10. Two birds, one stone
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:-
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
Drifting apart (Part 2)
Two birds, one stone
“Hello?” Rachel asked into the phone as she picked up the receiver.
Oh, hey Mon!” she exclaimed, as she recognised the voice on the other end.
Speaking about the other end, Monica was surprised by the cheerful tone that Rachel’s voice had taken.
It had been almost two weeks since Rachel had departed New York, and that too had been in a rather unceremonious way. For she had left the very next morning, booking her ticket at the last minute, her fare almost thrice of what it should’ve been.
To make matters worse though, this time it had been her brother who had not responded to her calls, a thing which oddly enough, did not drive her up the wall, having recently endured the same from another party.
Long story short, it seemed like Ross and Rachel had descended into a phase of stalemate, confessing their love yet doing nothing to improve their current scenario.
“Looks like someone’s feeling cheery today…” Monica stated, in an attempt to find out whether she was missing something.
“Yeah! I’m actually in a pretty good mood today!” Rachel exclaimed, carrying the receiver in the crook of her neck, so as to continue working simultaneously.
‘Well… That’s weird!‘ thought Monica
“Did something happen?” asked Monica, in the midst of a loud clatter on the other end.
“What? Sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Rachel said, her voice pierced yet again by a crackle and a hiss in the background.
“What’s all that noise?” Monica asked, distracted.
“Oh, I’m sautéing vegetables right now.” Rachel clarified as she stirred the contents.
‘What the hell?!’
“You… are cooking?” Monica asked, struck by the absurdity of the statement she was making.
“Yes. Hey! Don’t be so judgemental!” Rachel said, while letting out an awkward chuckle.
“I’m not!” Monica exclaimed, before she realised that she was indeed being one.
“Well, it’s only because it’s YOU Rach. I mean, come on! The last time I’ve seen you cook you landed up with a dish that was nauseating for anyone except Joey. And he really doesn’t count.” she defended.
Rachel let out a laugh, agreeing wholeheartedly.
“Well, what if I were to tell you that I can now cook a perfectly edible pasta and that too without looking in the cookbook?” she challenged playfully.
“Hmm… Seems like something that I’ll have to see and taste first hand before believing it.” Monica replied, smiling herself.
“Sure! Hey! Why don’t you guys come over for Christmas? It’s barely two weeks away!” Rachel asked.
Monica indeed contemplated the possibility for a brief moment before she nodded her head dejectedly.
“Errmm… I don’t know Rach. It would be pretty difficult to manage. And seeing that it’s our first Christmas in our new home, I kinda wanted to spend it here, you know…” she said, her voice trailing awkwardly towards the end.
“Oh. Okay. No problem. A rain check it is then huh?” Rachel asked, the image of the ‘Bing’ household suddenly flashing in her mind, complete with a snow laden Christmas tree and a house, like an ideal Christmas card.
“Yeah. Sure.” Monica replied.
Few seconds passed by, during which neither knew quite what to say, until Monica’s burning curiosity finally made her ask the question which had been bothering her since the very moment they had started this conversation.
“Rach?” she asked.
“Yes?” Rachel replied.
“Have you guys talked after… you know… I mean… you know who I mean by…” Monica said, unable to complete the sentence.
Only a few months prior, their friendship had been so close that they could have talked about any topic in the whole damn world without worrying even the slightest about what the other might think.
It wasn’t the same anymore though. For Monica wasn’t sure that she really knew Rachel anymore.
“Yes, I know. And no, we haven’t talked.” Rachel replied.
“So?… What now?” Monica asked, reflexively.
Turning off the stove, Rachel rested her back against the kitchen counter as she said,
“Honestly… I don’t know, Mon. But what I do know is that I’m glad we finally put it out in the open. That we are finally on the same page. And I’m having a feeling that things can only get better from here.” she concluded, closing her eyes as she did so.
* * *
October 24, the day after the birthday party
“That’s great, son!” Ross exclaimed enthusiastically as the nine year old proudly described his first ever goal at his school soccer championship.
