“Here we are, sweetie!” Rachel exclaimed to the two year old who was sitting atop her suitcase, engrossed in the view around her as it held her fascination.
“New York City.” she continued, letting out a puff of air as she did so.
“You looking forward to meeting Daddy?” Rachel asked, bending forwards such that her face was placed directly besides her daughter, who nodded vigorously as she bounced on her ‘seat’.
Though Rachel couldn’t help but smile at her daughter’s excitement, her expressions weren’t as heartfelt as they could’ve been. For only she knew the extent to which her child had been losing her charm progressively over the past month.
‘Well… it’s time.’ Rachel said to herself as she begun strolling her cart towards the arrivals hall.
* * *
“Ooh! Ooh! Is that her?” Phoebe asked, pointing towards an elderly blonde who was walking towards them, an adolescent girl tagging along with her as she strolled their luggage.
They had been waiting at the airport for almost half an hour now and were pretty much on the edge by now, what with Phoebe standing up with a jolt at the sight of any blonde woman.
“She’s been gone for six months, Pheebs. Not six hundred.” Chandler said, rolling his eyes in exasperation.
“That’s what you think. Because I know for a fact that time in Paris works differently than the time in New York.” Phoebe replied, sounding smug.
“There’s a time difference between the two cities, Pheebs. Not a time travel.” Ross said, turning to look at her, amused.
“Oh really? Then how come does it take Rachel only four hours to arrive here from Paris, while it takes you twelve to reach there?” Phoebe challenged.
“Whoa! I didn’t know that. Really?! That’s so cool!” Joey exclaimed, his eyes wide as saucers.
“Now that, that’s some solid evidence! That’s why I’m telling you to keep your eyes open! She could look like anyone right now!” Phoebe said, saying her last few words in a way which were supposed to create an air of mystery and suspicion.
“On it!” Joey replied, immediately narrowing his eyes into small slits, as though scanning the crowd.
“Look Pheebs, I’ve seen her barely a month ago and no, she doesn’t look like that elderly woman, alright?! So cut it out.” Ross reasoned, knowing that it would take too long to explain Phoebe what a time zone actually meant.
In response, Phoebe turned to look away from him whilst muttering something indiscernible that sounded suspiciously malignant.
As seconds gave way to minutes, the tension in the group reached it’s peak and soon Monica could take it no more, becoming the first to stand up and start pacing around. Watching her obvious frustration made the others follow suit, as they looked around them for a trace of the person who had practically been family for the past decade.
“Where is she, by the way? We know that her flight has been delayed by twenty minutes, but even then it should’ve landed a long time ago, right Ross?” Monica exclaimed, tearing her glance from the arrivals board to look at her brother.
Ross?” she asked again, confused.
It was only then she noticed that for the previous half minute or so, Ross had been standing frozen, his eyes focused on a particular subject heading steadily down the aisle.
“I… I think that’s her.” Ross responded, sounding a little uncertain.
On hearing these words, everyone craned their neck to have a good look at the person he was looking at. Only then did they notice a woman of around Rachel’s stature, with a small child atop her luggage cart, the woman herself looking like she was in her early middle ages.
Dressed in a business suit, she gave off an image of a powerful persona. At first. Because even though her gait and her dressing sense seemed to radiate energy, her face lacked that very element. For beneath the mask of a thick layer of foundation and fancy makeover hid a fatigued expression resembling a person who had seen too much in too short a time. Rachel indeed seemed to have aged much more than the actual time frame of just over six months, making others wonder whether Phoebe’s absurd proclamation of a different time scale in Paris had a bit of truth to offer. For they could only stare at their once dear friend, dumbstruck, as she closed in on them.
Being the first to recover, Phoebe was just about to call out to Rachel when all of a sudden, her eyes found them and she let out a wide smile and waved, beginning to head swiftly towards them.
“Ooh boy, it IS her.” Chandler said, not sure whether he should be happy or sad about finally having located her.
The others could only nod, completely in sync with how he felt.
* * *
“So how have things been with you guys? Anything I’ve missed?” Rachel asked, looking affectionately at Joey as they sped down the interstate towards Westchester.
For a tight group of people who had spent ten solid years together, there was only one word which could possibly describe the current situation.
