Chandler Bing was the only one not having fun.
Maybe he wasn't drunk enough or everybody else in the room was delaying the inevitability of what was coming ahead. How come he couldn't do just that?
Because his best friend was an engaged man and about to go to graduate school.
Because he got into college thinking it would be better than an all-male boarding school, and it turned out it wasn't.
Mostly because, starting from this day, he would go from "Chandler Bing: IT major, Senior" to "Chandler Bing: Unemployed, unmotivated, does absolutely nothing with his life."
College, in many ways, wasn't the experience he hoped for. But he had made some friends, he had a roommate-turned-best friend, he was even in a band. That was still something. It was a safety bubble and now he was losing the semblance of identity he had formed in the last four years.
They were moving on, there was no band anymore, everyone seemed to have a plan.
It had dawned on him in the morning, while he was getting ready for the reception, alone in his mother's empty penthouse―waiting for her to call and announce that she couldn't make it―he was stuck there. Ross was going to get married in the summer and move in with Carol. Ross's sister, who had become one of his best friends, or one of his better friends at least, would have no reason to hang out with him anymore. Gandalf, Howard, Bernie and everyone else at NYU would move on, and there he was. In a house he hated, with nowhere else to go.
He couldn't skip the graduation ceremony, it was mandatory. He had a front-row view of the tossing of caps and hugging of professors, looking at all those smiling faces, happily celebrating with their friends and family beaming with pride. The pompousness of the celebrations made him feel out of step, weirdly dissociated from this whole day, and possibly, he feared, the rest of his days.
Ross's parents were there, of course. He had never seen two parents as proud and happy as the Gellers were. Cheering their son's name, hugging and embracing him, constantly filming and taking pictures of every moment.
He decided to stay for the reception NYU had thrown in honor of the Class of 91'. It was something to do, and admittedly, the luncheon had the best shrimp cocktail in the free world.
He found Monica standing by the buffet, picking and choosing meticulously what to put on her plate. He took comfort in the fact he wasn't the only one avoiding the Jubilee of Ross.
About two years earlier, Monica had started to visit Ross at NYU regularly after moving to the City. Chandler could still remember the night he found Monica at the door of their room and let her in with the implicit pact of never bringing up the Toe Incident of 1988, that strange Thanksgiving night at the Gellers that ended one of his most awkward attempts at flirting in him losing the tip of his toe after she accidentally dropped a knife on his foot.
Naturally, none of them had wanted to bring up that memory again, until a guy passed by their dorm and called Chandler 'Sir Limps A Lot', making the conversation inevitable. She had apologized again, without further explanation for her strange behavior on that night, and as compensation, offered to divulge Ross's high school nickname. Chandler, inevitably, jumped on the opportunity, and since then, never failed to bring up the 'Wet Pants Geller' story with his roommate at any given chance.
Over time, they became friends, bonding over Ross's extravagant―and exponentially more ridiculous with time―romantic gestures for Carol and exchanging high-school war stories.
They kept in touch mostly from then on through Ross: Engagement party, birthdays, holidays.
"To life after college." She raised her drink in a toast and Chandler dejectedly clinked his glass with hers. "Wow, you actually manage to be even grumpier at a graduation party," she added.
"I'm not grumpy, I'm realistic. I'm the only one here with no plan. I can already feel the emotional paralysis taking over my body."
"Chandler, everyone here is freaked out and unsure about the future."
He snorted. "Not Ross."
"Ross is an exception."
"You were perfectly happy at your graduation, you had a job lined up and a place to live."
Monica put down her drink and held her hands. "I got lucky, ok? But I was still scared. It's a good kind of scared. You need to relax, maybe go out to celebrate."
"Really? Relaxation lessons from you?" Chandler sneered. "May I remind you, on your graduation day, you went to the discount store and picked up a new set of fitted sheets. You sure know how to celebrate."
"Yeah, but the store was having a kickass sale and the bedding was 75 percent off," Monica said, dreamily reminiscing. "Now, that's my kind of party."
Chandler smiled when a familiar voice hit the air.
"Bing, you're here!"
He turned his head to find Mike "Gandalf" Ganderson, Howie Blum and Bernie Spellman walking towards him. Monica picked up her drink, squeezed his shoulder with a smile and congratulated him before leaving.
"I was looking for you. Are you ready to partaaaay?"
Chandler groaned inwardly. He wasn't in the mood. Gandalf's entertainment wizardry only reminded him that the good times of college parties and recklessness were truly over.
"Look, this party is lame, it's for the parents, we'll have another one later on. Come by the bar, and get your passport ready," Gandalf said with a wink before noticing Chandler's distraught expression. "What's with you, man?"
