Chandler woke up with a throbbing headache. His eyes opened, staring mindlessly at the ceiling. He closed his eyes again until he realized it was definitely not the ceiling of his room.
He tried to see through the darkness and made a double take when he finally noticed something, or someone actually, stirring beside him, and his mind slowly put everything together.
It all came back to him in a rush.
The night before, the date set-up by Phoebe.
He remembered the awkwardness, the long silences, the utter lack of conversation and connection he had with the girl. And he remembered cutting the date short when she had said supposebly instead of supposedly, multiple times, and he claimed a family emergency as a pretext to leave after a bathroom break.
But the woman beside him wasn't Miss Supposebly.
He remembered getting an unexpected call from Gandalf―all of his friends had dates, Ross with Carol, Monica with Kip and Phoebe with her guy of the week. He succumbed to the temptation, and went to the ultimate NYU hangout bar: the Reservoir, famous for its cheap beer and flocked by college students on a budget.
Chandler looked at the woman beside him, they had sex and he had lost his virginity in the process. Freaking finally.
He thought this day would never come. There was little hope for a guy with the social skills expected of someone raised by a pack of wolves and whose teenage years were marked by an utter lack of interaction with the opposite sex.
In all fairness, it didn't feel as grandiose and glorious as his deepest wishes and dreams―there were noises and faces he wished he could take back. Noises and faces he wished she had made.
It was ok, it was nice. Bad sex was still better than no sex at all. But he was slightly disappointed it wasn't the earth-shattering, life-changing moment he thought it would be, and if X-rated movies were to be used as a reference, neither was it for her.
He got up and looked for his clothes. More details of the night before came back to him: she was a cute brunette, starting her senior year, either a med major or liberal arts major, going by the name of … Colleen Mosilla. Or Maureen Rosilla. He remembered quipping about her name when she quipped about his name, which led him to remember the reason she fell for for his charm and insisted on having sex on the basis of 'it's what you do in college'― oh no.
"That's low. Even for you, Bing," Monica said crossly, looking at him from his refrigerator's door. He was recounting the events of the night to her.
"Hey! You don't know what it's like for guys like me out there. It's easy for you, you don't know the struggle," Chandler defended from his seat at the counter.
"She thought you were a Kennedy? How? I mean, why?"
"She was horny, I was horny, Gandalf introduced me as a Kennedy, I don't even know why. She believed it. I was sad and pathetic so I went with it."
"What a romantic story." She pulled her cheek up in a sarcastic smile. Chandler sighed, blinking down at the swirling white on his coffee.
"Chandler Agamemnon Bing!" Phoebe yelled, bursting into his apartment.
Chandler and Monica looked stumped.
"What's your middle name?" Phoebe asked, in a calmer tone.
"W―Why...Why do you want to know my middle name?" Chandler mumbled.
"So I can middle name you when you do something bad! Like now!" She pointed her finger at him. "Why did you leave Judith at your date, last night?"
"Who's Judith?" asked Monica.
"The girl I set him up with."
"Wow. I underestimated you, Bing," Monica added, with a teasing smile.
"No no no. Phoebe, I'm sorry, but she was such a dud. She said supposebly," he said slowly for the sake of emphasis.
"Supposebly. Are you kidding me?"
"You're a lost cause, I'll never set you up again."
"This is fun!" Monica exclaimed. "So you left a girl on a date and you ended up sleeping with a college girl that 'mistook' you for a Kennedy?" She shook her head, laughing.
"You did what?" Phoebe glared at Chandler.
"It just happened I swear, I didn't plan this. These things don't happen to me."
Chandler held his head in his hands. Phoebe's severe expression softened.
"So you scored last night? Ok, it's fine then."
He looked at her suspiciously, as she joined him at the counter and sat next to him, picking from the cereal box. "Tell me about this girl. Are you going to see her again? This is exciting!"
"Oh no. Never seeing her again. On my way out, I found a Yanni album in the living room."
The most wonderful time of the year, cheer and joy, decorated homes, angelic children looking forward to their gifts, happy couples, people surrounded by love and cared for by other wonderful people.
If there was a time to be naturally cynical and sarcastic for Chandler, it was Christmas time.
He tried really hard to find an excuse to mope around and jab about the holidays but things were changing. He did have friends, they were going to be exchanging gifts and spend time together. In fact, they were seeing each other pretty much every day.
He even let himself enjoy the delicious scents coming from apartment 20. Pine needle smell with sweet chocolate and freshly baked blueberry muffins. Monica had gone all out to make her place look like the holidays' window displays of a department store on Fifth Avenue.
