12. Biding time
Note:- This post is an update of my first ever attempt at writing a novel named ‘Choices and Consequences’. Find the link to my previous updates right below:-
Rachel’s new home
“Oh, and that room right there should be the guest room..”
Sam’s voice echoed throughout the empty house as she toured Rachel through the same, tagging the rooms as she went along.
“Sam, we are nearly on the same page on everything except the walls of the living room. I would really love to have them painted a deep shade of purple.” Rachel said, as she cast yet another look at the corners of the room they were in.
“Purple?! Why? What’s so special about it?” Sam asked, a look of confusion plastered on her face.
“For it was the colour with which I have spent the most important decade of my life. A decade which still means a lot to me Because it made me who I am right now.” Rachel replied, a misty look clouding her eyes.
“That’s nice. Fine, we’ll have them made purple if it’s so important to you.” Sam replied, smiling benignly at her friend’s sentiment.
“Thank you.” Rachel replied, her smile broader than her Sam’s.
Few moments passed away in silence as the pair looked around them yet again. However, Sam, as usual, could not contain herself for long.
“Speaking about a special place though… How are things with Ross?” she finally asked, having noticed that Rachel mentioned him at all the entire evening.
“Pretty good. In fact, I have planned to cook a Lasagne the next time he shows himself up. It’s one of his favourites.” Rachel replied, her response revealing only the slightest note of resentment. That had been enough for Sam to catch up though.
“Hmm. Busy this weekend as well, huh?” she asked, feeling sorry for her.
“Yup.” Rachel replied, lowering her head.
The quarries at Audoin had indeed proved nothing short of a gold mine for Ross and his team. For they had successfully excavated almost an entire fossil in barely a couple of months which was no mean feat for any paleontologist out there. Especially for one who had almost zero on-field experience.
Though Rachel had been really pleased with his success, on the other hand it had also meant that Ross had been unable to keep his promise of weekly visits to Paris. For of course there was lot to do on the site right now. In the past two months Ross had managed only a couple of trips to the city. Out of which, one of them in fact had actually been a flyby on the way to the university to report his findings.
“Don’t worry, Rach. It’ll be okay. I mean, look at it this way. The sooner he gets the job done, greater will be the time he gets to spend with you once it’s all over. After all there are still nearly four months to go.” Sam explained, giving her a one armed hug.
“Yeah. I hope you are right.” Rachel replied, grateful for her insight.
“And Lasagne?! You kidding me? Is Monica that good a mentor or what?” Sam asked her in a mocking voice.
Sam was indeed surprised to hear that Rachel had made so much progress in so less time. For she had known Rachel’s culinary skills a little too well, having been her guinea pig for the first few ‘experiments’ Rachel had made her taste.
To Sam’s relief, her remark finally brought a smile on Rachel’s face.
“Hey! I’m not that bad a student you know.” she said, to which Sam let out a chuckle.
“Besides, it’s more like Monica is that determined a person. Once she sets her heart on you, she never really lets you go” she continued, her voice reflecting the deep affection she felt for her.
After all, it was a quality that did run in the family. Didn’t it?
* * *
Fossils at Audoin
“Oh and how’s Ben? Did he go to the football…” Ross asked over the phone, while masking his other ear so as to hear Carol better over the shrill drilling of the boring machines outside his tent.
“He won it for them?!” he exclaimed in delight as he listened to the other end. Apparently Ben had assisted in scoring two out of a total of three goals his team had made in the finals of the interschool tournament.
“Wow, that’s incredible! Don’t forget to tell him that Daddy’s very proud of him.” he continued.
“Why don’t you tell him that in person? As it is, you haven’t talked to him in months!” said Carol, chastising him for his apparent lack of interest in his son.
“Carol, I…” Ross said, his voice a bit hesitant. “Things have been real busy here. And the time zones… I mean it must be what like midnight there now?” he asked, while looking at his watch which proclaimed that it was seven in the morning there. So it indeed was an hour past midnight in New York right now.
The heated response which he received made it obvious that his ex-wife did not find the reason convincing at all.
