“Boy am I glad that we bought the front row seats to today’s game! Was totally worth it!” Joey exclaimed in triumph at the end of the game as their favourites, the Knicks had indeed ended up winning by a huge margin.
“We?! We?! ” demanded Chandler indignantly, for he had been the one to buy tickets for all the three.
” Fine! Fine. But I suggested the game all the same.” Joey said, raising his hands up in surrender.
“Jeez, I’ll pay you back if you are going to be that touchy about it.”
“Nah, consider it my treat for being a Dad for 10 days and still not dropping my kids even once.” Chandler said, sounding proud of himself.
“Good for you, Chandler. ” Ross said, smiling.
Joey and Chandler raised their eyebrows in surprise. That was the first time he had talked without being spoken to, or about something other than the game.
“Thanks man.” he replied smiling. Moments later though, his face grew tense as though worried that he was crossing a line.
“Errm I.. ” he trailed while observing Ross closely.
“What? Why are you freaking out?” Ross asked, chuckling, though he felt he knew the reason behind his hesitation and cursed himself for being the one responsible for it.
“I.. I mean Monica was wondering if you..if you could make it to our place this Saturday seeing that you missed out on the party last week. She does miss you, but the twins don’t let her get away from them.”
The words came out of his mouth in a rush, so it took Ross a while to understand what he was trying to convey.
“Why not? I’d definitely want to meet my nephew and niece. And of course even I miss hanging out like we used to.” Ross replied, the words causing him to cringe internally as they reminded him that they could NEVER hang out the way they used to.
Chandler and Joey felt the heaviness that followed and were at a loss of words themselves.
“Hey, you guys wanna grab some dinner?” Ross asked, finally breaking the silence.
“Monica’s already made some at home.” Chandler said looking apologetic.
“That’s where I’m headed too” replied Joey in a similar fashion.
“Mind if I join you?” Ross asked, deciding to end all these pitiful exchanges today. He wanted to show them that he was completely okay with her being gone. And today seemed as good as any other day.
“No. Not at all!” Chandler replied, although his face was a dead giveaway of the shock he felt.
“Alright. Let’s go then.” Ross said after a while, raising his eyebrows in amusement at his frozen expression.
* * *
As days turned into weeks, Ross slowly got used to living his life without Rachel. Apart from the fact that he still avoided direct questions about her (which were now fewer and farther in between), he was doing really well. The only person he hadn’t manage to convince by his ‘got over it act’ yet was his baby sister, Monica.
He could tell that by the look of suspicion her eyes presented him with each time they met. And so far, Ross had been careful enough to arrange his visits in a manner that made sure she never got a chance to actually ‘talk’ to him.
He felt a bit ashamed of using his own daughter or his niece and nephew as a shield, but it did work. He knew that she was worried about him, and would interrogate him worse than a detective chasing a red hot trail. She might even wiggle the truth out of him, making him wonder whether it would be easier if he simply revealed his true reasons for letting Rachel go and how miserable he actually was by her absence. Nah. That would have led to even more questions and pity, he decided.
But he had still held hopes. Even after letting her go. Hopes which had crashed and burned soon thereafter.
Somehow her plane would get cancelled or grounded. (Which was ridiculous seeing that a thing like this would hardly change her plans.)
:- He had to put a cross on it when Rachel messaged him of her very timely arrival in Paris.
Her position would be already filled
:- The first time Rachel called him, he had actually thought that was the case, because she had called much sooner than he had expected. Turned out, the company had actually taken care of everything that she had needed and she didn’t have to worry about anything at all. Great!).
So even that went down the drain by the end of Day 1.
Eventually she wouldn’t be happy there. Or would suddenly realise that she couldn’t be happy without him.
:- He had crossed his fingers on that one after hearing her somewhat negative messages in the first week. But as it turned out, things had only gotten better, and now even the last of his hopes were fading fast. Not to mention the burning guilt he felt for harbouing such hopes in the first place. The only thing which seemed positive in all this mess was the joy Rachel had been emanating, sounding really happy with the way things had turned out.
Yet, he failed every time he tried to put a cross on Scenario 3.