A few days before Christmas, his mother had called. She was stopping by New York and had invited him for lunch with an announcement.
Chandler looked down at his plate, where only some beans and the bite of his enchiladas remained. They had talked for an hour or so, although it was more of a monologue at this point. His mother was reciting anecdotes from her travels and her books signings while Chandler kept nodding in response.
After a silent pause, Nora took a sip out of her glass of wine before carefully looking up at her son. "My publishers think I should go back to Nora Tyler Bing."
A hush fell over them for a second, before Chandler threw his napkin on the table.
He inhaled and glared at her. "What? I thought we were over that."
"I'm sorry, honey. For some reason, my books sell better when I'm Nora Tyler Bing. I need the Bing there, I don't why, there must be something about this name," she mused.
"This is your announcement? To ruin my life some more! Thank you, mom, what a great Christmas gift," he said, his tone dripping with anger and sarcasm.
"Why don't you just take a pen name?" He looked over the restaurant then said quietly, "Everyone will know my mother writes porn!"
"Erotic novels, Chandler."
"I'm sorry, kid. There's no way around that, it's my career. Your father owes me that at the very least."
Chandler's eyes widened, his nostrils open. He chuckled nervously. "Oh God, it's always about you two, nothing has changed. What about me? There are 20 people named Bing and I'm one of them! "
"Chandler, stop being so embarrassed by your heritage. I am proud of who I am, I won't change my name."
Chandler stood up, reaching for his wallet and pulling out a couple of twenty dollar bills. "I'm going home. Merry Christmas, mom."
When he arrived in the hall of his apartment, Chandler went directly inside the girls' place. It was already filling up with coworkers, acquaintances, and friends, most of them he didn't know, but then he spotted Ross with Carol, Kip, Monica, Phoebe by the window and relaxed.
It wasn't so bad. The Christmas party looked great, the sweet Christmas music and the decorated lights, was enough to cheer him up.
His friends were there, he instantly felt better and safer with them, and looking at them from afar, he realized they were the most important relationships in his life―and if his friends were more his family than people he shared DNA with, then so be it.
After the New Year, Kip and Monica started spending every night together, most of them in Kip's room, which began to irk Chandler. He didn't want to hear them through the walls and frankly didn't expect their romance to take off so fast. He wondered if they developed genuine feelings for each other.
His initial worries about Kip dissipated, however, and unwanted noises aside, he was genuinely content two of his closest friends were in a happy relationship. Phoebe was right, they had a lot in common, they were both driven and energetic people. They went on runs together, they cooked together, they were almost in-sync. Chandler thought he could never live up to Monica's expectations of a boyfriend―if he exercised with her he would die trying to keep up, and if they cooked together she would kill him for ruining both the dish and the kitchen. They lived their lives at two extremely different strokes.
Not that the thought of dating her had entered his mind. It definitely never entered her mind so there was no point into making up fantasies.
During one of their group nights hanging out at the bar, while Kip and Monica were playfully teasing each other by the pool table, Phoebe joined Chandler who was sitting at the counter, holding his glass with his fingers brushing away the drops of condensation.
"Did you hear? Isn't it great?" said Phoebe, leaning against the counter and looking at their two friends.
Not feeling in the mood to gossip, Chandler simply shook his head.
"Monica is thinking about asking Kip to move in with her!" she exclaimed.
His eyes went wide and he coughed as he swallowed his drink. "What? Why?"
"Oh no," she said in a deflated tone. "You didn't hear."
"That's too soon! Isn't it too soon?" he paused, the implications slowly hitting him. "I won't have a roommate! Oh God, are you going to be my roommate?"
"You couldn't handle me as your roommate, Chandler Bing."
"I'm sorry. But that's crazy. She's being crazy, right?"
"It depends. Compared to what?"
Chandler raised his eyebrows as if to state the obvious. "Not you."
"Oh, then yeah." Phoebe nudged him and prompted him to look at the couple with a chin movement. "But they're really into each other," she sighed. "I love whirlwind romances."
"Yes, it's a real whirl of … wind." Chandler cringed, running his hand through the front of his hair. "I can't believe she didn't tell me," he said softly.
"Don't worry, Chandler. I'm sure she has good reasons for not telling you, probably to avoid you freaking out like you just did," she teased. "And if it happens, we won't be roommates. Actually, it's perfect timing because I'm thinking of moving out anyway."
"What?" Chandler coughed in shock for a second time. "What is happening around here? You're moving out? Why don't people tell me stuff?"