“Thanks Dad!” Ben replied, beaming as he digged into his bowl of spaghetti.
It was one of those rare evenings when Ross was hosting someone in his lavish two bedroom quarters in NYU. The place was a whole lot bigger than his apartment back in the village, making it feel that much more lonelier when he was alone. Hence, Ross would always look forward to having someone to stay over. Also, it was the first time that Ben was visiting him since his promotion, which made the occasion doubly special.
“Dad? Dad?” Ben asked, looking worried.
“Huh?” Ross replied, snapping out of his reverie. Guessing by his son’s look, it appeared as if he had been doing it again. Losing himself in thought.
“Are you alright?” he asked, concerned.
“Yeah, I’m great! Yeah… I’m…” Ross replied, whilst admonishing himself for his lack of attention.
“You know… You don’t have to hide it from me Dad. It’s alright.” Ben said, while giving him a comforting smile.
“Hide? What do you mean?” Ross asked, confused.
“That you are still in love with Aunt Rachel. And you miss her a lot.” Ben replied.
“What? Who told you that?” Ross asked, frowning.
“Mom.” his son answered, shrugging.
“At first she really didn’t want to. But when you didn’t come to watch me score yesterday, I got really upset. So mom was kinda forced to tell me everything.” he continued.
“I’m really sorry, son. I…” Ross replied, feeling deeply ashamed of himself.
‘Why the hell couldn’t he be a good father to atleast one of his kids?!’ Ross thought to himself.
“It’s okay, Dad.” Ben said, holding his hand in comfort.
Touched, Ross was about to protest, before his son continued,
“Mom told me that the reason why you didn’t come to my match was not because you were a lousy dad. But it was because you loved Aunt Rachel that much. And she also said that letting go of a person whom you love is the hardest thing that anyone can ever do.” he said, sounding much more older than the tender age he belonged to.
“I…” Ross began, but was unable to complete his sentence as his throat was caught up with the tears he was fighting hard to control.
“I don’t get it, though.” Ben said, after a few moments of silence.
“What?” Ross asked, a little of his voice now returning, though it sounded much more like a hoarse whisper.
“I mean, why should anyone have to let go of the one they love?” he asked, rather innocently.
“It’s not that simple, Ben.” Ross replied, his lips cracking into a small smile.
“Why not?” Ben asked, not quite seeing it.
“Because there are…. other things, Ben. Responsibilities. Committments. You are too small to understand it, son.” Ross replied, patting his son empathically.
And that was when Ben asked the question which had been bothering him ever since he had found out.
“Am I the responsibility here, Dad?” he asked, tensed.
“No! No! Don’t say that! You are my son! And I love you. I really do.” Ross replied, rather hurriedly. Although it was indeed true in a way, a fresh new wave of guilt had washed over his face on hearing his son say it.
And apparently, his son had caught on to it.
“I get it. So I am the reason why you didn’t go with Aunt Rachel to Paris.” he said, nodding dejectedly.
“No, Ben! That’s not the reason at all!” Ross exclaimed, alarmed.
‘Not even close’ he thought to himself.
“Dad, please don’t let me be the one stopping you. I don’t want you to suffer because of me.” Ben said, sounding close to tears now.
“Ben, that’s so sweet. But really, that’s not the case, my child.” Ross replied, rising from his chair to give him a one armed hug.
“Really?” he asked, his eyes brightening.
“Yup.” Ross replied, giving him an uplifting smile.
“But really, Dad, even if you do go to Paris one day… It’ll be okay. I mean, I have my mom. I have aunt Susan, aunt Monica and uncle Chandler. You don’t have to stay here just because of me. I… I’ll let you go.” Ben said, his voice making it clear that he had indeed given it a lot of thought.
Ross, who was going to comfort his son otherwise, stopped himself from saying the words as he considered his son’s thoughts. To be honest, he had been really worried about how his son would react if he did do the same. As it is, he hadn’t been an exemplary father to his son anyways. And that always bothered him. Always.
