
“Phoebe, there is no substratum.” Joey replied, with an air of mystery in his voice.
“Ooh! You pulled a phalange! I like that.” Phoebe exclaimed, looking at him seductively. The term phalange was actually something which Phoebe had made up on the spot so as to scare a co-passenger shitless. Long story short, the flight attendants had to spend an entire hour convincing the passengers that the aeroplane had enough ‘phalanges’ for it to make a safe journey.
“Yeah, I took a page out of your book.” Joey replied, smiling sheepishly as he did so.
Chandler did not look happy on hearing that.
“What do you mean, there’s no substratum?!”
While Chandler and Joey continued to bicker, what with the occasional help of a shrewd Pheebs, it gave the Gellers the perfect opportunity to have a discussion of their own. For Ross, on noticing Monica’s prolonged absence, had quietly withdrew from the animated discussion and had made his way towards her.
“Hey, what’s up?” Ross asked, nudging his sister as she stared out of the window, obviously lost in thought.
Monica seemed to panic momentarily, not having expected anyone to disturb her reprieve.
“Huh? Oh, It’s nothing.” she replied, shaking her head whilst nervously looking around for a distraction. “This is indeed a great office!”
Ross had already seen through it.
“Come on, Mon! It’s obvious that something’s bothering you. Just let it out.” he said.
After debating with herself for a few seconds, she finally decided to ask him.
“Have you talked with Rachel in the past week?”
Ross’s body, which had been laxed, tensed immediately on hearing the question.
“Well… Sort of.” he said, his expressions only raising Monica’s suspicions further. “Only yesterday, I had called her and she got Emma on the line to say hello. And it was the first thing I heard. Felt pretty nice.” he continued, his face giving away the anguish he felt on being separated from his daughter.
“Was it also the last thing you heard?” Monica asked, her tone rather sharp.
“No. I did speak with her, although it was mostly me who did the talking” Ross admitted.
“And haven’t you wondered why?” Monica asked, prodding him further.
“No. She told me she has the flu. So that explains her not talking much and her voice sounding as though she has a bad cold whenever she does. She told me she hasn’t even been to work since 2 days because of the fever. I’m telling you, it sounds bad. So give her a break, alright?” he replied, sounding a tad annoyed.
Monica nodded, not quite convinced.
“Well, atleast she’s talking to you.” she said, her manner resentful.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ross asked, confused.
“Ever since you applied for the promotion, Rachel has not picked up even a single out of the million calls I’ve made her in the past week.”
This was indeed brand new information for Ross.
“Really?” he asked, not quite believing it.
“Ross have you ever thought of ANY other reason that could produce a voice which sounds like the person has got a bad cold?!” Monica exclaimed, her voice rising steeply towards the end.
It took Ross a couple seconds to understand what his sister was hinting at. And hence, hesitantly, he asked,
“Do you mean to say that she has been crying? I don’t understand.”
“Oh come on Ross, it’s not that hard! Haven’t you behaved exactly like this barely a month ago?” Monica exclaimed, feeling relieved for finally having gotten it off her chest.
“What?!” Ross replied, refusing to believe her explaination.
Before Monica could respond, however, Ross continued,
“We are not having this discussion again, Mon. I’ve lost way too much of my sanity in hoping that the feelings were indeed mutual and now that I’m finally in a good place in my life I really don’t want to go back there. I really don’t.” he replied, exhibiting a much better control over his emotions this time.
By now, everyone else in the room had stopped talking and all eyes were on the siblings who were looking at each other as though sizing the other up.
Sighing, Monica decided it was about time that she brought in the dark horse.
“Well, what if this time I was to tell you that I know it’s mutual? That I know that Rachel is stillin lovewith you?”
Even though she had barely whispered these words, they had been audible to each and every person in the room. Collective gasps of shock and surprise were followed shortly by the fervour of anticipation.
Ross’s expressions hardened as he glared at his sister and said,
“If that is indeed the case, then I would want to hear it from her before I believe it.” he replied, his voice cold and devoid of emotions.
While everyone was still reeling from Ross’s response, he calmly closed all the windows and switched off the lights before heading to the door, saying,
“Come on, we’ve got reservations at the Plaza.”
Speechless, they simply looked at each other before slowly heading out of the room, as they realised that had no say in this at all.
In fact they had had no say in their relationship from the moment it had begun.