Chandler sighed, rubbing a hand across his neck. "I don't know, I don't feel like partying, it's over, Gandalf. College is over."
"Only if you want it to be."
He looked at Gandalf with narrowed eyes. "I don't think it's up to me."
"Just re-enroll. I'm taking a feminism class, Women's studies. Two words for you: Freshmen. Girls."
Chandler cringed. Sure, he was stuck in life, but he had no intention to be stuck in college forever, like a ghost with unfinished business who couldn't pass onto the next world.
His attention switched to Carol, who joined Ross. He hadn't talked to Ross all day. Sure, it was a special day, his family was here, his fiancée too. And Chandler had neither of those, but he feared this would become the new normal.
Gandalf noticed Chandler staring at the couple. "As you can imagine, I lost quite a lot of friends and girlfriends to graduation. Ross was smart to marry one of them. And you're even smarter not to tie yourself up to anyone. You can hang out again in bars and freshmen girls will throw themselves at you."
Chandler's main preoccupation on graduation day wasn't college parties or freshmen girls, he was on the verge of losing the few friends he had made. Gandalf to college parties, Ross to his fiancée, and by extension, Monica too. She lived in the city but he figured once her brother graduated, she wouldn't have a reason to hang out with him. Chandler always felt his friends were only his friends by convenience. Maybe they liked him, but no one had gone out of their way to be friends with him. Except for Ross, and he would become a married man in a few weeks.
He turned in early, the Gellers had gone home, Gandalf and his party squad were out to celebrate. He entered his mother's townhouse in the Upper East Side, took a beer out the fridge and slumped on the couch. He pushed the button of his answering machine.
"Hey honey, I'm sorry I couldn't be there, but I told Ross to take pictures."
Chandler sighed. He never quite understood the relationship and seeming affection his mother had for his best friend. At first, the fact she took an interest in his circle of friends was a pleasant surprise but now, he was left with a lingering feeling of discomfort anytime she mentioned him.
As alluring as Gandalf's way of life was, graduating from college once in a lifetime was enough.
Chandler Bing was never a fan of holidays.
It was no secret that Thanksgiving was like a bad practical joke to him. It extended to Christmas, a whole month designed to remind lonely people like him of just how lonely they were. And every other holiday after that, whether a product of religion or corporations, from New Year's Eve to Valentine's Day, seemed to be around shoving onto people's faces the two things that deserted his life: family and love. The mistletoe kisses, the family dinners, the exchange of gifts, the midnight kisses―a series of cruel rituals concocted to taunt him.
But at the very least, he knew what to expect from these holidays.
Summer vacation was different. At first, it came as a relief, the end of a forgettable school year, but it usually never lived up to expectations. For many of his fellow boarding school classmates, summer was like getting out of prison with the promise of sun and girls on the outside. He wasn't particularly fond of the sun, and girls weren't particularly fond of him.
There was something comforting about the cycle of school life. One bad summer, it would be just that. Another one would always come in a few months.
However, the summer after college graduation felt like a bad omen for the rest of his life. There was no new college year to look forward to. Life was now a never-ending bad summer.
The summer of 1991 sure felt like the start of a bad life. Or an empty one, like the empty penthouse he had all to himself for two whole months. He didn't get any news from the college friends that had promised to keep in touch, and he imagined the Gellers to be too caught up in Ross and Carol's wedding planning.
He suspected there were two types of college graduates, the ones that jumped on a new job straight away, and those who had the best summer of their lives―travels, barbecues, beach trips. Then there was him, with no job and no sun. Instead, it was TV specials, frozen pizza, all-nighters on the Super Nintendo, and watching Terminator 2 alone about half a dozen times at the nearest movie theater.
It almost came as a relief when, midway through July, Ross had called him to help him with the move into his and Carol's new apartment. On a warm summer afternoon, he was in the Upper West Side, witnessing Ross awkwardly trying to park a moving truck with Monica giving him instructions.
"You couldn't have invited anyone else? You're expecting me and Monica to move all this stuff?" He told Ross.
"For your information, I got Monica to compensate for you," Ross retorted.
Chandler had envisioned the afternoon to consist of moving a few boxes then sharing some beers with Ross and relax. The moment he saw Monica in overalls with a t-shirt underneath, a logbook and a cap, he realized the words 'hang out' and 'relax' would not be part of that day's vocabulary.
"Ok, let's move. Ross and I will lift boxes and Chandler … You can help unwrap things," Monica ordered.
"Great, I like feeling valued and appreciated," Chandler said with a sullen growl.
"You have two hours, then you can take a break of 6 minutes, use them wisely."