“Really? You would do that for me?” Ross asked, feeling a sense of pride for his child like never before.
“Of course.” Ben replied, smiling and nodding his head.
“That’s… well.. Thanks a lot, son.” Ross said, kissing Ben’s forehead.
God, he had been blessed, Ross thought as he still held Ben with his left arm.
“And anytime that I miss you, I could always come over, right?” Ben asked, breaking the silence yet again.
“Yeah, of course!” Ross replied, beaming.
“Cool! I’ll get to see Paris! Aunt Pheebs has been telling me that the time in Paris works differently than in New York! She says that I could grow old faster there!” Ben exclaimed in excitement.
“You sure would!” Ross replied, laughing his first true laugh of the day as they resumed their meal, the mood returning to it’s usual innocent banter.
* * *
The alarm clock
The digital clock on the bedside table began it’s daily ritual of beeping it’s owner awake as it proclaimed ‘6AM’ on it’s red LED display. Today however, that hadn’t been necessary for Ross had lain awake since a long time, simply waiting for it to beep.
As if on cue, Ross’s hand swiftly silenced the alarm and stretched himself in the bed, eager for the day to begin. It was not like that the day held anything promising to look forward to. For it was just the longing of getting out of the bed and marking the end of yet another restless, sleepless night.
Looking at the window, which had only just begun to show hints of pink and orange near the horizon, Ross reflected on his conversation with his son yet again. At just the tender age of nine, Ben had exhibited a level of maturity and sacrifice which many even twice his age failed to achieve. Boy was he proud to call himself his father.
The conversation, however, had also served yet another purpose. It had effectively set him free. Ever since that day, Ross had felt almost as if a huge burden had been lifted off his chest. Although, truthfully speaking, there was nothing that he could actually do about it.
Sighing, Ross got up and headed to the kitchen to make some coffee for himself. In the process, he switched on his laptop, to check his morning mail, as had been his routine ever since he had become HOD of the history department.
And sure enough, as Ross settled himself on the couch with a hot cup of espresso, there were many awaiting his attention. Fortunately, only two of them were marked as ‘Important’.
The first mail belonged to the agency which had granted Ross a research grant a year ago. A grant for which he had had to effectively sacrifice his girlfriend back then. As Ross continued to read it’s contents, his frown grew more and more pronounced. For his grant amount, a whopping six figure, was threatened to lapse if he didn’t put it to use within the next three months.
Great. That was exactly what he had wanted. Adding more fuel in the fire which was already rampant.
Disturbed, Ross moved on to the next mail which was a newsletter from the Paleontology Society, informing about the latest excavation undertaken by the CNRS and the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in the Audoin quarries. Basically, the mail was meant for recruiting expert Paleontologists across the world, albeit it was supposed to be at their own costs.
Intrigued, Ross blinked twice at the screen, as though making sure that what he was viewing was true. Apparently, it was. For the content remained unchanged.
Heart racing, Ross stared hard at the computer screen, the gears of his brain finally groaning into action as the caffeine kicked in.
Could he possibly kill two birds with a single stone?
* * *
The Christmas Card
Exhausted by her efforts, Rachel settled herself on the couch and idly gazed at the magazine which she had grabbed along with her ‘groceries’ from the nearest supermarket. Two containers of take away food littered the table, waiting to be dispatched into the bin.
As much as she had bragged to Monica about cooking her own meal, it was indeed something which had proved rather difficult to master. So far, she had barely managed to cook a few varieties of pastas and salads, which too hardly ever went well. Apart from that, however, she had become pretty self-sufficient, a skill which you do learn when you are on your own for so long. Especially when there’s a toddler around.
Rachel flipped the page of the magazine, to reveal the image of a fabulous, polished wooden interiors of a living room. She imagined having it in her own home, the varnish glistening even better in the dimmed lights studded within the false ceiling, creating a rich, soothing ambience. Yet, she knew that it could never quite sooth her. For she knew exactly what would still be missing.