"Calm down. I love Monica, she's an amazing friend but she's an impossible roommate. She freaks out about one small crumb on the floor or flake of glitter in the bathroom," she said, in an increasingly panicked tone. "I can never live up to her expectations. I can't do it anymore, Chandler. I can't! I can't―"
"Ok, I get it." Chandler squeezed her shoulder. "Breathe."
Chandler did get it. He was surprised at first that Phoebe and Monica had gotten along so well when they became roommates, but grew to believe it. After all, they were both kind and generous and fierce. He guessed living together was just a step too far for their otherwise clashing personalities. Lost in his thoughts, he took a gulp of his drink, draining it with a long swallow before looking up to Phoebe. "Please let her down gently? I know she's going to be sad and she'll think she's going to lose you."
"Of course." Phoebe nodded. "We'll still be friends. That's why I'm waiting for Kip and her to move in together."
Chandler looked again at Monica and Kip, he didn't understand why she didn't talk to him about her and Kip moving together. He felt apprehension building inside him. Phoebe moving out, Kip and Monica living together, Carol and Ross married―it was selfish but he didn't like all the changes happening just when he felt settled for the first time in his life.
Chandler was in a foul mood. He had been for weeks and he didn't know why exactly. Granted, he never was the cheerful kind, but what usually amused him just made him snippy now.
His grumpiness could only have been caused by the looming shadow of Valentine's Day or seasonal depression or work just being really, really dull.
What annoyed him most was probably the increasingly excessive public displays of affection from Monica and Kip. He started to think it wouldn't be so bad if they lived together in her apartment, so he could be in peace at his place. Most of the time, he felt invisible to them, having to block out the noise and try to focus on whatever was airing on TV.
It was unfair. He had found himself more and more reliant on them at exactly the moment that they had become less available to him. He just missed hanging out with each of them―when Monica would spend late Saturday nights with him, watching TV. They had become each other's support system. Monica was like a wizard. He'd give her a shirt with an old grease stain and she would get it out, he'd lose his keys and she would find them, he'd borrow out of her toolbox and kitchen utensils. She was a fixer, and he had been her newest, toughest project to date, that required all of her energy and attention.
He wasn't her fixer, but at least, something like a teddy bear, pretty useless for most stuff but there to provide emotional support. He'd be there after a depressing dinner with her parents or a bad date, it wasn't a lot but enough to make him feel good about himself.
And now she didn't need his comfort, and she was working her magic for Kip.
Kip wasn't exactly his closest friend, they were too different to hang out all the time but they worked well as roommates. The important thing was that, as the latest addition, he got along with their group. He was fully a part of it, and the group was everything.
The matters of the heart were not helping either. Ever since his failed blind date turned into fiasco first-time sex, he went into full hibernation mode―avoiding even the bar. It was too depressing, his life was empty before but maybe it was time to give up and fully embrace the emotional void and numbness.
He knew his friends were getting annoyed with him and his slouching, glued to his sofa in his sweats for hours.
Monica, in particular, was giving him the Geller death glare whenever she came back on a date with Kip and they were about to take things to the bedroom only to stop at the sight of him in his robe watching Law and Order in the living room.
One night, Phoebe and Monica came to his apartment and ambushed him, seemingly determined to get him out of his sweatpants-wearing phase.
"Don't you want to have sex with a woman?" Monica almost yelled.
"Yes, Chandler, what are you a monk now?" Phoebe added, then whispered to him, "Is everything working down there?"
"Hey! I could have sex if I wanted to," Chandler protested, with an outraged look on his face before he sighed. "Great, I sound like crazy Heckles now."
"Come on Chandler, you're cute, of course, you could have sex," Phoebe reassured.
"Cute doesn't get you sex," he mumbled.
Monica stood in front of the TV, Chandler tried to wave her off but she didn't yield. "Yes, cute doesn't get you sex, because to have sex you need to leave your damn couch, and go out!"
Chandler frowned with a stubborn expression. Monica knelt down to meet his eyes. "It's getting ridiculous. You're sweet and you're cute, and there are a lot of girls who would have sex with you!"
Chandler's eyes slowly widened, his left eyebrow arching significantly and a smirk appearing on his face.
"Not with me, doofus," Monica said.
"Yes, with someone more in your league," Phoebe chimed in.
"You two are doing wonders for my self-confidence." He finally stood up, and walked towards the fridge. "Of course I want sex. I'd like to have sex," he conceded, "but everything that comes with it isn't very appealing to me right now."