* * *
“Thank you Claire, that’ll be all” Rachel told her maid, who had just finished cleaning the living room. She was glad to have finally found a maid who was not only quite fluent in English but also did her job pretty well. Though Rachel was taking French lessons from her colleagues, she could hardly ever establish a proper conversation. And even then it didn’t go beyond a list of formal questions.
In short, she had only just began to ‘settle in’. And it was only today that she had somehow managed to get to her apartment without either getting lost or taking an extremely long ‘diversion’. To top it all, she had finally succeeded in finding a multi-cuisine restaurant which could cook all of her favourite stuff.
Now, after almost a month of acclimatising, Rachel finally felt ready to accept the responsibility of another person. Her daughter, Emma.
She wondered how Ross would react when he would finally have to let go of his daughter. She agreed that it didn’t seem fair, but it was inevitable all the same. May be she would stay with him over the vacations, she thought, wincing as she did so. She hadn’t even given the slightest consideration to her daughter’s situation while taking such an important decision, had she?
With rising trepidation, she began dialing Ross’s number, her mind laden with guilt. To her surprise though, her call was picked up almost instantaneously, almost as if he had been expecting her.
“Hello?” she asked, after hearing nothing but undecipherable whispering for a while.
“Momma?” came a small high pitched voice, explaining the whispering. Ross had put Emma on the line to greet her. How sweet, she thought.
“Hello sweetie! Yeah it’s your mommy!” she replied, her voice brimming with love for her child.
“I miss you.” came Emma’s voice. Though the words sounded cute, the sadness inside them could’ve moved mountains.
“Oh… ” was all Rachel managed, before she suddenly broke into a sob, unable to believe the words coming from her daughter’s mouth. Tears streaked down her cheeks as she was overcome by happiness and pride for her daughter, coupled with the anguish of not seeing her for almost an entire month.
“You heard that, Ross?!” she asked, rather foolishly seeing that Ross was seated right beside Emma.
“Yeah” Ross said, smiling as he held his daughter in his hands and bend a bit forwards to speak on the phone, which was currently on speaker mode. “She started joining words a few days after you left, although this is the only sentence which makes complete sense.” the pride obvious in his voice as well.
Rachel, beaming on hearing that, replied
“I miss you too honey. Momma will see you very soon. That’s a promise. Okay?”
“Okay” Emma replied, looking at the device with confusion. Although she still didn’t understand how a phone worked, she would always head towards it when it rang, often disappointed when Ross won’t let her talk. Or when it wasn’t Rachel.
“Very soon?” Ross asked, suddenly alarmed. After Rachel’s request for an actual conversation, Ross had slowly shifted from messaging to talking on the phone. It had been easier than what he had expected. Her physical absence obviously meant zero eye contact or exchange of facial expressions. Which made a pretense that much easier.
“Ross, I really miss her and it seems like I’m already out of the loop from her recent developments. I would have tried coming myself, but this job is making me work like hell for six days a week. So I might as well forget any extra holidays. And I know you have your vacations from next week on. Could you please come here for at least a couple of days?” Rachel asked, her voice pleading.
So much for being honest, he thought. Why the hell did he tell her about his leave, when she hadn’t even asked about it?
“Please? I really miss you as well. Paris isn’t much fun to roam about alone. I’ll give you a tour and we’ll have fun. Besides, I haven’t seen any of you in so long!” she added, trying to convince Ross.
Any of you, he mused. That brought him back in the category of ‘Friends’. Ross didn’t think that he could trust himself with actually meeting her. And to add insult to injury, it was going to be in Paris. The perfect romantic destination. The place where he had planned a honeymoon with her all those years ago.
But now, he would be meeting her just as a friend. A friend who had chosen to live a life completely different from his. Could fatebeany more cruel?
“Please?” Ross could just imagine her puppy dog look as she said the word. He had never exactly said no to that look.
“Alright. I’ll inform you with the flight details tomorrow. This coming weekend sounds alright to you?” he asked, resigned.
“Yeah. That would be perfect.”
As Ross put down the receiver, he felt that he had no choice but to put a cross on the last of his hopes.