Ross and Chandler shared a look. Monica went to him and tapped his shoulder from behind as he was about to grab the bubble wrap cutter. "Hey, I need your help with my ad for a roommate. I didn't get any calls for mine! It's as if they were giving out rent-controlled apartments for free in this city," she whined.
"Uh oh, what did you write in your ad?"
"I just put in some … requirements," she said coyly.
She handed him the newspaper then pointed a finger to him. "No editorializing."
Chandler nodded with a grin and examined the ad, well aware of Monica's scrutinizing gaze.
"22 years old single professional female," he read out loud, trying not to burst out laughing. "One room available. Rent to be shared equally. Non-smoking, quiet and clean roommate required. Prefers organized systems and common rules. With a stable job. No parties allowed. Doesn't leave dishes in the sink. No pets allowed. Will have to keep the bathroom clean at all times and won't bring suspicious people for intimate relations. Please be clean. Serious inquiries only, please."
He looked at her with wide eyes. "This is insane."
"What? These aren't unreasonable requirements," Monica defended.
"They are, for normal people. Let me rewrite this."
He took her pen and started scribbling while muttering. "Female professional," he said looking up at her. "The single thing will only attract creeps," he added and she grimaced. "Looking for a clean and reasonable roommate. No smoking and no pets allowed. Serious inquiries only, please … and voilà!" He concluded with triumphant emphasis.
"We'll see," she replied with a pout.
Chandler laughed, he knew he was right, and he knew Monica knew he was right, but she would never admit it and he wasn't going to insist. Just like the aftermath of the Toe Incident, this had been the leitmotiv of their friendship, silent and mutual understandings.
He went to help out Ross, his ex-roommate was opening a box marked as fragile.
Chandler immediately recognized it. His arch-enemy, the object of his nightmares. Ross was dusting an air purifier―no, the air purifier, what Chandler considered to be possibly the most effective sound torture instrument unintentionally invented, he had regretted not selling the idea to the military.
"Ross, you're not keeping the air purifier, are you?" he asked.
"Yes I am, why?" Ross asked back with genuine concern.
"One night with Carol and this monster, and she's going to divorce you. Hell, we weren't married and I wanted to divorce you!" Chandler laughed at his own joke.
"Hey! No divorce jokes before the wedding, it's bad luck. Divorce isn't funny, man!" Ross said in a burst of animosity.
"It can be," he muttered under his breath, avoiding Ross's glare just to meet Monica's. "What if you divorce a clown?" he added, and she smirked, hitting him with the wrap bubble on his chest.
"Keep your little jokes for the best man speech, all right," Ross added. "Speaking of which, what's the plan for the bachelor party?"
Chandler's eyes went wide. "Bachelor party?"
"Well yeah, I'm getting married in two weeks. It's time―oh wait, it was going to be a surprise!"
With a pale face, Chandler looked at Monica who suspected his lack of any bachelor party planning, she nudged him with an elbow to prompt him to answer.
"Oh yeah, you got me … It was going to be a surprise," Chandler said with a plastered smile.
Ross shrieked excitedly, before going downstairs.
"You are so screwed," Monica whispered to him, patting his shoulder, before following her brother.
"The hut! The basement of a Pizza Hut!"
"I thought it would be intimate."
"I can't believe you're my best man."
"Hey, you get what you pay for."
"I didn't pay you anything."
Ross sighed as Monica and Carol were stifling a laugh, while Chandler was recounting the sad, uneventful bachelor party he had improvised the night before. They were sitting in Monica's apartment. It was the nicest, cleanest, most sophisticated apartment Chandler had ever been in. He was used to fancy houses and apartments, but none of them had the quaint charm of Ross's little sister's place. He wasn't in the least surprised given everything he knew about her.
"What about you, how was your bachelorette party? Did it live up to the Hut?" Ross asked his fiancée while shooting looks at Chandler.
Monica and Carol looked at each other and giggled. "You don't want to know," Monica said as they high-fived.
Chandler shook his head. The Gellers just didn't know how to have fun. He looked back at his best friend. "Look, after the wedding and the honeymoon, let's spend a weekend in Atlantic City, ok? We'll play some poker, go to some bars. A retroactive bachelor party if you will, what do you say?"
"Atlantic City, huh?" Ross pondered. "There's actually a dinosaurs theme park at the convention center, could we―could we go to that?" Ross asked sheepishly.
"The kids convention center?" Chandler looked at Monica who was barely containing her laugh. "Yes, we will do that. Hit some bars, play some poker and check out T-Rexes!"
"Actually, the plural of T-Rex is T-Rex―"
Ross and Carol got married by the seaside in Long Island during a summer themed wedding. The Gellers were ecstatic, they had gone all out with a lavish outdoor reception following the ceremony at a nearby church. It had gone seamlessly, Carol was radiant and Ross was nervous but excited like a little kid. Chandler was always intrigued by his best friend's love for love, and a little envious if he was honest. He was getting bored with the only few people he knew at the wedding―Ross's geeky friends from the Paleontology department at NYU―and was relieved when Monica saved him from them.
