“Umm… Joe?” Rachel asked, looking a little intimidated.
“Are these guys going to stick around with us all the time?” she asked in a low voice, referring to his bodyguards, despite them being well beyond their hearing range.
“Why? Are you afraid of them?” Joey asked, chuckling in amusement.
“A little” Rachel conceded.
“They will be around. Close enough to approach us within a few minutes if needed, but far enough to give us our privacy.” he assured her. Rachel wasn’t totally satisfied.
“Ahemm.. Guys? We’ve got a situation here.” Monica said, interrupting the conversations everyone else were having. To everyone’s surprise, they had already reached the street leading to the parking lots. They turned to look at Monica quizzically.
“There are twelve of us, not including those two..” she said, pointing to Joey’s guards. ” And we can accommodate only ten in our cars. So should we call a cab or…?”
“Hold on for a second. You are forgetting something. ” Joey said, a hint of exasperation on his face.
“What?” she asked, perplexed.
“That I’m not Joey anymore. I’m ‘Joey’.” he said, saying his name in a dreamlike manner.
“That was very helpful Joe.” Chandler said sarcastically.
“Just wait for a couple of minutes. You’ll see.” he replied, smirking.
The rest looked at him in confusion.
“Clarke?” he suddenly asked to one of the guys who were presently standing at a respectable distance from them.
“He’ll be here in a minute, Sir. He has just left the lot.”
Joey nodded in response, unaware of his friends who were still soaking in this new ‘Joey’
Everyone was then distracted by a soft purring heard from the other end of the street. A few seconds later, the source presented itself. A sleek black Mercedes. Mouths fell open in shock, Chandler’s being the widest.
“See what I meant? So somebody can come with me and… “
Before Joey could actually finish his sentence, he found Rachel standing next to him.
“I thought you said you were afraid of them? Or didn’t want them around?” Joey asked a bit taken aback.
“Oh no, no no. I love having them around. ” she replied, prolonging and emphasising the word ‘love’.
Nearly everyone rolled their eyes, but Emma had by far the most amusing reaction to her mother’s apparent change of mind.
” Oh, Mommy.” she said, shaking her head whilst pressing her hand on her forehead in exasperation.
* * *
The Joey room
“Alright! So what have we got here?” Joey asked, rubbing his palms as he went through the video game collection.
“Number magic, really Chandler?” he continued, raising an eyebrow after picking up the CD.
“Monica has replaced all of our video games with all these educational programmes.” Chandler offered as an explanation.
“Aww man. Now how are we supposed to kill time until lunch?” Joey asked, feeling bummed out.
“I have an idea.” Chandler said, with a sparkle in his eyes.
“Okay! So has everyone understood the rules?” Chandler asked. Phoebe, Ross, Joey and Chandler were standing in the game room, and all the kids except Emma were facing them on the other side of the room. Emma, on being declared too old, had stalked off with her nose held high in the air.
“Wait a second. Let me get something straight. We are betting money on our own kids?!” Phoebe asked, a bit incredulous.
“Yeah. AND the winner takes all!” Chandler replied, as though that was enough of an explanation.
“Oh, okay!” Phoebe said, shrugging.
“When I say go, everyone will pick their kid for the challenge. Ready?” he asked.
The others nodded with a glint of competition in their eyes, their bodies prepared for a run. As soon as Chandler gave them the word, there was total chaos, as all rushed towards the smartest looking kid.
“Guys! Guys! Please, let’s be civil. The real challenge will be AFTER we have formed the teams.” Chandler shouted, out of breath. A couple of seconds of peace followed before everyone shrugged and resumed their ‘act’. Eventually, the scene returned to normalcy, with everyone being paired except for Rain. Joey was with Joey Jr, Ross with Jack, Phoebe with Daniel and Chandler with Erica. Joey Jr stuck out his tongue at his sister, who responded with the same move.
“I want to play too!” Rain wailed to the ‘grown ups’ in the room.
“Listen, Rain. You have to be the monitor, okay? You tell me if anyone is cheating.” Chandler said to console her.
“Okay” she replied. Cheating wasn’t gonna be easy!
“Good girl! Let’s begin.”