* * *
“Hey guys!” Ross said, trying to induce enthusiasm in his faded voice as he greeted the gang gathered at Monica and Chandler’s home, or rather the kitchen to be specific.
“Hey Ross!” they greeted in response. As Ross glanced around the room, he realised that he had been the last one to come which was a bit unusual seeing that he mostly made it a point to be punctual.
“He looks bummed out. I wonder why?” whispered Phoebe as he went back into the living room to keep his coat. Joey nodded in agreement. Monica pursed her lips, but before she could say anything, Chandler entered the kitchen, followed shortly by Ross.
“So, what’s up Ross?” Monica asked, intending it to be something more than a conversation starter.
The answer which she got was certainly not something that she could have expected though.
“Nothing much. Unless you count my leaving for Paris, that is!” Ross said, smiling smugly at himself for having dropped it so casually.
What happened next was nothing short of a slow-motion movie clip. Monica dropped her fork as Chandler and Phoebe had their mouths slightly agape while Joey had actually stopped chewing food in the middle of a bite, which had to be some kind of record for him seeing the kind of hardcore foodie he was.
“P..Paris? As in Paris – Paris?” Monica asked.
“Yes! How many ‘Paris’ do you know?” he replied, smirking.
“The Paris where Rachel is right now, Paris?” Phoebe asked.
“Yeah!” Ross said, wondering why was it taking so long to make his friends understand.
“When do you leave?” asked Chandler.
“Tomorrow evening. Rach told me that this weekend would suit her best, so.. ” Ross’s speech was interrupted by the sound of Phoebe’s fork hitting the floor, as she gaped and covered her mouth with her hands in exclamation.
“What?” Ross asked, surprised.
“You said Rach! You called Rachel ‘Rach’! ” she almost shouted, and the raised eyebrows of the rest made it clear that they too had not missed it.
“So?” Ross bit his tongue as he said this, realising that for the past month he had indeed avoided calling Rachel affectionately as Rach for he had been afraid that it would somehow make him more vulnerable. What he had not known was that his friends had been noticing this all along.
“What does this mean?! Are you finally going to convince her to come back?! Or are you gonna stay in Paris yourself?! Or.. ” Phoebe let her imagination run wild, excited by the prospect.
“Pheebs?! What are you talking about?! I’m going to Paris so that Emma gets to stay with her mother for a while. That’s it! I’m gonna drop her off and come back. ” Ross answered before Phoebe could say anything else.
“That’s it?” she asked, her eyes wider than they had been earlier.
“Yeah! I mean, of course I’ll be staying there for a couple of days first!” Ross replied. His feeble attempt at joke however failed spectacularly as an awkward silence spread across in the room, with everyone wanting to point out the obvious.
“And what about you and Rachel?” said Monica, finally asking the question that had been haunting her for the past few weeks.
“What about us?” Ross replied, slightly wincing as he said the word ‘us’. “We are going to keep in touch, obviously.” he stated further. Though his voice was remarkably stable, his body language hinted that he was close to losing it.
The words ‘keep in touch’ had actually been aimed to let others feel that he was unaffected by the current scenario. The effect however had been exactly opposite as it had obviously been quite an overcompensation. And the expressions on everyone’s faces made it clear to Ross that he was now treading on thin ice.
“You are going to ‘KEEP IN TOUCH ?!'” his sister exploded.
“Ross, not only do you have a kid with her, but you also are obviously in love with her and yet you tell me that you are simply going to keep in touch?!” Monica exclaimed, “For God’s sake Ross! Stop lying to yourself for once and…”
He lost it.
“AND WHAT?! Go and make an absolute fool of myself as I tell her that I love her and hear only awkward silence in exchange? Or make myself believe that she would give up the best opportunity her life has ever offered her for me? Or guilt her into doing so by begging for it? I’ve heard her voice over the phone and she sounds really happy, alright?! She’s happy and I’m not going to be the one who snatches it all away from her just because I can’t imagine living my life without her. That’s my problem and I’ll handle it. ” Ross exploded as every bit of restraint he had been holding back for the past month came loose, his facade crashing down. He glared across the room with a brazen look of challenge that nobody dared return, not even Monica.