He took a beer and opened it, the girls followed him as he repositioned himself on the couch. "The flirting? The mind games? The small talk? The putting on of actual pants? No, thank you. These sweatpants and this couch are very comfortable."
"Ugh. I give up, Pheebs." Monica snapped, shooting looks at Chandler. "I'm going out with Kip, we're coming back here and I'm sleeping in his room tonight, so deal with it."
Monica left hastily and Chandler swallowed to stay composed. It was one of the few instances they were both being stubborn at the same time, and as far as Chandler could remember, it was never a good look on either of them.
Phoebe snapped him out of his thoughts. "What's the deal with you?"
"No deal," he defended, mindlessly drinking his beer and staring straight at the TV.
"You're grumpier than usual. Is it because of Kip? Or Monica?"
Chandler suddenly looked back at Phoebe with worried eyes.
"Oh, it's the both of them," she added.
"It's not like that! I just want to hang out with my friends," he said softly.
Phoebe's face softened. "Oh Chandler, you're not losing them."
"Feels like it," he said, in an almost whisper and staring down at his lap.
"Look Chandler, I don't know Kip that well, but I know Monica. She's not easy to get rid of, and God knows I've been trying!"
Chandler straightened himself. "About that, is there any chance you could reconsider?"
"I don't know, Chandler," Phoebe said, she looked at Chandler's pleading look. "Maybe ... I'll wait for the right time."
She nudged him to sit beside him on the couch. "Listen, they won't stop being your friends."
"That's what everybody says."
"I have a good sense about things, and I sense that Ross and Monica won't ever leave you, mostly because, let's be fair, you're their closest friend, and you and I both know it's not easy for anybody else to tolerate them," Phoebe joked, making him smile.
"You'll always be their number one friend, even if Monica is dating Kip," she paused, weighing her words. "For now."
"I can't disclose everything I sense, Bing. I don't want to mess with the natural order of the universe."
Chandler nodded. "Of course."
"But I can disclose that you're going to be fine," she said, ruffling his hair.
The next day at work, Chandler was sipping his coffee at his desk and opened a spreadsheet, ready to input numbers and find a distraction to waste time, he thought again about his friends' plea for him to 'go out and have sex'.
He looked at the chart on the computer, generated by the weekly statistics net usage, and an idea popped into his head.
He opened a new spreadsheet and created a new chart. The x axis displaying the years between 1985 and 1991. On the left side, the y axis listed number of dates/people, it went from zero to five. At the top of the chart, Chandler hesitated a second before typing the title: My love life.
Chandler never developed the vocabulary necessary to express or understand the many colors and intricacies of adult emotions. All he had, from watching and listening to the adults around him, was a language for negativity, and people sensed that and he realized early on he was headed for serious trouble in life.
He figured reducing the complicated tortuous mess that relationships were to numbers would allow him to understand them, and solve the mystery of his miserable dating life.
The chart generated indicated that the numbers weren't exactly flattering.
In high school, he could get away with the excuse it was an all-male boarding school and consequently, the opportunities were rather limited. Still, there was his first girlfriend, Julie Grath, whom he met in summer camp. He did break up with her because … well, because, the third summer she got fat.
There was Missy Goldberg in college, which involved some interesting make out sessions in the science lab, but guilt had caught up with him. Ross also liked her and they had made a shaky, questionable 'pact' not to date girls they both liked.
He almost forgot about Dana Keystone in college. One date, one very dull date.
In more recent times, there was the girl he lost his virginity to, Maureen Rosilla. It pretty much was a one-time thing, since she never asked about him again, and he couldn't get over her love for Yanni.
Finally, there was Phoebe's "supposebly" friend.
His train of thoughts was interrupted by a realization. There was a trend there. He was always the one to pull the trigger on these relationships, he was the culprit, responsible for his own ache and misery.
When he went home that day, he asked Phoebe to get him another date with Judith. He decided to give it another chance.
It turned out they really didn't connect at all, and this time, he knew it would never work out, not just for grammatical differences.
Chandler liked to think it was, nevertheless, progress. He was out there and he would give the girls interested in him more than one date. Of course, in an ideal world, the girls interested in him would coincidently be the girls he was interested in.
He went on a few dates after that, and although it didn't prove to be fruitful, it made him feel better about himself, and his prospects.
He didn't hear anything again about Kip and Monica moving together and he had actively avoided the subject in their company. It was for the better. Things had settled, their group found a routine; even if to Chandler, it was a fragile one, with Phoebe still thinking about moving out.