“I’m sorry, Carol. I really am. I’ll try to call tomorrow. I promise. Alright?” Ross finally replied.
“Alright. But you’d better not break it.” she replied, after a moment’s pause.
“I won’t.” said Ross, although he didn’t sound so sure of himself.
Ross’s role at the site had proved to be quite a bit of challenge in itself. For it was way too different from the desk/podium job he had gotten used to over the years.
Like, to start with, this job did not have a predictable routine. Because they had limited time, they were working 24 by 7 in shifts and hence they were forced to pull off several all nighters. Plus whenever someone came across something which had even the slightest resemblance to a bone, the entire team would be called for a dating analysis. His co-workers had mockingly nick named this fiasco as a ‘Paleontological emergency’, which was a really benign terminology according to him.
All that being told, that didn’t mean that Ross wasn’t enjoying his new job. Quite the contrary, in fact. He was having the time of his life. Although there were still a couple of things he wished would be better. The constant drill and shudder created by the machines often drove him nuts. Why couldn’t they just shut it for like an hour or so? Couldn’t a man have some peace around here anymore?!
Well, he could still get used to that, he mused. What he couldn’t acclimatise himself to, however, was his guilt over drifting apart from the people close to his heart, which had now grown into a constant ache, often keeping him awake at times when he really should have been getting some sleep.
Exhausted from his shift, Ross was about to snuggle into his sleeping bag, when his phone began ringing again. Frowning, he headed towards his makeshift desk, hoping that it was either one of his friends or family.
As it turned out though, it was someone who was both.
“Hey you!” came her chirpy voice.
“Hey you.” Ross replied, reciprocating their newly reinstated signature greeting.
“So how’s the diggin’?” Rachel asked. “Find something new?”
“Well, we are still working on it. However yesterday we did make a major breakthrough.” Ross replied, settling himself on the top of his sleeping bag.
“Yeah? What did you find?” she asked, excited.
“Two vertebrae.” Ross replied, sounding smug.
There was a prolonged pause at the other end.
“Rach?” Ross asked, wondering whether the unsteady network in the quarries had betrayed him again.
“Huh.” came the response from the other end.
“What?” he asked, perplexed.
“You said major breakthrough, so I thought that it would be a jaw or skull or something…” Rachel replied, in a flat and somewhat disappointed voice.
Ross couldn’t help but roll his eyes at this. You say the word dinosaur and people had to imagine the jaws first.
“Jaws? Yes, they are significant but let’s not underestimate the humble vertebrae, Rach. Especially not these two babies. They helped us predict the entire curvature of it’s back. And mind you, that goes a long way when it comes to classifying these creatures.” he replied, explaining the science behind it to her.
There was a distinct pause on the line as his girlfriend digested this new piece of information.
“Okay. If you say so. For it really doesn’t matter to me as long as you come home this weekend, mister.” Rachel replied, unable to fathom his fascination for the beasts.
Yet again, there was no response from the other end.
“Ross? Are you there?” she asked, a bit concerned.
“I… ” was all that he could muster. Today would be the third time that Ross was about to disappoint her. In a row, that is.
“Ross… please tell me that you will be coming.” Rachel said, her voice sounding a bit stretched.
“Rach, I…” he began, the words seemingly stuck in his throat. He didn’t want to do this to her.
In fact, he didn’t have to do this to her, he thought, having come to a decision at last.
“Yes. I will be coming.” he said, with a fresh note of determination in his voice.
“Really?!” Rachel replied almost immediately.
“Yeah! Screw these guys! I mean, surey they can survive a couple of days without me!” Ross replied, his mind already constructing the argument with the committee.
“That’s great! For I have a surprise for you.” Rachel replied, back to her cheerful self.
“You have?!” Ross asked, pleased to hear it. Then, without waiting for a response, he said,
“You are amazing. You do know that, right?” he continued, his voice thicker than usual.
Touched, Rachel blushed deeply as she said,
“With you around to remind me of it, how can I ever forget?”
* * *
Ross and Rachel
It had taken a great deal of convincing, and one very heated discussion, but in the end Ross had won his case. He had been allowed to go to Paris for the weekend. In fact, it had been the first time he had been given an entire day to spend at home. But that didn’t mean that he was completely off the hook. There was still a great deal of documentation to be done, which was exactly what he had been up to the entire evening.