"I posted your ad and I found a roommate," she announced.
"Told you it would work."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." She rolled her eyes and he smiled. Monica stared at him for a moment, her eyes moving over his features as if gauging them somehow. "So how was your summer? You kind of disappeared on us."
"Sad. Lonely," Chandler answered.
"The Bing bellyaching party, how could I have missed that?" she said with an amused smirk.
"I can't stand living in that house anymore," he said with earnest despair.
Monica's smile faded, still looking at him. She took a sip out of her drink when suddenly her face lit up. "Hey, the apartment across the hall from mine is up for rent. I actually know the landlord, I could put in a good word for you."
Chandler tapped his chin, contemplating her offer. "Depends. Would I have to see you every day?"
Monica gaped in playful shock and kicked him under the table. "Look, it's a nice place, not as nice as mine―"
"But for a bachelor like you, it's pretty nice."
"Oh yes, my wild bachelor reputation preceding me," Chandler deadpanned.
"But do you have a job?" she asked seriously. "Or is Mommy giving you pocket money?" she teased him.
"Ha ha. I guess I do need to get a job." Chandler furrowed his eyebrows as if hit by the realization for the first time. "That company I was an intern for wants me back."
"I thought you hated that job."
"I do. But I also hate looking for a job, and living in that house."
"Just tell me if you want to move in." Monica got up, taking her drink with her when she turned back to him. "What do you even do?"
"I would tell you but it would be rude for you to fall asleep at your brother's wedding."
She grinned and Chandler watched as Monica joined her parents and Ross dancing with Carol on the dancefloor. He thought about her offer. He was already spending most of his weekends at her place, hanging out with Ross and Carol after having drinks at Christopher's Pub, the bar downstairs. It was tempting, and he did need to get a job, if only to avoid going crazy, sitting at home alone with his own thoughts.
A job and an apartment, maybe it was time to grow up. Growing up was inevitable but a group of friends across the hall would make it just a little less scary.
Chandler Bing never quite understood where his talent for math came from.
His mother was a writer, his father loved to sing and dance and perform―and before coming out, divorcing his mother then leaving for Las Vegas with Chandler's 6th-grade teacher to become an entertainer, Charles Bing was a college professor of English literature at Columbia.
His parents were witty, sharp-tongued people, masters of the word, as he witnessed multiple times whenever they had debated, sparred and fought.
It always felt strange that numbers were easy for him. That, of all the talents he could have inherited, he had an aptitude for mathematics from a young age. An innate ability to understand numbers and solve the problems they posed. Before tests, he'd spend the evenings watching Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In on TV and listening to comedy albums on his father's old turntable, and he would still get an A.
Chandler liked easy and hated that he liked easy. He had studied numbers in college because they were easy for him―logical, symmetrical and predictable in the patterns and repetitions they unveiled. And maybe, deep down, it was his own little rebellion. Entertainment and art, it was for crazy, mad people. People like his parents. He'd rather get a job that wouldn't destroy families and holidays.
He had been an intern then a temp for two summers at Dronetec Inc. A sprawling conglomerate with interests ranging from system information to fine foods, and he had liked it enough. They had called him for a job position as a junior data processor which he accepted; it was surprisingly good money and temptingly low stress. Most importantly, it was better than doing nothing. Maybe he would figure out his true passion within a couple of months. For now, a job would allow him to get the apartment in Monica's building.
It was what kept him going when he got bored out of his mind the very first day at his job. After some mind-numbingly boring introduction sessions, sitting at his desk with the spreadsheet software open and feeling terribly useless, typing numbers and data that he felt, made very little difference in anyone's life, he decided to spend the afternoon decorating his desk with as many distractions and toys he sensed were going to be needed in the future.
This job wasn't for him, not for the long term at least. He had to make sure it was temporary, to get his life in order. There was the danger of time slipping away, of squandering whatever potential he had.
He left work to go back to his mother's penthouse. He packed a few bags and headed to the Village, already forgetting about work, and feeling genuine excitement about the prospect of his new apartment.
Greenwich Village, friends, a downstairs bar? For once, the positives in his life were outweighing the negatives.
He picked up the keys from the superintendent―who was having a lively chat with an old man in a robe about pet-owners' rights―and went upstairs.
Opening the door to apartment 19, he immediately felt at home. He left his bags, and was about to knock on apartment 20's door but decided against it.