The game was a simple one having basic mathematics questions, which the kids were ‘supposed’ to answer by themselves. The adults were ‘supposed’ to only support their kid and not answer the questions themselves. After a few rounds of honest game play, Chandler and Erica had an obvious lead. Erica was the smartest, followed closely by Jack. While Joey Jr. brought up the tail. That was when things began to get fishy.
12 apples were on display for Team Phoebe. Daniel seemed to get stuck at figures beyond 10, and he turned to face Phoebe, confused.
“12” Phoebe whispered, unaware that her daughter was right behind.
“Mom is helping Daniel” Rain declared loudly.
“Good catch, Rain. Phoebe you are out!” Chandler announced.
As Phoebe got up, she mouthed something which suspiciously seemed something like ‘traitor’.
The game continued and team Joey was still at the last position. But here the reason was different.
Seeing images of foodstuffs like apples and cookies repeatedly had apparently made Joey Jr. cranky.
“I’m hungry!” he complained.
“When we finish this game, we’ll all have cookies alright?” Joey said, trying to make him stay put.
“But I’m hungry now!”
“Hey champ! Go to the kitchen. Aunt Monica is making brownies.” Chandler told him as a ruse, which was probably true.
“Brownies!” he exclaimed, delighted and stood up to head downstairs.
“Wait up kid! I’m coming with you!” Joey said, standing and giving up the game as well.
“Yeah, they are sold!” Phoebe said, rolling her eyes.
Both Ross and Chandler had an amused expression.
“What?! If it’s Monica’s home made brownies, you know I can’t say no to them!” Joey argued and headed out of the door, with little Joey tagging along.
“Yeah, you can’t!” Chandler said behind him, smirking as he did so.
The game resumed and now became a closer contest between the Bing twins.
“I’m gonna win this Erica!” Jack shouted, a bit purposefully as it was Erica’s turn.
” Nah!” she replied. “Yay!” she exclaimed as she solved yet another question right. Chandler gave her a high – five.
“You don’t listen to them, Jack. We’ll see them at the finish.” Ross said to encourage Jack.
“Yeah, we will!” he replied. Some of his confidence melted at the next question though.
‘9 plus 17 = ?’
“Hey, now that question is too tough for a 5 year old!” Ross complained.
“Don’t blame us, it was you who suggested more difficult questions.” Chandler said in glee.
Jack frowned at the screen for a long time, while Erica smiled at her brother’s confusion.
“I know the answer!” came a singsong voice from the door. It was Emma.
“I didn’t ask you!” he replied, bothered by her very presence.
“And I was not gonna tell you anyways!” she answered.
Jack just rolled his eyes in exasperation.
“Aunt Monica has called everyone down for lunch.” she said. Everyone groaned in response.
“Dad, Chandler” she continued. Chandler lowered his head at being called by his name. Being overly friendly with the kids had it’s own drawbacks. He was the least respected yet the most adored adult amongst the kids who knew him.
” Mom wants you downstairs immediately to set the tables on the lawn.”
“We are in the middle of a very important game!” Jack insisted.
“Oh and by the way 9 plus 17 is 26.” she added as an afterthought and immediately made a run for it as Jack went after her for ruining their game.
Ross and Chandler were annoyed that the game ended with no clear winner.
“Oh, I love this!” Phoebe suddenly exclaimed.
The rest looked at her with confusion.
“Oh, you know, all this ‘happy family’ camaraderie.” she offered in explanation.
Something in their expressions told her that they were not in agreement with her statement.
* * *
15, Newcastle Avenue
“So when I say pivot… ” Ross said, as he and Chandler grabbed the opposite ends of a table and were about to lift it.
“Ross, for the last time, the lawn is straight through the back door. So, No. There’s no pivoting and hence no need to say pivot.” Chandler replied, as though trying to make a toddler understand that 2 plus 2 equals 4.
“Alright…” Ross replied, sulking as he did so. As they continued to heave the table through the door he whispered,
“I like saying pivot.”
“You are unbelievable.” Chandler said.
“Hey, lazy boys! Bring the table right here, over this spot.” Monica called, having already marked the place by powdered chalk.
“Who’s crazy now, huh?” Ross asked, as they placed the table down precisely on the markings.
“Well, seeing that she’s my wife, and you are my friend… ” Chandler said moving his hands with the palms facing upwards, as though balancing the two.
” I’d have to say you.”
Ross smirked at his response.