When Valentine's Day came, Chandler was surprisingly upbeat. All his friends went on dates, but for once, he wasn't going to pity himself and stay home in his robe watching TV. He decided to go out with his coworkers. Work was dull, but people liked him at his job, and he enjoyed hanging out with them.
When he woke up the next day, he felt his head pleasantly light, he came home not too late, not too early and drank just the right amount. It was a Saturday, and he was impatient to hang out with his friends. When he came out of the room, he found Kip in his pajamas, with no sign of Monica in the apartment.
"How was your Valentine's dinner with Monica?" he asked Kip.
His roommate held his head in his hand, shutting his eyes close. "Oh man, I officially hate Valentine's Day."
Chandler's ears perked up as he looked intently at Kip, waiting for him to elaborate.
"We started to talk about childhoods and high school, she wanted to know what was it like being the quarterback of the football team and all that." He swallowed an aspirin with a glass of water before continuing, "And then she started talking about her childhood and crying and everyone was staring at us—"
"What? Don't ask her about her childhood, that's like making her watch Old Yeller on the plane! Floodgates. Open!" Chandler exclaimed.
"I was just making conversation, I don't want to listen to sad childhood stories on a date," Kip groaned, still holding his head. "It was a bad date."
"You should check on her," Chandler said coyly.
"Yeah, about that. Look, she's a nice girl but I don't think it's going to work out in the long run. I thought we were having fun, you know. Nothing serious."
Chandler tensed. "What? You were crazy about her, weren't you?"
"I was. I swear I was. I just … It's too soon for me to settle down, you know?"
Chandler shook his head, not quite believing what he just heard. After a moment of silence that felt like the tense beginning of a chess match, his roommate spoke again. "Look, she's great and I know she's your friend. I won't lead her on."
He didn't answer right away, feeling animosity twisting hotly inside him. "I see," he said dryly, then cleared his throat. "Ok. Be upfront with her. That's all I'm asking," he finished and with that, he left the apartment without another word.
Chandler entered apartment 20, he noted Monica's absence and felt an anxious leap in his stomach. He went out to run some errands before heading to the bar in the afternoon. There was, again, no sign of Monica. Kip was still standoffish about what had gone down the night before, and so Chandler decided to let it go.
When he went back to the apartment in the evening, he retrieved his mail and headed to his place. He put the TV guide destined to 'Miss Chanandler Bong' on the counter and mindlessly walked to the apartment across the hall. Just as he was browsing through the rest of the mail while opening the door, he found a letter addressed to him and signed Charles Bing.
Chandler froze. His knees went weak and he stumbled, almost tripping.
His father had tried to call and sent letters ever since he left for college, but this was the first time in months he reached out to him. He thought his dad had definitely turned the page, moved on from him once and for all. He almost wished it. It would be easier to deal with that, grieve and accept it rather than risk opening Pandora's box his relationship with him had always been.
Chandler studied the letter for a while longer, it was his father. Of course, he still cared about him, despite the bitterness, despite the hurt, despite everything. He inhaled and started to open slowly the envelope.
"Chandler, is that you?"
He was interrupted by a muffled voice coming from the bathroom, tearing out his attention from the letter. Monica appeared in the living room. She didn't look good.
"Mon, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said, her voice small as she went over to the couch and lay down with a blanket. He had rarely seen her so dejected.
"Come on, you're not okay. Are you crying?"
"I―I'm not … It's nothing," she said, her sob ripping through as she hiccuped. "There's dinner and beers in the fridge if that's what you're looking for."
Chandler looked at the letter, then back at his friend. He went to the kitchen and threw out all the mail in the trash can, before heading to the couch. He kneeled in front of Monica who hid her face under the blanket.
"Oh Mon, you can tell me," Chandler said, lowering his voice. "Please?"
Monica slowly pulled out the blanket and wiped her tears away. "Kip doesn't want anything serious. He said that, last night … on Valentine's Day."
"Right." Chandler reached out to her with his hands, and held her as she was breaking.
"I'm an idiot," she said, pressing her face to his neck.
"No, you're not."
"I thought he liked me. How was I so blind? I'm an idiot."
Chandler tightened his arms around her. "Listen to me, Mon. You're not. He's the idiot."
"He's your friend."
"So? You're my friend too."
"How did I not see it coming, Chandler?" Another sob broke her voice on the last word. "He said it was too early for me to meet his mother, he said it was too early to think about living together and I ignored all the signs."
"It's not your fault."