The Christmas card flashed yet again in front of her eyes, exactly the way as it had been doing almost every other minute since her conversation with Monica earlier in the morning. The card which displayed Monica and Chandler engaged in a furious snow fight, supported by their kids Jack and Erica, who were a couple of over-energetic five year olds in her mind.
Sam had been right to say that a house gave a sense of freedom and the sense of a new beginning. But, she had evidently missed out on something much more important.
It didn’t make that place home.
Rachel gently folded the magazine and laid it aside, her eyes now focusing on the landline. Truth be told, the reason why she hadn’t contacted Ross was because she was afraid that he wouldn’t want to talk to her. So she thought it would better if they got some space. Because she didn’t want their emotions to get better of themselves as they always did.
It had been two weeks however. So today definitely seemed like a good time to try.
And hence, after crossing her fingers Rachel began dialing Ross’s number, tapping her feet in apprehension.
* * *
Ross had only just finished filing the application, when he heard his phone ring. Irked, he headed to receive it. His irritation, however, changed into amusement when he looked at the caller ID.
Impeccable timing he thought as he picked up the mouthpiece. He didn’t know why, but he wanted Rachel to speak first. And apparently, so did she. For the silence seemed to stretch for a few really long seconds.
Finally, it was Rachel who caved.
“Hello?” she asked, a bit anxiously.
“Hey.” he replied, in reassurance.
The notorious pause resumed it’s realm yet again as they both found themselves lacking the words necessarily to express their thoughts.
“So how’s things?” Rachel asked, trying yet again.
Ross let out a chuckle at her attempt to make normal conversation. It was endearing, yet… pointless. Nevertheless, he decided to get along with it.
“Pretty great, actually. Emma does liven up the space here. It’s been comforting to have her around.”
“Yeah. She does.” Rachel replied, smiling at the memory of her daughter. “Is she awake?”
“I’m afraid not. It’s just past seven here after all.” said Ross, absently gazing towards the bedroom where she lay sleeping peacefully.
“Oh. Right.” Rachel replied, disappointment obvious in her voice. “Well, give her my love.”
“Sure. Will do.” Ross said, nodding. After another awkward silence, Ross continued,
“By the way, speaking about things, you remember that grant I had received last year?”
“Yeah. Vividly.” Rachel replied, smirking, as she recollected the drama behind it.
“What about it?” she asked.
“Well, guess what? I just filed in an application for the grant to be used on a six month field research in Audoin quarries.” Ross replied, sounding smug.
“Oh… Good for you!” came Rachel’s response, nonplussed.
Ross smiled fondly at her reply.
Typical Rachel, he thought. If only she knew where the Audoin quarries were located, her reaction would’ve been very different.
“The CNRS and FNHM are organising it and it promises to uncover a few amongst the greatest dinosaur fossils ever known to mankind!” he said, sounding excited at the prospect.
“That’s great news.” Rachel replied, although her voice lacked that very element, sounding more on the lines of clueless.
“Errm… so that’s me. How have you been?” Ross asked.
“I’ve been… pretty good too.” she replied, her voice faltering a bit. “In fact, I had just been looking through various interior designs, thinking which would suit the new house.”
“Oh yeah! That must’ve kept you busy, right?” Ross said, intrigued.
“Yeah. Pretty much.” Rachel replied, shrugging.
As both the parties seemed at a loss of what to say, it was Ross who finally decided to face the elephant in the room.
“Rach? Are we just going to pretend as though nothing ever happened? Because if we do that, then it’ll be..” he began. But before he could conclude, Rachel chimed in, taking him by surprise.
“It’ll be just like us?”
“Yes.” Ross replied, gratefully.
“I’m sorry, Ross. I really am. I know I shouldn’t have left like that. And I am not refering to me leaving two weeks ago, you know. I mean like ‘leaving’ leaving.” Rachel said, the words streaming faster with every syllable she spoke.