“Dinner’s ready!” Rachel said, as she finished laying down the dishes on the table.
“Almost done. You get started, I’ll be there.” Ross replied, his eyes still glued to his laptop.
Since the time she had moved to Paris, Rachel had made tremendous progress as far as cooking was concerned. She had actually learned how to prepare lasagne from Monica, that too in the form of a live demonstration from her restaurant. Today was the first time she had prepared it unsupervised though. Which was exactly why Rachel had been expecting something much better than a rather dry ‘I’m almost done’ from Ross.
“It’s getting cold!” Rachel replied, while looking rather pointedly at him.
Ross, on catching her glare, decided that it would probably be wise to take a break from his work and hence maneuvered the cursor to save the article he was working on.
“I’m really sorry, Rach. I simply have to get this done by the end of the week.” he said, as he made his way to the table and kissed her on the cheek.
“I promise to make up for it tonight, though.” Ross continued, winking at her as he settled in his chair.
When Rachel didn’t respond, Ross decided it was about time that he pulled out his best shot. And so he did.
He gave her their classic ‘puppy dog’ look.
That beseeching look was a trait which they both shared, yet found it extremely difficult to resist whenever they got it from the other. And hence, just like that, Rachel’s irritation at him melted almost instantaneously.
“Well… what about Emma?” she asked, blushing a deep shade of red.
“Errmmm… I have heard that this place has more than one bedrooms? Oh and the bathroom’s pretty big too.” Ross replied, as he cut himself a helping of the Lasagne.
Embarrassed, Rachel couldn’t help but nod shyly at that.
“Now.” Ross said, his tone all business like. “The moment of truth.”
Saying so, he took a careful bite from the pasta, wary about it’s taste with good reason. Rachel looked at him anxiously, waiting for his reaction with bated breath.
It seemed like she had managed to impress him though. For his expressions at the end of the bite were completely different from the one he had started it with.
“Wow, I had never thought that such a day would come.” he said, upon swallowing.
“What day?” she asked, her fork midway between her mouth and her plate.
“A day when Rachel Greene could actually cook edible food for me.” Ross replied, with a hint of mischief.
“Edible?!” Rachel exclaimed, upset. “Really?! Is that all…” she began, before she caught the glint in his eyes and smiled to herself. Boy did he know exactly how to rile her up.
For a while they were both silent, the soft clatter of the forks being the sole source of noise in the room with having Emma fallen asleep long time ago.
“Ross?” Rachel asked, struck by a thought.
“Mmm Hmm?” Ross replied, busy carving his lasagne.
“Can I ask you something?” she asked, a bit cautiously.
“Sure!” he replied, missing out on her tone.
“What had you imagined it to be, Ross?” she asked without preamble.
“What are you talking about?” Ross said, not understanding the question.
“You know, all that time ago when you had it all planned out. The one in which we bought a house in Scarsdale, had two kids and all…” Rachel replied, her voice trailing towards the end.
“You still remember the details?” asked Ross, surprised to hear her mention Scarsdale.
“Vividly.” she replied, blushing at his apparent admiration.
“Well… by then, I had imagined that we both would be earning enough to hire a cook.” Ross said, his tone light.
“And we would always head out to Mon’s for the weekends. Or raid her fridge, just like Joey.” he continued, his mind now reeling back to the dreams he had built all those years ago.
“That would have been fun.” Rachel replied, chuckling at the thought.
“Yeah, it would have… It would have.” Ross said, his eyes glazed.
There was a slight note of sadness in his voice that wasn’t missed by Rachel, who was now regretting asking him the question in the first place.
“The Lasagne’s great, by the way.” Ross said, pulling himself out of the reverie.
“Thanks.” she replied, pleased.
“No I mean seriously. At this rate you could even surpass Mon in a few months.” Ross said, genuinely impressed at Rachel’s new found culinary abilities.
“Thank you. Don’t tell that to Mon though. She will kill me.” Rachel replied, her face glowing with pride.