"I feel so embarrassed. I told him I loved him .. last night, and he said he wasn't there. He didn't even say he wasn't there yet, he just said he didn't feel the same. He doesn't love me."
"He's an idiot, Mon, ok? You don't have to be embarrassed. You did nothing wrong."
Her tears subsided, forcing herself to smile at him and swallowing hard to regain composure. "Please don't say anything to Ross? I don't want to make a mess."
"I won't, but Kip's going to hear from me."
"Chandler, I don't want you to fight him for me. He just doesn't feel the same, I can't force him to. He was being honest."
"Still. This is no way to treat a friend, or a girlfriend."
He squeezed her hand and she looked up at him. Her tight expression relaxed into a shy smile. "That's sweet," she said, trying to breathe in and out to gather herself. "Was your Valentine's Day as bad as mine?"
Chandler shrugged and slid next to her on the couch. "It was all right."
Monica nodded, he could still feel her ache as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"You know what? Let's get those beers, and ice-cream, let's watch Pretty Woman!" he said, in an attempt to cheer her up.
"I don't have Pretty Woman."
"Well, I do."
Her eyes went wide, and she repressed a laugh. Chandler smiled, relief washing over him. "See, you're already feeling better."
Two hours later, the movie came to an end. Empty beer bottles were scattered on the table, with no coasters, which made Chandler realize they were both way too drunk. In a sober state, Monica would have freaked out already, and he would be too scared to even consider leaving bottle caps strewed around.
Instead, Chandler was still making jokes about the movie, mocking the shopping trips and the montages, both of them couldn't stop laughing.
Until, in a sudden change of tone, Monica said in a soft voice, "Have you ever told someone you loved them and they didn't say anything back, Chandler?"
"You don't want to open that door," he joked, and she nudged him, prompting to answer seriously. "I had a couple of 'oh, crap', once a girl told me 'so?', and another one said 'oh I have to go now' and she just left, in the middle of a date."
Monica gaped at him from over the top of her beer. "You made that last one up!"
"I wish," he answered despondently.
After another moment of silence, she turned to him and said, "The underwear on the telephone pole is mine, from the time I had sex with Bobby on the balcony."
"The underwear on―What? Yours? Oh my God!"
Chandler felt his own jaw creak open. Monica was casually cleaning water rings marks on the table.
"I need another drink, why is this stupid bottle empty," she said.
"No, no, back to the sex on the balcony story!"
"I think I'm drunk."
Monica cleared her throat and forced herself to look at him. "I don't know, it's pathetic, I was trying to impress Bobby, you know? I wanted him to think I was fun or something."
"Sex on the balcony, huh? Sounds kind of hot."
"Embarrassing myself is a running theme in my love life."
"Come on, Monica, it's not embarrassing! Look, when you meet the right guy, you won't have to impress him and he will love you back. These guys just aren't right for you."
Chandler put a gentle hand on her shoulder, and he finally felt her relax.
"Maybe you're right," she said, before shaking her head. "I can't believe I just said that to you. No one knows, not even Phoebe."
They were silent for a moment until she spoke again, almost startled. "No, you have to tell me an embarrassing secret!"
"Why? I won't tell anyone!"
"Obviously you won't, I would have to kill you if you do," she said with a smirk, "no one can know about this. But the balance in our friendship needs to be restored, so you have to tell me a secret."
"Balance? Secret?" Chandler swallowed back with a strangled laugh. "I don't have embarrassing secrets."
Monica looked expectantly at him.
"Really Chandler? A guy like you?"
"Thanks," he said, deadpan all the way.
"We can't hang out together again with this one thing hovering over me. I can't even look at you anymore," she said in a hyper-innocent voice and a pout.
"Fine, fine." Chandler brought her hand and slowly shifted it over his chest.
"Bing what are you doing, I'm not that drunk―Wait, what is that?"
"It's a little bump," Chandler said in a small voice.
"It's a third nipple, okay? I have a third nipple. Here, friendship balance restored!" he said in a burst of exasperation.
She laughed so loudly she snorted. "Oh wow. Balance very much restored indeed!"
"Don't be so giddy."
He hooked his arm through hers. "Let's just be two very embarrassed and lonely friends now." He smiled down at her, and after a couple of minutes, she dozed off on his shoulder.
Chandler Bing liked the spring.
It was still cold in New York by April, and in Manhattan, the buildings and skyscrapers were hiding the shy sun all day, but when he was back from work, and walking in the Village, parks were filled with strollers and blooming flowers. The late winter snow started to melt as the spring was announcing itself in the city.