“It’s okay.” Ross replied. “I’m sorry, too.”
“No, it’s not okay, Ross! It’s so not!” Rachel said heatedly, springing up to her feet.
“We’ve lost the chance of becoming a family, Ross! Doesn’t that bother you even a little bit?” she asked, tears springing to her eyes.
“In about six months time, I’ll be having a house. But I won’t be having a home.” she said, letting out a sob as she finally voiced her fears aloud.
Hearing Rachel say those words resolved whatever doubts that Ross had about what he had planned next.
“We may not have completely lost the chance, Rach.” he said, his voice sober.
“What do you mean?” Rachel asked, surprised.
“Do you know exactly where the Audoin quarries are located?” he asked.
“No.” she replied, not quite getting how it was related to their current conversation.
“They are close to the town of Angeac in Charente.”
‘Charente… why did the name sound so familiar?’ Rachel thought.
Sensing that Rachel was still at sea, Ross continued.
“Charente comes in Southwestern France, about a five hour drive from Paris.”
‘Oh! So that was why!’
Rachel remembered seeing the name vaguely on the map of France, something which she had enthusiastically bought in her first week in Paris, yet hardly ever spared the time to actually study it.
“Does that mean…” she asked, the implications finally dawning on to her.
“It’ll only be for six months. And I’ll hardly ever get to be in Paris. But still…” Ross said.
“It’s a start.” said Rachel, finishing the sentence for him yet again.
“Yeah. It’s a start.” he replied, nodding in agreement.
“So when will you be coming?” Rachel asked, her voice finally flickering with excitement.
“Errmm… I don’t know. Could take a month I suppose. The application has to go through various departments and several other formalities before it’s approved and I actually get to pack my bags.” he said.
“Oh.” Rachel replied, her shoulders slumping in disappointment.
“What happened?” Ross asked, sensing her off-beat tone.
“Seems like I’ll be spending Christmas alone after all.” she said, sounding bitter.
Only now did she realise that it was going to be the first Christmas which she would be spending alone. She had never been alone at this time of the year. It had always been either friends or family. This time neither her New York friends nor her Paris ones would be with her as all would be engaged in enjoying the festivities with their families.
Guess I have to pay the price after all, she thought, believing that she indeed deserved the loneliness.
“Maybe not.” came Ross’s voice from the other end while she wallowed in self pity.
“Really?!” Rachel asked, beaming as only a child would.
“Hey! It’s a maybe. For I’ll have a lot of on my hands now, what with appointing an ad-hoc HOD and stuff. So don’t get carried away.” he chided, smiling as he did so.
“I won’t.” Rachel promised, although she knew it was one which she wouldn’t be able to keep.
Just then, Ross’s doorbell rang, ending their moment and the blissful peace that had finally settled on both sides.
“Guess I gotta go. See you soon.” Ross replied, only half mocking as he did so.
“Alright. Love you.” Rachel said, smirking.
“Love you too.” Ross replied.
It was the first time after a really long time that they meant it in the exact same sense.
As Rachel kept down the receiver, the Christmas card flashed in front of her eyes yet again. Only this time it was she and Ross snowfighting, while Emma threw snow randomly in turns, laughing as they hit their target spectacularly.
She knew she was taking it too far. She knew that they had a lot to talk about and a lot to go through before any of that could become a reality.
It was a start.
Fact file:- Audoin quarries in Angeac, Charente is a very real excavation site in Southwest France from where the coordinated efforts of CNRS and French National History Museum unearthed one of the richest collections of dinosaur fossils in France. The only glitch here is that the excavation began in 2010, and I don’t know whether any Americans were involved. So yeah, that part is just me.
Plus I don’t know how the grants are actually used. So excuse me if there are any obvious flaws over there.
So that’s it! Stay tuned! 🙂
Oh and BTW, I would really appreciate some feedback on this story. Then be it in any form, appreciative or critical. For now we have arrived at a very critical juncture of this Novella.