“Of course! I mean the Pasta is good. But it’s not THAT good!” Ross said, chuckling.
Rachel chuckled in agreement, keeping her fork back on to the plate, as she finished her meal. She was about to take her plate to the sink when Ross stopped her, saying,
“Oh wait. I’ll do the dishes.” he offered.
“You will?! Thank you so much!” she replied, gratefully heading to the bedroom after giving him a peck on the cheek. Yeah she could cook now, but it still required a lot of patience and concentration for her to get it right. Especially a rather delicate dish like Lasagne.
As Rachel prepared herself for bed though, she couldn’t help but get a bad feeling about the conversation they had only moments before.
Although, she couldn’t quite figure out why.
* * *
The ‘FRIENDS’ team. (Note:- Picture for representative purpose only.)
Ross cast yet another look at the photograph on his desk. It was a picture which they had somehow managed to click at Monica and Chandler’s wedding reception. In fact, to this date, it remained the only photograph which had nearly everyone he loved. Everyone whom he called ‘family’.
At the far left of the photo was him, dressed in that black suit he so often wore. Right beside him was Rachel, looking gorgeous as always in her gown. And though the bulge wasn’t visible, she was indeed pregnant by then. So figuratively Emma was there too. In front of them were Phoebe and Joey, radiating nothing but pure joy for their friends. In the centre were of course the newlyweds, smiling so widely that their lips must have hurt.
On the other side, were his and Mon’s parents, Judy and Jack Geller, who were a testimony to an everlasting relationship. To their side was Carol, who had been insisted to be included in the ‘family picture’ by both him and Jack Geller. Ben, occupying the spotlight, was situated between his best friend and his sister, both of whom already shared a strong bond with their young nephew. To top it all, Susan, Ben’s stepmother, was there too, right at the other end of the photograph. Well, it was about time he accepted her, Ross mused, shaking his head fondly.
It had been almost four months since he had left New York. Four months. Yet the pain and longing that he felt on seeing the picture hadn’t mollified even one bit.
On the bright side, most of his work on the field was now over. Tomorrow he would be packing his bags and heading for Paris to spend the rest of his time with… a part of his family.
For it would still be atleast an entire month before he would get to meet the others, who would be making an appearance to cut the ribbon at Rachel’s new house. Even then though, they were going to be here for just a couple of days. And after that… they would be gone. Back to their lives in the Big Apple.
Ross wanted a family. And only now was he realising what it truly meant to him.
To add insult to injury though, he couldn’t see it happening at all.
Not now and not ever.
* * *
“Hey, Mon!” said Rachel as soon as she heard the distinct click at the other end, indicating that the call had been picked up.
“You know, you might try saying my name too sometimes.” came the response.
“Or did our friendship fail to stand the test of time?”
Guessing by Chandler’s tone, it did seem like he was being his usual sarcastic self. Rachel, however, was not in a place to comprehend that.
“I’m so sorry, Chandler… I.. It’s just that I wanted to talk to Monica and…” she said, her voice resounding emotions which were the polar opposites of Chandler’s carefree banter.
“Hey, hey Rach! I was joking, alright? Joking!” he replied, alarmed by the sudden turn of events.
“I mean, I know that it’s really me you want to talk to. You are just afraid that Mon will be jealous of us, that’s all!” Chandler said, in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere in a way only he could.
A few tense seconds passed by before a small chuckle was heard at the other end.
Relieved, Chandler continued,
“Mon’s restaurant has an inspection today, Rach. She’ll be there till late. You might try reaching her on the cell, but I honestly don’t think she’ll be receiving any calls until it gets done. I’m really sorry.” he said, regretfully.
“Oh… okay.” Rachel replied in a small voice.
“Can I take a message?” he offered.
“I… I don’t know…” Rachel said, stumped. She desperately needed to talk with someone. Someone who was close to both her and Ross. Which was why she had been ruled out Sam in the first place.
Someone close to both her and Ross. Why had it taken her so long to realise this?
“Rach? You there?” Chandler asked, worried.