He was in a good mood when he got home. He hadn't talked to Kip, aside from exchanging pleasantries, since Valentine's Day―he figured it wasn't his place to come between his two friends, and he shuddered at the idea of confronting him about it. The awkwardness that settled between the two roommates wasn't ideal. Kip stopped hanging out as much with the rest of the group, or vice versa, he couldn't tell. Chandler figured Monica had kept Ross and Phoebe in the dark about the 'time out' in her relationship with Kip.
His roommate wasn't home that night, which became a feature of the last few weeks. He'd come home late or even until the morning after.
Chandler dropped his keys on the counter when he noticed a package awaiting him. It was addressed to him, from his mom. He opened it to find 3 book copies of His Sweet Darkness written by Nora Tyler Bing. He sighed and read the card accompanying it. "This is for you and for your friends, if you're not too embarrassed. Please read the dedication. Love you, Mom."
He turned the first few pages to find the dedication.
To my son,
No matter how near or far apart we may be, remember I will always be there if you need me.
Chandler exhaled and sat on his couch, browsing briefly through the book. He couldn't help the embarrassment, it was almost a pavlovian response he had to his mother's extravagance. Her job, which was tied inevitably to her personality, made it hard on him growing up. His friends, and Ross, in particular, were always so in awe with his mother, her flamboyance and her oozing charisma, but to a kid, it was the ultimate nightmare―as she had slowly become more and more famous, her books were being read by other kids at school. It was hard enough dealing with his father coming out and leaving, his mother getting recognized for her sex knowledge didn't help either.
Why couldn't any of his parents just be … normal?
There were the condoms as gifts, the Playboy magazines lying around in the house, the lavish parties and the parade of men she dated; the unsolicited sex advice―and yes, he envied the kids that would be told a cute story when they asked where babies came from. Was is it so wrong he'd rather be sheltered than his mother believing open talks about sex was the right way to raise a kid?
Then send him out to a boarding school to 'prepare him for the realities of life'? He didn't feel he was raised to be independent, it felt to him like he was an inconvenience to her lifestyle. To both his parents' lifestyle.
Ironically, a liberating education without sexual taboos resulted in him feeling emotionally stunted and repressed. Humor and smoking were how he coped with the divorce, but before that, shutting down his emotions and feelings was the only way not to burst from embarrassment and anger―of living in an environment he hated, of his own parents forgetting he was kid or being blind to the damage that kind of exposure would have on him.
He looked again at the words she dedicated to him. Maybe he was being unfair. She did things her own way and she thought it was the right way. He wasn't sure he could blame her for being the way he was, as tempting an excuse it was, and it wasn't like he turned out to be so bad, just not manly enough, incompetent with women, afraid of change and confrontations―all parents mess up their kids to some degree. What he truly regretted was the lack of affection and attention. It seemed pretty mandatory to parenting and he would never understand why he was deprived of that.
Chandler loved his mother, and he didn't want to cut her out of his life. She didn't completely abandon him or forget about him.
He hoped one day he could muster the courage to have a real open conversation with her and tell her all these things.
For now, he picked up the phone, and left her a message to thank her for the books.
He went downstairs to the bar, Monica was at the counter, she smiled when she saw him. He liked knowing some people were happy to see him.
"Chris, two beers, please. And leave the bottle," she told the manager.
"Ah, sounds just like Christmas morning," Chandler quipped.
She laughed and nudged him, and Chandler was relieved their friendship was strong as ever. There was a comfort in that. No matter what happened: Accidentally severed appendages, late night drunk secret reveals or heartbreaks, they would still be friends.
"So, I'm back with Kip. I know what you're going to say."
He couldn't help but be surprised at the news, but there was a defeated look on her face.
"We're doing the casual dating thing," she added before he could respond.
"You don't do casual, Mon."
"No, I don't."
He tapped his fingers on the counter before looking at her and asking cautiously, "Are you giving it a try because you think he's the one or something?"
"Oh no no. He's definitely not the one."
"How do you know?"
"Because I just know. When it's the one, it's not supposed to be this hard."
Chandler smiled and raised his beer, clinking it with hers. "Not that I know anything about love, but that sounds good."
He took a sip and licked his lips. "And listen, whatever happens with him, you can talk to me. I mean, we're best friends, right?"
"No, Chandler. Definitely."
His mouth curved into a smile and she beamed at him.
A few moments later, Kip appeared at the door of the bar, Monica said goodbye and joined him. Chandler watched them as they left. Casual dating definitely wasn't her thing, and he couldn't understand why she would keep dating a guy who didn't deserve her, but he trusted her to know what was best for her. Although sometimes he wondered if she knew what was best for everybody else but herself.