“Wow! This is so nice! When did you guys do this?”
Phoebe called everyone’s attention to the small, newly placed gate midway between the two ends of the wall separating Ross and Rachel’s house from Monica and Chandler’s.
“A few months ago, when SOMEONE” Monica looked pointedly at Rachel as she said this, “thought it was a very long walk from their front door to ours.”
“What?!” Rachel asked. “It’s so convenient. Now I can simply walk through our back door to yours.”
“I must say I agree with her.” Ross said, backing her. Rachel gave him a grateful smile.
“Way to get some tonight, man!” Chandler said, patting Ross’s back.
“There are kids around for God’s sake, Chandler!” Joey said, to everyone’s surprise.
Hearing the unexpectedly mature comment, all turned to look at him.
“What? I can’t be an adult?” he asked, offended.
“No, no. It’s more like, you’ve never been one.” Ross offered.
“I know. But I feel like I’m ready, you know.” he said, a hint of desperation in his voice.
“For what?” Ross asked.
“Seeing you guys all shaping into such beautiful families, I talked to Alex about it and we decided that it’s about time we tried having kids.” Joey announced, looking really happy about it.
It always amazed them how Joey could end up surprising them all. They had never thought that Joey, who was once all for a playboy lifestyle, would ever get married. Yet he had, two years ago to Alex. And now he was ready to have kids. He really had matured in the past few years. Well at least in some ways.
“That’s great news, Joey! Congratulations!” Phoebe was the first to exclaim and hug him. The others followed suit shortly afterwards, all genuinely happy about the news.
Even though the tables had been set in the relatively spacious backyard, the presence of 12 people still managed to make that space appear cramped. After the initial scooching of the chairs and a confusion over the positions, the group finally settled down. Not to mention that by that time half the dishes had gone stone cold. But somehow, nobody actually noticed that as it was the first meal they were having together in the past two years.
“Oh yeah! That had been so much fun!” Monica commented, as they all relived their trip to Hawaii, where Joey had got married. All seemed to agree with her.
“Why don’t we do that again? We should all totally go on a trip somewhere!” Phoebe suggested.
There was a pin drop silence as every other conversation came to a screeching halt on the prospect, which was followed immediately by a buzz where everyone wanted to address everyone at the same time.
As complete pandemonium seemed to descend, there was hooting of a horn loud enough to alert the entire neighbourhood.
“What the hell was that ?!” Phoebe asks the question which was in everyone’s mind, as they attempted to get rid of the persistent ringing in their ears.
The source was apparently Monica, who immediately blushed a deep red on having gained everyone’s attention.
“Sorry. Didn’t know it was that loud! But it sure is handy!” she said, looking at the horn with appreciation. “The store guy told me it was a perfect tool for bringing a class to order!”
The death glares she received made her jump right to the point.
“Alright, so about the trip.” she continued, “Let’s have a vote. Seeing as we were going to spend a week together anyways and as the schools are also on vacation, I think the timing is as good as it’ll ever get. I’m in. Chandler?”
“You bet I am!”
“Of course I’m in! It was my idea!” she replied, scoffing.
“Calm down, Pheebs! I was just confirming. Rachel?”
“Yeah, why not? Melissa’ll watch the store for me, so no worries!”
“Oh, I don’t know…” Ross trailed, always the skeptic.
“Oh come on Ross! Don’t be such a killjoy!” Rachel wailed at him.
” Fine. We sure haven’t done something together in a long time.” he conceded.
“Okay. So we’ve all agreed that we are going. To where but?”
THAT, was apparently a wrong move as the chaos resumed immediately.
The horn blew again.
“For God’s sake Monica! The next time you need to quiet us down you can just shout or throw water or something!” Rachel shouted as she held her head. The others agreed in unison.
“Fine. If you’ll be civil, that is.” Monica answered.
“Rachel?” she asked, continuing their previous conversation.
“Let’s go to Barbados!”
“Rach, we’ve already been there twice and that’s not including our wedding and my keynote speech!” Ross said, groaning.
“But it’s so beautiful at this time of the year!”
After a round of protests, she gave up.
“Fine! Then you suggest some place.” she said, looking very unhappy about it.
“Hmm.. How about…”
“And it should not be famous for its museums! Or it’s history!” Rachel said, pointing a finger accusingly at him.