When Chandler entered his friend's apartment, he was surprised to notice some important changes since the last time he had been there. There were plants everywhere. He was moderately sure Monica wasn't a houseplants aficionado. He spotted her a little flustered, closing quickly the door to the closet by the bathroom door.
"I think I got the wrong address, is this Tarzan's apartment?" he joked, moving closer inside the apartment. "What's with the plants?"
"They're Phoebe's plants," she replied.
"Phoebe?" It took him a couple of seconds to realize Phoebe was the name of the roommate he was yet to meet. "Hum. Veni, vidi, vici," he said as the roommate in question appeared from the other bedroom and without introduction, she looked at him with narrowed eyes.
"Huh?" Phoebe said.
"Latin," Chandler clarified succinctly.
She approached the kitchen area and studied him, plucking at the air in front of him. "No, you're more like a Swedish guy. A goofy Swedish guy. Although, wait―" she suddenly tensed, squinting her eyes. "You look a little like a French guy."
Chandler paled, baffled by what was happening. This woman was at opposite ends of the type of roommate he imagined Monica to pick. She was blonde, tall, wearing a multi-layered bohemian outfit, and just plain weird.
"I'm not saying I'm Latin. It's … never mind. Monica, I need to talk to you."
Monica joined them at the entrance, and she too squinted her eyes at Chandler. "She's right. You do look a little French."
"Et tu, Geller?"
Monica smiled, then turned to Phoebe. "Phoebe, this is Chandler Bing, he's my brother's best friend moving across the hall."
"And your friend."
"Yes, also my friend Chandler."
"French friend Chandler apparently," he muttered.
"Chandler, please," she scolded with gritted teeth. "This is my roommate, Phoebe Buffay."
"Nice to meet you, Latin French friend Chandler Bing. You're a strange one."
"Nice to meet you too," Chandler mumbled, before pulling Monica out of her apartment into the hall. As soon as they entered his apartment, Monica inspected every corner and went into the bedrooms, visibly satisfied. She noticed the bags and small boxes still cluttering the middle of the living room. "You haven't unpacked yet!"
Chandler rolled his eyes as she started to open the boxes and organize their content in the allocated space.
She stopped when she noticed a box wrapped with a ridiculous amount of tape. Without missing a beat, she started to unwrap it.
"Hey!" Chandler pulled himself in front of the box. "This is private. PROPERTY OF CHANDLER BING―see, no one can touch it."
"How fifth grade of you. What's in it?"
"It's private, ok! I―I don't need to explain myself to you."
"Come on, you know it's going to eat me up and I'm not going to give up."
Monica nudged Chandler, as he tried to use his body as a shield.
"Grow up, Chandler."
"You grow up."
"No, I mean grow up." Monica had succeeded into pushing him aside, Chandler was convinced she was stronger than any of the guys that picked on him in high school. She was now examining each of the items, stifling a laugh. "What's all this? Batman comics, Three Stooges figurines, Laurel & Hardy poster. That's the stuff you own?"
"This coming from a Muppet paraphernalia collector?"
Monica gaped in shock as her hand covered her mouth.
"Oh yeah, Ross told me," he added smugly.
"Fine," she said when her eye caught an item at the bottom of the box, while Chandler was picking up his stuff to put it back inside. "Is that a jewelry box?"
"It's―it's my grandmother's," he said, in a slightly panicked tone.
"That's … actually very sweet," she said softly and Chandler felt himself relax.
"Ok, what did you need me for?" she asked.
"Em, could I borrow some .. cooking things," he said, with mock gestures. "And stuff to sit on and sleep on." He shuffled his feet with his arms crossed.
"Where is your furniture?"
"I don't have it?"
"You don't own furniture? You're 23!"
"You're 22 and you own furniture! You're the freak here."
"Ugh, fine. You can sleep on my couch and have dinner with us," she went to open the door and turned to him. "Pottery Barn tomorrow, 6 a.m. Don't say a word to Phoebe."
"Thank you," he said with a grateful smile. "Oh and about the jewelry box―"
"Not a word to Ross. Got it."
A few days later, Chandler had furnished his apartment enough to make it slightly more welcoming: a clean, furnished home was nice but it was so quiet on his own, the place felt more like an echo chamber, he needed a roommate as soon as possible.
A kitchen table, bar stools, a sofa, and a bed made up his list of purchases― alongside a bunch of kitchen utensils he hardly knew how and what to use for but Monica had insisted on buying. The whole trip to Pottery Barn had been a succession of questions about the unexplainable functionality of some home goods―banana holders and mechanized egg crackers― to which Monica provided an extensive list of potential usages in highly improbable emergency scenarios.
He went back to her apartment and grabbed a beer from the fridge in what had become a daily ritual. There was no one in the living room, he spotted her silhouette on the balcony and joined her there. "What are you looking at?"
