Note:- This post is the 11th update of my first attempt at writing a novel named ‘Choices and Consequences’. You can find the link to my earlier updates right below:-
1. Letting Go
2. One week later
Paris (Part 2)
5. Turning point
6. At Crossroads: Ross
At Crossroads: Ross (Part 2)
7. At Crossroads: Rachel
At Crossroads: Rachel (Part 2)
8. Drifting apart
November 24, Present day
A loud reverberated sigh was heard throughout the living room as Rachel continued to stare outside the window into the darkness that lay beyond. Leaning on the window sill she stood, a glass of wine in hand, her eyes devoid of any expression in particular.
Never in her life had she felt so drained as much as she did right now, at that particular moment. Drained, not just physically but also emotionally, the latter responsible for the former. And just when she thought that things couldn’t get any worse, she found herself drained of yet another thing.
“Damn it!” Rachel whispered to herself as she tilted the bottle upside down only to discover that it didn’t have even a single drop to offer.
In despair, she passed a look inside the room, her eyes landing on a solitary document that lay on the table. Ideally it should’ve cheered her up, for that piece of paper was a proof of her biggest achievement till date.
Strangely though, darkness was all that she could feel.
* * *
Few hours before…
“I need your signature over here..” the realtor said, as he handed over the papers to Rachel after they had discussed and finalized the contract.
Nodding, Rachel leaned over the papers as she accepted the pen handed to her by Samantha, who could barely contain her excitement.
“And here..” he said yet again, flipping the pages as he did so.
“And… let’s see…” he said, scrutinizing the document once Rachel had obliged. “Oh yeah, one last sign over here.” he exclaimed, marking the spot.
“Thank you.” he said, taking a copy of the document and putting it into his case once he was sure that it had been completely signed.
” Now, in about six months, depending on the sanctioning of the loan and other legalities, this house will be all yours!” Raphael said, extending his hand for a formal handshake.
“Yay!” Sam exclaimed, her voice exuding just enough enthusiasm to make up for the person beside who had only come up with a weak smile and a ‘That’s good to know’ whilst accepting the handshake.
“Won’t you like a drink before you leave?” Rachel asked, more out of politeness than anything as he stood up to take leave.
“Not today. Thank you for the offer though!” Raphael replied, smiling politely before turning around and taking his leave.
As soon as the door shut behind him, Sam’s expression changed quickly from fake enthusiasm to naked curiousity
“Huh.” she said, as she glanced inquisitively at Rachel.
“What?” Rachel asked, feeling Sam’s glare upon her.
“For a woman who has just gotten a house under her belt, you sure don’t look that happy. I mean, hasn’t it been like a dream come true for you? ” Sam stated, her eyes demanding an explanation.
“I…” Rachel trailed, unable to continue as she found herself cursing Sam for being so ‘spot on’.
Ever since she had made the decision of buying a house, Rachel had actively decreased contact with Monica. It wasn’t like she didn’t talk to her, but it was more like she didn’t ‘talk’. Meaning that their conversations had developed a formal, reserved tone much reminiscent of the time more than a decade ago when she and Monica had drifted apart.
And slowly but surely, Sam had gradually taken Monica’s place over the months that followed. Though the two were different in almost every several aspect, they did have one thing in common.
Their love and concern for a woman named Rachel Karen Green.
“C’mon Rach, it’ll be alright.” Sam said, rubbing Rachel’s arm as she did so.
Rachel, who had been barely paying attention to her friend, nodded her head in denial as she said,
“I’m leaving for New York tomorrow.”
A brief pause grated her words as Sam digested this new piece of information.
“Leaving?! As in…” she asked, sounding both confused and upset.
“Just for two days. I’ll be back by Monday. Without Ems.” Rachel said, blinking back tears as she did so.
“Oh.” Sam replied, her voice losing it’s upbeat charm.
“Well, think about it this way. Emma will finally get to see her father again!” she exclaimed, trying to give a positive spin to the situation.
“Honestly, it’s not like she hasn’t seen him recently.” Rachel replied, a sad smile playing on her lips.
Sam winced as she realised what Rachel was talking about. The video chat on Emma’s second birthday.
Mildly put, the function had quickly spiralled into the most depressing birthday party she had ever been to. And to add insult to injury it had been her idea that had caused the disaster, although truth be told she wasn’t to blame at all.
* * *
The birthday party
Emma’s birthday party
“Aww! Look, look what aunt Sam has bought for you! Say thank you!” Rachel exclaimed to her two year old as Sam unwrapped her birthday present.
“Hey! Aren’t we supposed to cut the cake before opening any presents?” their colleague Jean asked, annoyed.
Murmurs of assent greeted his statement as he had voiced the thoughts of several of their co-workers.
“Oh, as though you care! You just want to eat the cake.” Rachel exclaimed, making everyone laugh.