Because, to their surprise, Rachel begun to seem like a stranger. A stand out. Sure, they had hugged, they had kissed. But even then, everyone had a look which seemed to say…
‘What the hell happened?’
For they all knew that Rachel had a story to tell. And that had became only more obvious when it came to Ross. Because the pair simply shared a look, and barely managed a small ‘Hi’, their looks flowing with pages of emotions. No hugs or kisses. Yet a myriad to convey. The only question was… ‘Would they?’
Perhaps. Now that atleast their physical distance had been nullified for a few days. Not that it hadn’t been the case six months ago though.
As far as Emma was concerned, she was having the best time of all. She had been passed around from person to person, showered with blessings and kisses, until she finally landed in the yearning arms of her father, with whom she stayed, hugging him with all the strength she had. Rachel simply looked on, her eyes a mixture of hurt and relief.
The gang had fallen silent ever since and had begun heading towards the passage leading them to the exit. In the parking lot, Rachel had barely noticed Ross’s muscular SUV as she climbed into the shotgun seat. Nor had she observed the speedometer, which presently indicated that Ross’s driving had become remarkably faster since the last time they had travelled together.
On hearing Rachel’s question, everyone simply stared at each other, not knowing quite what to say. Or rather, where to start.
When nobody responded, Rachel felt a sudden sense of suffocation that had nothing to do with the premium conditioning of the car. Nevertheless, she decided to try yet again.
“Joey? How’s DOOL goin’?” Rachel asked, the acronym refering to the daily soap ‘Days of our lives’ in which Joey indeed had had an important role to play for the past couple of years.
To her dismay though, it appeared that it had been a wrong question to ask. For Chandler immediately winced on hearing her mention DOOL while Phoebe whispered an ‘Oh no..’ accompanied with a disappointed eye roll.
“They killed my character. Again. And this time, they said it was going to be for good!” Joey wailed, while Chandler patted him in comfort.
Rachel’s eyes widened in surprise as she raised a hand to her mouth, not having expecting it at all.
“Oh Joey, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, genuinely upset.
“That’s okay. I’m over it now.” he said, although his voice defiantly betrayed him.
“No you are not!” Chandler exclaimed, his voice high pitched.
“I mean for God’s sake! Ever since they got you out of the show, all you have been doing is planning to live on the other side of the country!” he justified.
Shocked, Rachel had been about to question Joey when she was interrupted by Chandler who said something that rendered her speechless.
“Who the hell does that just to ‘get over’ thi…” he said, his voice trailing towards the end, biting his tongue as the implications of his statement dawned on to him. Furious, Monica shot daggers at her husband for his idiocy.
And just like that the silence regained it’s realm over the gang.
‘People who want to make a fresh start, Chandler.’Rachel thought, a glazed look dominating her eyes as she lost herself in thought.
Phoebe shot a sideways glance at Rachel, feeling sorry for her friend. She decided that it was about time she did what she was good at. Creating a diversion.
“Speaking about missing things, I’ve got something very important to tell you guys.” Phoebe said.
Intrigued, everyone turned to look at her, their expressions expectant.
“I’m pregnant!” she said jumping excitedly in her seat.
There was a complete pandemonium in the car as everyone seemed to speak at once, either congratulating or questioning her while Rachel found herself laughing in relief and happiness alike. So atleast there was SOMETHING new for ALL of them.
Finally, it was Joey whose voice managed to rise above the crowd.
“Wait a second, Pheebs. How the hell is getting pregnant related to missing something?”
Amused, everyone shot a look at Joey, who slowly seemed to realise what had Phoebe ‘missed’.
“Oh. Sorry!” Joey said, his face blushing a deep shade of red.
The atmosphere suddenly relaxed and the tension which had hung in the air for the past few minutes dissipated away as the gang began chattering aloud, becoming much more like it’s original self. Soon, they found themselves in the driveway of Chandler and Monica’s home and everyone stepped out of the car, eager for the festivities.
While all were busy talking, Phoebe slyly made her way towards Rachel and whispered,
“You know, I actually found out about my pregnancy two weeks ago.”
Confused, Rachel asked,
“Then why didn’t you tell us before?”