"You don't like Kip."
Chandler was startled and turned to find Phoebe behind him. He looked around to see how she got there, and typically, she didn't explain herself.
"I'm not exactly president of his fan club right now."
"It won't last."
He tilted his head and nodded. "I think so too."
"Chandler Bing, are you growing facial hair?" Phoebe got closer and studied his face.
"How did you know?"
"I sense things, remember! So I'm right, is it a mustache or a goatee?"
"It's time for a change. Goatee season is in full bloom with the kids so I thought why not. Maybe it would magically make me irresistible," he said, waggling his eyebrows.
"Oh, like Weird Al Yankovic!"
Chandler stared at her blankly. "Sure, Pheebs."
They were soon joined by Ross, who came alone that night, and Phoebe later left to visit her grandmother.
"Where's Carol?" he asked him.
"She didn't feel like going out. She hasn't been feeling like going out for the last few weeks," Ross replied.
"I'm sure she's just tired, man."
"Yeah." Ross took a deep breath before looking straight at him. "I guess you heard about Kip and Monica?"
Chandler could read the concern in Ross's face.
"Do I need to worry about her, Chandler? You would tell me if there's something wrong, right?"
"Ross, Monica is a big girl, she can take care of herself."
"I know she does. But Kip has been distant and she didn't say much about them, he was supposed to meet our parents."
Chandler shrugged and patted his shoulder.
"I will always worry about Monica, I'm her brother," Ross continued, "but it makes me feel better to know you're keeping an eye on her. You know, just making sure she's doing ok."
Chandler laughed. "Ross, more often than not she's the one taking care of me, you know that."
"Yes, but I trust you. I like Kip, but you're my best friend and you know her better than any of us."
"Thanks, man," he answered with earnest gratitude. It did make him feel good to be trusted. Ross and Monica considered him their best friend and he couldn't help but smile at that thought.
When Gandalf called him to invite him to his latest graduation party, Chandler reminisced how terrified he was of life, in general, a year ago. How directionless and hopeless he was.
He still felt hopeless and a bunch of other things, but he had a job, an apartment and pretty great friends.
One morning, he walked into his boss' office and was offered a substantial raise. It turned out he was good at his job, and although he would never openly admit it, it sure felt nice to be good at something, even if it wasn't the most glamorous occupation.
So maybe this whole adult thing wasn't too bad. When he came home that night, he dropped his keys and suitcase and went into apartment 20, he found Phoebe and Ross sitting on the couch in a heated debate over an episode of Unsolved Mysteries; while Monica was busy adjusting new curtains over the balcony window.
They didn't need to hang out with him, they weren't obligated to give him their love and affection, or have to have him in their life. They chose to. He knew he'd freely give them his affection and work hard to deserve theirs.
He could go out to a bar any night of the week and hope to find a girl willing to sleep with him, and in reality, it wouldn't be that hard. But meeting friends, building solid friendships was no easy feat once people weren't confined to hang out together because they went to the same school and had to see each other every day.
Those friendships were rare and hard but felt easy and natural. They were the cure to that shock he felt a year ago, the feeling of loneliness and inevitable isolation fresh out of college.
The fact that Kip wasn't hanging out with them anymore, that he phased them out or he got phased out, willingly or unintentionally didn't really matter. It couldn't matter.
If there was one thing he realized about Monica, Phoebe and Ross, it was that being friends with them was a choice, a commitment but never a chore or a coincidence. They were fiercely loyal, if that meant being overprotective over each other and only accepted people who were willing to put the same kind of effort into their friendship, then so be it. He wouldn't change a thing about them.
Of course, if Kip decided to move out or leave, he could live on his own now thanks to his new salary. He felt capable of doing it, as long as he had Monica and Phoebe across the hall to keep him in line. Or he could get another roommate, a roommate who would enjoy the same things, who would become a true ride-or-die friend, a roommate Monica or Phoebe wouldn't have a crush on.
He was still not sure how this adulting thing worked, but Chandler Bing knew he was going to be okay.
If you read all the way through this ridiculously long story, I'm so sorry and thank you!
I wish I had an excuse for this mess but I don't. Not really. I know what you're thinking: Haven't you heard of editing? Well, like the kids say: editing? I don't know her.
I just had way too much fun writing all of this (and more) for multiple months (because I'm a crazy person).
Thanks for reading, as always. Don't be afraid to leave a review to tell me you gave up halfway through :)