It was a cheerful occasion, with everyone in Rachel’s department joining in to celebrate the birthday of their colleague’s adorable daughter. In all, there were around two dozen people present, including a few kids around Emma’s age being either Rachel’s co-workers’ kids or Emma’s playdates from the daycare.
Though the turnout was much larger in comparison to the last time, Rachel really couldn’t have cared less if nobody had shown up, with the possible exception of Sam. Because all the people whom she did care about hadn’t been able to make it, and she felt responsible for the same. For she had been the one telling her friends and parents that she was extremely caught up in work and hence couldn’t make it to New York in time for her daughter’s birthday. When the truth was that she simply couldn’t face her friends.
Even then Rachel had hoped that atleast he would be able to make it. Alas, though. He couldn’t. Because Ross’s promotion was keeping him locked inside his cabin for long hours and the time that did remain had to be dedicated to the formalities that accompanied the job such as guest presence and the occasional lectures.
Rachel barely had time to ponder on that though. For Sam had finished setting up the ‘present’, with it’s screen now displaying ‘Skype’.
“Ta-dah!” Sam exclaimed, the expressions of glee and pride plastered on her face.
“So how does this work?” Rachel asked, intrigued. For this had been Sam’s idea as an ideal birthday gift to Emma. It wasn’t the laptop itself. Rather, it was going to be a live video conference with her father.
“Pretty simple, actually. Once both the laptops have the application set up and running, it’s just the matter of…” Sam ranted as she explained the concept to Rachel.
“What are you doing?” Samantha asked as Rachel turned to pick up the receiver of her landline.
“Calling Ross to tell him to turn on his Skype.” she replied, to which Sam rolled her eyes.
“I can check that here!” she explained. “And.. yup. Daddy is connected. Time to make the call!”
Rachel waited with bated breath as Sam made the call, waiting for Ross to receive it on the other end. And to her joy, she didn’t have to wait for long.
“Daddy!” Emma practically shouted as Ross’s image appeared on the screen.
“Happy birthday, Sweetheart!” Ross exclaimed his eyes filled with joy and love upon seeing his daughter for the first time in four months.
“Daddy!” Emma exclaimed again, hitting the screen as she tried to figure out a way to hug him.
Smiling, Rachel took her daughter in her arms and settled herself on the chair in front of the screen so that she could restrain Emma while also allowing her to see her father.
And that was when their eyes met. Though they seemed to express a torrent of emotions, the occasion demanded that they shut them away and celebrate the bundle of joy they had created together.
Emma, who had been fidgeting only moments earlier stopped immediately when she noticed her dad was waving at her. Her face immediately split into a smile and she redid the same with all the enthusiasm a child possessed.
“Aww…” was the sound which escaped from almost everyone’s lips as they witnessed the innocent interaction.
Tears filled Rachel’s eyes, which was something that had grown very uncommon over the months. Yes, Emma was indeed daddy’s girl, she thought, reveling in their father-daughter moment. Ross had almost always managed to console her when she had failed. Yet, Emma needed her mother more… Right? Or was it something which they had decided arbitrarily?
Rachel’s trance was broken by a grumbling sound coming from her right. As everyone laughed, she realised that it had been Jean’s stomach. Rachel chuckled, the guy’s fondness for food reminding her a little too much of Joey. And by extension, of New York.
“Let’s cut the cake before Jean has it all by himself!” Paul exclaimed, smirking.
“Yeah.” Rachel replied, smiling. Her colleagues were indeed good chaps. Because, though everyone else in this room could comprehend and respond in fluid French, they had restricted themselves to English for her advantage and comfort. And it was something which she truly appreciated.
A joyous chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ rang through the room as Rachel took Emma’s tiny palm in hers to cut the cake in unison. Whoops and cheers echoed were followed by ‘Aww’s’ as Emma’s lips were lathered pink with the frosting, making her appear even more cuter than before.
On the other end, Ross was cheering and singing along in his office. Though he had joined in virtually, his heart ached with the knowledge that he couldn’t actually hug his daughter on her special day, or give her the gift she very much deserved. Yet, getting to see her live had indeed been precious. It was a moment which had been too good to last. Fir as soon as the cake was cut, his PS made her appearance on the other side of the wooden doors. Knocking, she asked for his attention. Ross let her in, mouthing that he was busy, upon which she replied with an ‘It’s urgent’, her expressions sincerely apologetic.
Sighing, he accepted and opened the envelope which she had handed.
On passing a brief glance at the letterhead, Ross’s joy evaporated almost instantly. For the notice was from the Dean himself and the matter required his immediate presence to be resolved. He had no choice. He had to say goodbye to his daughter. Again.
“What’s the matter?” Rachel asked, as she watched the exchange on the other side.
“I… gotta go.” Ross replied, his voice heavy.