“I was just waiting for the perfect time.” Phoebe replied, shrugging.
Rachel smiled at her friend, whose eyes seemed to be focused on Monica, who was unlocking the front door.
“Plus, I really didn’t want you to feel left out.” she added as an after thought, smiling and patting Rachel in comfort before she hurried towards the door which was now wide open.
Touched, Rachel continued to look at her as she went inside, her eyes brimming with gratitude.
Maybe it wasn’t too late after all.
* * *
At the Thanksgiving dinner
“Hey! I’ve got one!” Rachel exclaimed from her seat, as they all indulged themselves in a scrumptious meal, courtesy of their all time host, Monica.
“Do you remember the time when we were all locked outside our apartment and were arguing which one of us was responsible for forgetting the keys?” she asked, as she spooned through her dessert.
There was a chorus of ‘Hear, hear’ and an exchange of smirks passed along the table as they all reminisced the Thanksgiving exactly ten years ago, the first they had spent together as a group of six.
After the topic of Phoebe’s pregnancy had exhausted, they had begun a random round of recollecting the precious memories of their past. And that had successfully numbed the present, all the questions dissolving in a heap of yummy food and spicy gossip.
“The Turkey got burnt! And it was the first time I had made it in our apartment!” Monica exclaimed.
“And the first time I didn’t get to eat it!” Joey said, with a tone that suggested that he still felt bad about it.
“The Potatoes were ruined!” said Phoebe, joining in.
“My Skiing got cancelled!” Rachel wailed.
“It was the day I found out that Ben kicked whenever Carol read stories to him. But he didn’t so when I did the same.” Ross said, smiling empathically at his younger self.
Everyone now turned to look at Chandler, expecting him to say something sad about the day.
“Don’t look at me! It was the best Thanksgiving I ever had. Nobody got to celebrate it! What more could I have asked for?” he said, to which everyone rolled their eyes, chuckling.
“By the way, who was responsible? We never actually solved the argument, did we?” Phoebe asked.
Monica and Rachel were about to accuse each other, when Ross’s sudden response caught them off guard.
“I think it was Monica.” he said, out of the blue.
“WHAT?!” Monica exclaimed, in shock.
Rachel too raised her eyes in surprise, not quite expecting it.
“Thank you.” she said sweetly, realising all of a sudden that it was indeed the first time they had had a direct exchange ever since their arrival in Westchester.
Chandler, Phoebe and Joey shot glances at each other, waiting eagerly to see how the debate progressed.
“Can you explain?” Monica asked. “I very clearly asked her…”
“The way you asked her whether she had ‘got the keys’, was a bit hurried, making it sound more like a statement. You should have told her to ‘Get the keys’ instead. That would’ve been more appropriate. Also, it had been kinda unreasonable to assume that she would have the keys on her, seeing as she was inside the apartment, just like you. Plus, you ran away immediately later, not actually bothering to listen to the answer. That does suggest a lack of responsibility.” Ross rattled. By the time he was finished, Monica’s expressions had changed radically, her self pride replaced with a dumbstruck slack jaw instead.
Silence reigned the room for a while as everyone was in awe at Ross’s response.
“Hang on! You weren’t even there! How can you say all this with so much certainty?” Monica challenged.
“Yeah! She’s right!” Phoebe exclaimed, while the rest let out murmurs of assent. Rachel too looked at Ross, her eyes inquisitive.
Embarrassed, Ross blushed deeply before acknowledging the reason.
“Well… The night when all this happened, Rachel told me everything. All the bits.” he said. “Because she felt guilty of ruining not only her’s but also everyone else’s Thanksgiving. And after listening to her I assured her that it wasn’t her fault.” he continued, flushing even more.
Throughout Ross’s speech, Rachel could do nothing but stare, their eyes meeting across the table as she did so. How the hell did he remember something so insignificant and that too had happened such a long time ago?! Also, they hadn’t even been dating back then. But before she could say anything about it, Monica intervened, saying,
“So you are going in accordance with her version? Of course she must have falsified the events!”
“Hey!” Rachel exclaimed, her trance broken.
Chaos resumed on the table as Monica and Rachel began arguing as though it was all that really mattered, while the others simply egged them on, eager for a cat-fight.