"Phoebe. She's helping her homeless friend, Lizzie, down the street."
Chandler followed her gaze, and indeed, there was Phoebe providing a homeless person with blankets and food. Monica's roommate was the most unpredictable and peculiar person he might have met in his life. How could someone who lost their mother to suicide, their step-dad to prison and lived on the streets be so cheerful and so … Phoebe?
"Isn't she amazing?" Monica sighed.
"That she is."
Chandler opened his beer, taking in the late summer breeze of the New York sky, sweeping his eyes between the buildings and the streetlights. His gaze landed on one of the windows from the building across the street.
"Is your neighbor … naked?" And is that underwear on the telephone pole? Oh, I love this neighborhood already!" He looked back at Monica who was furiously blushing. "Sorry, was that over the line?"
"No, no, I'm gonna go back inside―wait!" She sniffed him and frowned. "Did you smoke?"
"Y―yes" Chandler answered slowly. "In my apartment. By the window, are you going to call the police? I have witnesses!"
She glared at him and crossed her arms. "Chandler, you can't smoke in my apartment, or come in smelling all… smoky. Your choice."
"What about we make an arrangement, and I smoke once a week?" He bared his teeth, flashing a charming dimple but noticed Monica was unyielding. "Fine," he finished with a pout.
Chandler went back to his place and sat on the sofa. He picked out a cigarette from his pocket and examined it. Monica's apartment was nice, smelled nice and was inhabited by nice people. People who were willing to be his friends, even go as far as accept him just like he was, minus the smoking.
So he did what he always thought to be the best alternative when faced with a dilemma. A pros and cons list. If only he was at work, that spreadsheet software would prove to be really useful for once.
There were always plenty of reasons to stop smoking, but they never were convincing enough. Health reasons or simply limiting Ross's use of the air purifier. It still wasn't worth it―he didn't care that much about his health, and eventually, he got used to the humming of the air purifier. After a couple of months of cohabitation, it became white noise to him and he succeeded in ignoring it, like a soldier not getting spooked by the sound of gunfire in a warzone.
But Monica's apartment meant hanging out with Ross, Carol, Monica, and now Phoebe. Sure, he wasn't a fan of Ross and Carol's lovey-dovey displays, or Monica's nags and reprimands, and Phoebe was a mystery, but he had his own (and many) flaws. There was a chance they could all become friends―good friends, potentially best friends? He dared to hope.
He shot a quick look at his empty-decorated apartment. Truthfully he was sick of empty homes, sick of his empty life, sick of himself. Yes, friendship could be a worthwhile reason.
He thought about the reason he started smoking. His parents' terrible divorce― the pawn games, the neglect, the yelling and fighting. Those were good reasons to start smoking in his mind. For a 9 years-old lonely kid, it was an easy fix when his mother's packs of cigarettes were lying around, in plain sight and so easy to grab.
Good reason to start, but what about the reasons to keep smoking?
If someone asked him "Why do you smoke?", he couldn't come up with a good answer. He enjoyed it, he felt subconsciously it would make him relax whenever he felt nervous. There was something oddly comforting about the sound of the flame bursting from the lighter, caressing the tip of the cigarette, and the feeling of it between his fingers, savoring every nicotine gust. The morning cigarette, the one after a meal, the one at night roaming the dark streets, or the cigarette after sex―one he was yet to experience but imagined being the finest of them all.
The pros and cons list wasn't working. Maybe there was a compromise. Cigarettes were a coping mechanism, his way to deal with past trauma and feel just a little better about himself, but even he knew depending on it was surely not a good idea.
And now, with a job, an apartment, and friends, it was time to become more independent. Maybe he would never stop being a smoker until he dealt with all his issues, but for now, he could still stop smoking, go on a hiatus of some sorts.
Chandler put the cigarette back into the pack. That one gesture made him feel strangely empowered. He could stop smoking, he could achieve something, and it could make him feel good. His friends were worth it.
A week later, he settled on a new roommate, a guy in his mid-20s going by the name of Kaplan "Kip" Weinberg. He was the most convincing candidate from the few interviews Chandler conducted. He looked serious, had a steady job, promised to be clean, and Chandler had to admit, he was quite charming. He thought for a second he could possibly be a good wingman in case they hit it off and became good friends, but at worst, he would make for a decent roommate. A welcome change after four years contained in the same room as Ross.
He was a little taken aback when he introduced Kip to Monica, Phoebe, and Ross. The girls looked mesmerized, forcing Chandler to reexamine Kip. He was charming, sure. Reasonably tall, slightly taller than him, light brown hair, hazel eyes, chiseled jaw … The realization came to him then. Kip was definitely handsome, and if he ever was his wingman, Chandler would be the funny guy at best.