“Now?! But we’ve only just started! There’s presents to be opened… And, Emma hasn’t even talked to you yet!” Rachel pleaded.
“Emma wants to talk!” their daughter chimed in, her lips turning into a pout.
Stopping himself from breaking down was all Ross could do as he met eyes with Rachel, his eyes reflecting a mixture of pride and deep sorrow for their daughter, whose eyes he didn’t dare meet.
Understanding the pain and urgency in his big, brown eyes, Rachel nodded slowly in assertion.
“Believe me Rach… I’m sorry.” Ross whispered to her before he turned to Emma, saying,
At first, Emma didn’t realize that Ross was leaving her. For she thought it was just a game. Of peek a boo, maybe. But when Ross finally ended the video chat, that was when things begun to get a little complicated.
In the meanwhile, the guests had slowly dispersed and begun to entertain themselves, getting into the groove of the party. So it was quite sometime before people started noticing that something was wrong.
“Daddy!” Emma wailed at the screen which had suddenly turned blank.
“Daddy’ll be back soon, sweetheart.” Rachel gently replied, fondling her face in consolation.
“No! Emma want Daddy now!” she replied, her voice only increasing in pitch.
Sam stared sadly at Rachel who was failing miserably at pacifying her daughter,her cry finally attracting the attention of everyone present.
Rachel couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Help me…” she said, weakly to Sam, on the verge of breaking down herself.
“How about we start opening presents?” Sam said, chattering excitedly, to grab Emma’s attention. “Oh look what this is!” she exclaimed, ripping open a present.
“It’s a Teddy bear!” she exclaimed, waving it in her hand.
Emma, who had quietened momentarily, resumed crying yet again.
“DADDY!” she shouted, not even looking at it.
Nevertheless, Sam decided to give it another try. That however, turned out to be a mistake.
“Hi, Emma! I’m Mr. Teddy! I’m here to wish you a Happy birth…” Sam said, whilst hiding her face behind the bear and moving it’s arms in rhythm. But before ‘teddy’ could finish wishing her, it had been snatched and thrown away by a furious Emma.
“Emma!” Rachel exclaimed, shocked by her daughter’s behaviour. Emma had always been a peaceful child and though she could be quite difficult at times, she had never thrown a tantrum before.
Sam, though taken aback recovered quickly enough and begun searching for another present, anything that could pacify Emma. Rachel followed suit, her mind thrown into overdrive by Emma’s outburst. Many of the guests joined in as well, feeling sorry for both the daughter as well as her mother.
All of it was to no avail though, for Emma threw away every toy that was offered, crying and screaming for her father, until her eyes turned red and her voice hoarse.
Because the one thing that could console her was also about the only thing they couldn’t offer.
* * *
“Her outburst still haunts me sometimes” Rachel revealed, her cracked voice resembling an eerie whisper.
“Me too.” Sam replied, shaken.
Her reply was greeted by a moment of deathly silence which was broken by Rachel who opened the second bottle of wine and generously filled their glasses.
“So what happened afterwards?” Sam asked, as she picked her glass from the table.
“Huh? What do you mean?” Rachel asked, nonplussed.
“That day, when Ross called you again. You really didn’t tell me the details.” Sam said, looking suspiciously at her friend.
Sighing, Rachel purposefully took her time with the wine, gulping it slowly as she crafted a response.
“We agreed that it was in the best interests of our daughter if we met.” she finally replied, before reaching out for the bottle to help herself with yet another dose of the red liquid.
Slightly alarmed at the rate Rachel was having her wine, Sam knew that whatever had passed wasn’t likely to be good. Nevertheless, she decided to prod her further.
“That’s it?” she asked skeptically.
“Uh huh” Rachel replied, already halfway through her glass.
Sam looked at her for a solid minute before she said,
“Parting with Emma’s not the only reason you are dreading to go to New York, right?”
This time there was no mistaking it. For Rachel had immediately lowered her gaze to avoid meeting eyes with Sam.
“What else could there be?” she asked, frowning as she did so.
“C’mon Rach, atleast don’t lie to me! You still love him, don’t you?” Sam asked, keeping her glass back on the table.
Rachel, who had not been expecting such a direct confrontation from her, flinched a little on hearing it.
“I…” she trailed.
“It could be the only explanation for why you keep pushing guys away using whatever excuse you have at hand.” Sam said, her gaze triumphant.
Rachel chose not to respond, pouring her more wine instead.
“And, I see it in your eyes, Rach. That’s why you were so divided about buying the house. Because, somewhere deep inside, you still see a silver lining there.” Sam continued, as she accepted the helping.
Rachel sighed, keeping her glass back on the table. Although she really didn’t want to talk about it, she got the feeling that she had no choice now.
“Honestly, Sam, when it comes to me and Ross, there’s always going to be a silver lining.” she said, her mind reflecting on the last proper conversation she had had with Ross almost a month ago.