“Ross!” Phoebe suddenly screamed, amidst the calls of ‘Monica’, ‘Rachel’ and ‘fight! fight!’.
“What?” Ross asked, perplexed. “I wasn’t even there!” he exclaimed meekly.
Annoyed, Phoebe rolled her eyes at him.
“No, not that! I really don’t care about those stupid keys! Mike has an event in the city and I have to be there in an hour.” she explained.
“And what does that have to do with me?” Ross asked, perplexed.
“Well, you are the one driving me there, of course!” she stated, as though it was obvious.
“No, I’m not!” Ross replied, annoyed. His new job gave him much less time to spend with his friends and family, and so he usually did make the most of it whenever it did. And then there was Emma. And… And… Rachel.
“Do you really want to anger a pregnant woman?” Phoebe asked, irritated.
Ross winced, more so because he didn’t want to annoy a pregnant Pheebs, who could be ten times worse than any pregnant woman on the planet, even when she wasn’t one.
“Well… It seems like I gotta get goin’.” he finally said, to no one in particular.
A round of ‘Yeah’went round the table, while Monica added a ‘Drive safe!’
Rachel suddenly felt an outburst of rage towards Phoebe for she had truly ruined the moment. Hence, it took her quite a while to notice that Ross had been asking her something.
“Huh?” she asked, snapping out of her trance yet again.
“You coming, Rach?” he repeated politely.
Rachel’s brain seemed to be in a dizzy as she analysed several aspects of the matter at once.
1. She wanted to talk with Ross. Alone.
2. She also had to chat with Monica and the rest and make up for her absence.
3. Both her heart and her brain knew that they wanted No.1 much more than No.2
4. But they also knew that No.1 was going to be much more difficult and could go either ways. Whereas No.2 had a guaranteed safety net, a casual, comfortable exchange. Or so she thought.
5. So which one to pick? Her brain said No.1, while her heart said No.2
“Errrmm… No. Mon and I have got a lot to catch up on.” was what she ended up saying.
Conclusion:- In a fight between the heart and the brain, the latter almost never wins.
If Ross felt disappointed by her response, he surely didn’t show it, as he simply shrugged and asked.
“Okay… You will be coming at my place tonight though, right?”
“Actually, you know what? I might stay here for the night.” she said. Her decision took everyone by surprise as they had expected things to become smoother after their trip down memory lane. Perhaps not. Perhaps it ran much deeper.
“No problem, right?” Rachel asked, looking at Chandler.
“Oh no. We have no problems with that!” he replied, emphasizing on the ‘We’.
This time Monica did not admonish him, as she stared at Rachel as though trying to figure her out.
“Okay. If it’s fine by you guys, it’s fine by me.” Ross replied.
Yet again, his body language was oddly neutral.
Phoebe rose from the table, and so did Ross, picking up Emma from her chair as he did so.
“Hey… Whoa… What do you think you are doing?” Rachel asked, a bit of a panic obvious in her voice.
“Going home?…” Ross stated, looking at her curiously.
“Yeah. But Emma?” asked Rachel.
“Of course she’s coming with me!” he said, sounding just a tad annoyed. “Daddy has missed you so much!” he added in a baby voice to Emma, who had zoned out, tired out by the long flight and the heavy meal.
“Leave her here with me tonight Ross. Please!” she pleaded.
Ross simply looked at her before saying,
Shocked by his response, Rachel raised her eyebrows, while the others seemed mildly alarmed at his tone.
“You are going to have her for the next few months, Ross. It’s the least you can do.” Rachel said, sounding a bit bolder this time.
Ross’s ‘cool guy’ attitude seemed to thaw with every word he said.
“THE LEAST? Really?” You’ve already had her for five months Rach, all by yourself! Don’t be so unreasonable!” he replied, displaying a hint of the anger he felt for the first time.
“Unreasonable?! Since when does asking to be with your daughter for just one night sound unreasonable? The last time I checked it was a perfectly reasonable request.” Rachel said, standing up from her chair.
“Reasonable would’ve been you coming with me to my place so that Emma got to be with both of her parents, Rachel.” Ross replied, no longer trying to be polite.