He had no reason to hate him though or feel uncomfortable around him. He was nice and polite. Ross liked him; and the girls would get over their little crush, Chandler speculated. Monica could have any man she wanted, surely she wouldn't need to go across the hall to get a boyfriend, and Phoebe had already mentioned 3 dates she had over the last few weeks since they met, each one sounding crazier than the other: a guy in the navy, an ice-dancer, and a puppet guy—Kip would be too normal for her.
He had just moved from Philadelphia with few boxes and very little furniture. He worked as a gym instructor and had the body to show for it. In fact, one of the few furniture pieces he bought with him was a home gym equipment he placed in the corner of the living room.
Working out wasn't one of Chandler's hobbies but he was still delighted they got along well, Kip liked sports and watching mindless TV. He turned out to be clean, an early riser and very outgoing.
That night, after another dull day at work, Chandler went to Christopher's Pub and met down there with Monica, Phoebe, Kip, Ross and Carol sharing drinks and shooting pool, discussing their days and joking around. When he went to sleep, he couldn't help but feel a sense of belonging, of trust and understanding, a safe space where he could just be true to himself.
Usually, that feeling never lasted for too long.
The problem according to him, it was autumn. And just like Frank Sinatra sang, autumn in New York was often mingled by pain for Chandler.
He always had a sense of dread about this particular season. Thanksgiving was approaching, pumpkin smells were inescapable, it made him instinctively on guard.
In the morning, he heard voices and laughs coming from the living room. When he opened his bedroom door, he found Monica and Kip standing by the kitchen. Monica was holding a casserole, leftovers from dinner he suspected.
What he really saw and noticed though was sparks. Sparks flying everywhere, eye-blinding sparks. Kip was a talkative charming guy, and there he was, charming the hell out of his friend.
He joined them but was sure they hardly noticed him.
"It's funny that you work at a gym, I stopped going to one a few years ago but I was thinking about joining again," Monica said to Kip.
Chandler's eyebrows shot up, he had never witnessed Monica behaving this way before, trying so obviously to please and flirt with a guy.
"I thought you preferred outdoor runs?" said Chandler. They both suddenly turned to him, noticing him for the first time since he was in the living room.
"Oh Chandler, I didn't see you there," she told him.
"Being invisible is what I do best."
"Well Monica," said Kip, bringing the focus back to their gym talk. "If you want to join a gym, we'd be happy to have you. I work at the one on Tenth Avenue."
"Tenth Avenue? I know that place, I've been there!" Monica said. With way too much enthusiasm, Chandler reckoned.
"I'm not surprised, clearly you work out," Kip said, flashing a toothy grin.
"Oh well, you know, just trying to stay healthy."
Monica was blushing. Chandler couldn't believe it, he hadn't seen Monica Geller blush since Thanksgiving 1988―when she was a naive, overweight and impressionable teenager.
Kip was one smooth bastard.
"You two are perfect for each other!"
Chandler heard Phoebe exclaim the words to Monica in a fit of giggles and squeals, as he entered the girls' apartment.
"Me and Monica? That's what I keep telling her. Thank you, Phoebe."
Phoebe waved a hand at him. "You hush. This is important."
"Who's perfect for Monica?" he asked with dread.
"Kip. They're like the same person!"
Were they? It seemed Chandler was constantly reconsidering his first impression of Kip, he wondered why he didn't notice that during his interview.
"I'm not sure it's a good idea to date a friend who lives across the hall," Monica objected.
"I agree," Chandler added, almost on instinct which earned him a scolding look from Phoebe.
"Mon, he's not just a friend who lives across the hall, he's a hot friend who lives across the hall," Phoebe argued.
"I am right here," Chandler deadpanned.
"He is pretty hot, isn't he?" Monica was blushing and smiling shyly.
Phoebe nodded. "I would have been all over that if you two weren't making googly eyes to each other since you met."
Googly eyes since they met? Chandler shook his head. How could he have missed all of that?
"We do have a lot in common," Monica added.
"Are you kidding? He loves running, he works out, he loves cooking and he's just so charming and mature. He's exactly your type."
"You know my type?"
"I know everybody's type. It's one of my many talents."
"What's Chandler's type?" Monica asked with a teasing smile.
"Oh, you don't want to know," Phoebe answered, with a dead serious look on her face. Monica shot an amused look to Chandler, then got up.
"All right. I like him a lot, I'll think about it."
Kip and Monica flirted for a couple of days after that, to his dismay. Chandler was often caught in the middle of their banter and glances. He was almost relieved when his roommate finally asked her out on a date, and in the least surprising turn of events since the outbreak of World War II, she had said yes.