“Y…yeah. Listen Chandler, can I talk to you?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t see why not. After all, that’s what you have been doing since the last five minutes.” he replied, chuckling at his own joke.
That was why, she realised, rolling her eyes.
“Please.” she requested, her tone now much more urgent and pleading.
Chandler sighed. He knew that he was the last person anyone would resort to when it came to emotional conflicts. So he realised the amount of desperation Rachel must be in. And hence, he felt he had no choice but to be faithful to her in her time of need.
“Sure Rach. What’s wrong?” he asked.
“It’s Ross.” she finally confided.
That much he had figured.
“You guys had a fight?” Chandler asked, wincing.
“No. Everything’s great, actually.” Rachel said, not sure how to express herself.
“Okay…” Chandler said, surprised.
Was that the problem?! he thought. Thankfully, he stopped himself from voicing it just in time.
“It’s just something he mentioned, you know. In passing.” Rachel said, trying again.
Saying so, she began narrating him the conversation they had had over her firsthand attempt at Lasagne. On the other end, Chandler listened patiently to her ramble, smiling at the part where Rachel mentioned raiding their kitchen. Once she was done, he asked,
“When did this happen?”
“Over dinner a couple months ago.” Rachel replied, suddenly feeling a little foolish.
“Okay… And have you talked to him after this?” he asked.
“Yeah. Lot of times, actually. He has even come home twice after that.” she replied. Just talking about the ‘situation’ was making her feel better about it.
“And did he sound any different?” Chandler queried.
He’s much better at this than he gives himself credit for, Rachel mused.
“No.” she replied, feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
“Then I don’t think you have to worry about this Rach.” Chandler said, reassuringly.
“Really?” she asked, positively beaming now.
“Yeah! I mean, sure he does miss having us around. But it’s you about whom he cares the most, Rach.” Chandler replied.
“Thank you so much, Chandler. You’ve been a great help.” she said, back to her original chirpy self.
“Anytime, Rach.” Chandler replied, finding himself glad to have managed to get through a touchy conversation without making things awkward for anyone.
“It’s just that I am so worried you know, what with the upcoming shifting a month from now…” Rachel continued, still letting out steam.
“I mean, I don’t know why but I constantly get this feeling that he doesn’t want to be here. Guess it’s just these butterflies, though.” she said, letting out a nervous chuckle as she did so.
“Yeah, I know. It’s natural. I mean, it’s been only two days since he told me how much he was looking forward to coming back to New York next month.” Chandler said in response.
There was a definite pause on the line before Rachel exclaimed,
“He’s gonna go back?!” she said, completely taken aback.
There. He had finally pulled out a ‘Chandler’
“You know what? I think I smell smoke. Our house may have caught fire. I have to go!” Chandler exclaimed in alarm, knowing only too well that she was not going to buy it.
Desperate, Chandler was about to hang the phone when he heard Rachel speak
“Chandler! Wait! What exactly did he say?”
‘You had to make things difficult for yourself, didn’t you?’ he thought.
“I… look. It’s probably nothing, alright? I mean, he has to report himself at New York anyways, otherwise he might have the entire CIA after him for going AWOL while using a federal grant.” he said, trying to make her understand.
“Yeah, probably.” Rachel said, the burden landing heavily on her shoulders yet again.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be okay. He loves you Rach.” Chandler said.
“I know. Thanks a lot, Chandler.” Rachel replied, sighing as she latched the receiver in its place.
Maybe Chandler was right. Maybe it was nothing at all. But then why hadn’t Ross told her this in the first place? she thought.
Surely he should have told her something which was this important?
The more she thought about it though, the more she realised something. Maybe it wasn’t his fault at all. Maybe it was because, unbeknownst to her, her subconscious had built a pretty straightforward yet profound assumption.
An assumption that from now on, they were going to be together forever. Or rather, they had already reached there and begun their happily ever after. Which was exactly why she hadn’t even bothered to ask him whether he would continue living in Paris once his grant expired. For she had simply assumed that he would.
Had she really been mistaken the whole time? Or was it simply her anxiety as she had mentioned to Chandler?
Whatever it was, she couldn’t help but feel that they were simply bidding their time now.