“Oh really? Well, seeing that Monica and Chandler have kindly accepted my request to stay over, I really don’t see that happening.” Rachel said, folding her arms against her chest as she did so.
“Hey! Don’t pull us into your argument!” Chandler said, panicking.
“And hold on! Stop this right now, I say!” shouted Monica.
Both Ross and Rachel turned to look angrily at her.
“If you two are going to fight each other again, then the first thing you will be doing is getting out of this kitchen. Because the last time this happened, we were stuck in the bedroom for an entire evening and had nothing to eat except a bottle of organic wax. And I’m not gonna let that happen again!” she admonished, amidst a show of support from the others.
“And also the bathroom. Because I’ll be needing access to it every half an hour. And I DO NOT want to hear a shouting rally every time I do so!” Phoebe exclaimed.
“What? Phoebe, you don’t get bladder problems until you reach the second trimester. And you must be at what, eight weeks?” Ross asked.
“Oh shut up! You are not even a real doctor, anyways!” she retorted.
“She does have a point.” Chandler said, getting the death glare from Ross in response.
“I’m not going anywhere until this is sorted out!” he exclaimed.
“Neither am I!” Rachel replied, shortly later.
“Oh look! You two finally agreed on something. Isn’t that great?” Joey asked, only to receive another glare, this time from Rachel.
And with that, the gang was reduced to watching their argument like a Tennis rally, their heads bobbing from one person to the other.
“Why do you wanna stay here anyways? Why don’t you just go to some hotel instead, huh?!” Ross asked, getting back to the topic.
“I want to catch up with my best friends, for God’s sake!” Rachel exclaimed, fuming.
“And WHAT?! Why the hell would I go to some hotel?” she added, confused.
There was a detectable pause before Ross replied in an eerily composed voice,
“Because New York isn’t your home anymore.”
The gravity of the statement was profound as everyone’s jaws went wide open, completely thrown away by the words.
Rachel, in the meanwhile had suddenly reduced to tears which were threatening to flow from her eyes.
“Isn’t that right, Rach?” Ross asked, in that same quiet whisper.
“Ross… I…” Rachel started, but found herself at a loss of words.
“Rachel Karen Green, the woman who always wears her heart on her sleeve didn’t think twice before applying for a job thousands of miles away. Nor did she comprehend the finality of buying a house. She even discarded her friends, disowning her city in a matter of months. And now, here she is, telling me what is reasonable and what is not.” Ross said.
Monica was about to intervene upon seeing Rachel’s helpless state, but her own conscience made her refrain herself. For even she couldn’t deny that Ross did have a good point.
“Have you got any answer to that, Rachel?” Ross asked.
Rachel begun shaking with guilt, the tears finally making their way down her cheek.
“Have you?” he asked again, his voice sounding much softer, resembling the affectionate tone that he had always reserved solely for her.
Rachel’s frame grew smaller and smaller in response and everyone begun feeling sorry for her, including Ross.
“I thought so.” he said, sadly as he continued looking at her almost pitiably.
Then, to everyone’s surprise, he gently placed a sleeping Emma besides Rachel and passed a final look at the pair before making his way out of the kitchen.
Ross had almost reached the main door until he became aware of the fact that Rachel had followed him into the living room. Hand on the knob, he had opened the door halfway through before her reply practically paralyzed him.
“It’s because I still love you” she said, in a quiet whisper which was barely audible.
“What?” Ross asked, refusing to believe his ears.
“It’s… b..because I love you..” she repeated, breaking down.
On hearing her say the words again, Ross slowly closed the door before he turned to face Rachel and said,
“Well… You’ve got a strange way of saying it, Rach. Because guess what? I love you too. But I didn’t move four thousand miles away to prove it. Quite the contrary, in fact. I let you go instead.” he said, his eyes finally finding hers.
Their eyes didn’t stay locked for long though.
For to Rachel’s immense surprise, Ross opened the door yet again and quietly left the scene, leaving behind a heartbroken Rachel.
Still reeling, the gang entered the living room, hesitantly at first. Their expressions made it very clear that they had heard every word of their exchange.
As everyone gathered around Rachel, it was Phoebe who was the first to voiced their thoughts.