Chandler did genuinely like Kip. He was effortlessly cool, organized, centered, and a great roommate. But he didn't feel at ease with him dating Monica. Not out of jealousy, but out of protectiveness. Kip was almost too cool, he didn't seem fazed or disturbed by anything, he had no demons or skeletons in his closet.
Ok, maybe he was a little jealous. Monica was the first real friend he made after Ross, and her nagging and obsessiveness were solely focused on him before Kip. And he liked the nagging, it felt strange, someone so willing to take care of him and focus so much attention on him. A pleasant novelty in his life.
Yes, part of it was this strange vibe about Kip, and the other part was about getting less time with one of his best friends. He felt uncomfortable being either the buffer or the third-wheel. The awkwardness reached new heights when Kip convinced him to buy a hibachi together for "barbecues on Monica's balcony" before admitting it was just a way to show off his knowledge about Japanese cuisine to her.
Kip was annoyingly tall and attractive to Chandler now. He tried, very hard to be okay with this blossoming 'love at first bite' romance, but he still couldn't get rid of the niggling dread.
Or maybe, it was just Thanksgiving.
"I hate this stupid day," Chandler said, collapsing on the couch beside Phoebe and Ross, while Monica and Kip were sharing the armchair.
"That's the spirit," Kip commented.
"I hate traditional food. I hate football. I hate forced family time. I hate the stupid parade," he added. Ross and Monica turned their heads to him, raising their eyebrows teasingly. "Ok, the parade is okay, but I still hate Thanksgiving."
"What's with you and Thanksgiving―" Kip started but was immediately cut off by a chorus of groans from the others.
"Kip, honey, you just opened a can of worms," Monica said.
"Get this. I'm 9 years old, we're in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner―"
"Here we go," Ross grumbled.
Chandler ignored his friends and turned his attention to Kip and Phoebe. "And my parents with their impeccable timing, announce to me they're getting a divorce."
"That sucks, Chandler," Phoebe said, patting his arm. "You've got to get over this though, grudges are bad for your ethereal soul."
Chandler rolled his eyes. Kip got up and headed to the kitchen. "She's right, holding onto grudges like a badge of honor will hold you back in life, dude," he added.
"Impressive. Someone took Intro to Psych in college," Chandler rumbled under his breath. He watched Monica and Ross getting up, reaching for their coats and Kip trotting a suitcase, all of them waiting expectantly for him to finish his Thanksgiving moping.
The Gellers were going to their parents' house in Long Island, and Kip was visiting family in Philadelphia. Phoebe planned to spend Thanksgiving at the food kitchen, leaving Chandler the only one to boycott the holiday.
"I'll be fine. Go eat the merry food and give thanks to your functional non-divorced families. I rented Die Hard because I've only watched it 9 times this year," he said, waving at them. Monica stopped in her steps by the kitchen.
"Ok Chandler, your grilled cheese and your tomato soup are waiting for you, and there's some chicken in the fridge."
Monica smiled, slightly bemused. "I'm leaving you the keys, I expect to find the apartment exactly as I left it," she instructed.
"Ooh, I planned to rig the apartment with booby traps and leave the lights on to prevent burglars from breaking in."
Monica smirked at him as Ross opened the door, with Kip following suit. Phoebe stayed behind.
"You know Chandler, you do have a lot to be thankful for," she said after their friends left.
Chandler went to the fridge, bending and digging for beer. "For what? Friends with families to go home to, a hot roommate with the abs of Harrison Ford ...? "
"Those are nice abs," Phoebe gazed dreamily off in the distance, visibly entranced. "Nice to massage too," she continued with a beaming smile.
"You massaged Harrison Ford?"
"My clients' list is confidential."
Her expression was mock-serious. Chandler shook his head and took a sip out of his beer before going back to the couch.
"Look Chandler, I don't have a family either, but I have you, and I have Monica and Ross. They can be your family too," she paused, bending her head and lowering her voice."You're like the little brother I wish I had."
Chandler looked at her, surprised by her admission. "I am?"
"The annoying little brother I wish I had, absolutely."
He smiled at her and nodded gratefully.
"And if you're so jealous of Kip, maybe it's because you're not doing anything, you're not trying to go out and date girls."
"What are you suggesting?"
"I can set you up."
"Oh no," he said, feeling uncomfortable. "I don't do blind dates."
"Then it's not a blind date. I have her picture right here."
He was about to tell her it wouldn't be necessary when she reached for her oversized bag and picked up a picture from it, leaving Chandler speechless.
"Come on, give it a try. She's cute and she's fun, it's exactly what you need."
She was cute, he concluded after looking at the picture. Chandler rubbed his palms together. "Ok. Let's do that."
Part 2 in the next chapter.