Ross, who had opened his mouth to say something, shut it with a disgruntled “Learning can be fun.”
Just then, their discussion was interrupted by a call on Joey’s mobile.
Joey casually looked at the identity of the caller.
“Sorry, I have to take this call. You mind?” he asked.
The group’s only reaction was widening of their eyes and slight slacking of their jaws. Why was he being so formal?
“Sorry! I get stuck in these protocols you know!” he said a while later, blushing a bit when he realised that it had been unnecessary
“Oh. Hi, Angelina!” he said, his forehead relaxing on recognising the voice at the other end.
‘Angelina Jolie?’ Ross mouthed in surprise.
Joey nodded and smiled as though there was nothing new about it for him.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Did he just call Angelina Jolie as ‘Angelina’? ” Rachel asked, unable to contain her excitement.
Joey gave her an annoyed look as he attempted to focus on the voice at the other end. Chandler seemed to want to snatch the phone, a motion which did not go unnoticed by Monica.
“You don’t get to talk to a celebrity everyday!” he offered in his defence.
“You talk to Joey everyday.” she snapped.
“It’s Joey! He doesn’t count!”
Irritated by the lack of restraint displayed by his friends, Joey headed inside the house to continue talking in peace. The group was still finding Joey’s brand new fame difficult to digest and Joey didn’t make it any easier by bombarding Angelina on them. They attempted to discreetly follow Joey, but were thwarted when they found the backdoor bolted from inside.
“This is unbelievable! Now I have to sneak into my own house!” Monica exclaimed.
“Chandler, you check the front door.”
“On it!” came his voice.
“It’s locked!” he shouted, after checking it, or rather pulling the handle with his full strength and falling down.
Groans came from the rest of the gang.
“Okay. So I’m gonna try going through the window!” Monica exclaimed and headed to the glass window which was thankfully open. But the trouble was that it was at a height. Nevertheless, Monica managed to put one of her legs over the sill. Her attempt at breaking in into her own house was rendered unnecessary as Joey emerged out of the back door, having ended the call and looking visibly upset. He stopped short on seeing Monica’s antics.
“What exactly are you doing, Mon?” he asked, perplexed.
“Nothing!” she answered as if on cue, and quickly let go of the sill.
Joey wasn’t satisfied, but as he had something important to discuss he just shrugged and cleared his throat.
“Listen up, guys! I’ve got a good news and a bad one, which can also be good depending on how you look at it. Which one would you like to hear first?” he asked addressing everyone.
“The good one please!” Rachel pleaded.
“The good news concerns you, Rach. Angelina had a look at your designs which I showed them for you.”
The effect of this statement on Rachel was immediate and she clung on to Joey’s next words as though her world depended on them.
“And as it turns out, she thought they were pretty good and would like to have some of them in the wardrobe of the set of her next film.”
“I can’t believe this! She actually liked my designs! I’m going to be designing dresses for a movie star!” Rachel was giddy with joy as everyone cheered and congratulated her.
“Then what’s the bad news?” Chandler finally asked.
“The bad news is that for that, we’ll have to show up ourselves in LA before Thursday. That is in the next three days.”
A shocked silence spread through them yet again.
“So… So… that means you’ll have to leave by day after tomorrow?” Phoebe asked, suddenly feeling let down.
“I’m afraid, yes.” he said. “But if you think of it this way, we had already been planning a trip and you guys have never seen me in my new life there. So why don’t we all go to LA? Make this a trip?” Joey asked, looking at everyone’s faces in turn for their reactions.
The silence this time was calculating, unlike the one moments before.
“That’s actually not a bad idea!” Chandler responded after a while.
“Yeah. And Oh! We can take the kids to Disneyland! I’ve never been there!” Phoebe exclaimed, very excited by merely thinking about it.
“Did someone just say Disneyland? Are we gonna go there?!” Emma asked, popping suddenly from the door.
“What say? It’ll be fun for all!” Phoebe asked yet again.
“Fine, then. Pack your bags everyone! We’ll be rolling to LA!” Monica said, smiling in agreement.
“To LA!” everyone said in chorus.
“To Hollywood!” said Chandler and Ross in unison.
“To Angelina!” Rachel said in a dreamlike state.
“To Disneyland!” Phoebe and Emma exclaim almost simultaneously.