“Now if you’ll excuse me I have some packing to do for me and my daughter.” he said, and stormed out of the kitchen, not waiting for their reaction.
For a while, the rest could do nothing but look at each other, dumbstruck by Ross’s confession. Monica put her head in her hands and looked at the table, the gravity of her brother’s actions finally settling in. Phoebe and Joey looked like they had just seen someone die. Chandler in the meanwhile had bent down to pick up the fallen forks (Ross’s fell down when he had stood up and burst into flames) and came up with his brand of coping with such situations. Humour.
“Boy, we sure dropped a lot of forks today!”
He was the only one smiling at that.
* * *
‘You guys? You guys?!’ she thought, wondering what the hell had made her add the word ‘guys’ at the last moment. Of course she missed Ross much more than anyone else, the only possible exception being her daughter. Why did she ramble it out then? To convince him to come? And how did that make her feel if it did convince him? Happy? Certainly not.
She had not been blind (or deaf, if it was meant in a literal sense). Of all the people she had been in contact with, it had been Ross who had let out the least of his emotions. Her talks with Monica had been filled with a lot of ‘I miss you’s’, and often ended with a ‘love you’. A similar trend followed on a lesser scale when it came to the rest of her friends.
With Ross though, her talks usually ended up with a ‘I’ll call you tomorrows’ and stuff. Or a significant pause before her ‘I love you’ received a similar response. She was yet to listen to a ‘I miss you’. As ‘Emma misses you a lot’ was the usual response. What did that mean?
Did he really love her the least amongst her friends now?
Or was it the exact opposite?
To her surprise, a sudden surge of hope ran through her body when her mind considered that possibility.
* * *
“Are you going to be alright?” Phoebe asked, as they stood in the parking lot of the airport for the second time in the same month.
Ross had regretted lashing out like the way he had the moment he set his foot outside their home. He had feared that they might even tell Rachel and then everything which he had carefully build in the past month would get reduced to dust. So far however, they had chosen not to say anything, because Rachel had called in only a few hours before and had sounded completely normal. It was only then that he finally responded to Phoebe’s message offering him a ride to the airport. When she came to his apartment, one look at her face made it clear that she was feeling very apprehensive of him. Ashamed, Ross gave her a small smile, which she immediately returned. The conversation there on had been purposefully crafted so as to completely ignore what had happened the previous evening. Right until this moment.
“I guess so… I’m really gonna miss her.” Ross said as he cradled his daughter.
“Oh! Me too!” she replied, caressing and gently kissing Emma, who smiled at her.
“Say bye to Aunt Pheebs.” he said in a baby voice.
“Bye.” she said, waving her hand as well.
Phoebe responded with enthusiasm, tearing a bit towards the end. As he watched the duo, Ross couldn’t help but feel a bit relieved on distracting her. His relief though, was very short lived.
“That was not what I meant, Ross.” she said, in a manner which indicated that she was a little intimidated by his outburst.
Ross let out a sigh.
“I know. And I’m scared. I really am. I mean what if I’m not able to let her go this time? What if it’s too much for me?” he asked, finding himself strangely grateful of the fact that he could finally speak his mind.
“Ross, it doesn’t have to be like this. Because I do believe she still loves you, she just doesn’t.. ” Phoebe said, desperate to try to argue with him.
“Pheebs. We’ve been through this.” Ross replied, a little sternly. Phoebe sighed, giving up.
“If you really love her, then yes. You’ll be able to do this for her. It’ll be like ripping off a bandage. Its gonna sting you bad for a while, but then maybe it won’t hurt anymore.” she said softly, although she strongly suspected that it won’t be the case.
“You think so?” he asked, a bit hopefully. In return Phoebe simply offered him a consoling bear hug in response, which he accepted wholeheartedly.
As Ross parted their hug to make his way towards the glass doors of the terminal, Phoebe couldn’t help but continue staring at his figure receeding in the distance.
“I hope so.” she finally whispered, wishing with all her might that the past couple of months had never happened.