First Date in the Real World

Monica had just finished taking an especially long and luxuriant bath. After drying off and fixing her still wet hair into a loose ponytail, she decided, since she was feeling very relaxed, to lounge for a bit in her apartment. She pulled her robe closed as she exited the bathroom and practically glided into her bedroom, riding high on endorphins. Once there she dressed in a soft cotton tank top and a pair of comfy pajama shorts. She slid on a pair of fuzzy socks that she took from the top drawer of her dresser, put her robe back on and made her way into the living room.

She finally had three consecutive days off for the first time since she went to London for her brother's ill-fated wedding and she was going to take full advantage of them. She made sure to run as many errands as she could the previous morning before work so she could take time today to unwind and relieve some stress. She positioned herself on the end of the couch with her legs underneath her, and began to read a magazine she took from the coffee table, sipping at some tea that Rachel had made for them.

Ross was visiting, something he did with much more regularity than he ever had before, especially when he had his own apartment to call home. It seems though he prefers to spend time here at Monica and Rachel's, since hanging around a building where most of the other tenants think you're a jerk, isn't very much fun.

Rachel, who looked ready to burst, bounded into the living room from the kitchen after grabbing a cup of tea and plopped herself down onto the big comfy chair. She threw her hands up emphatically and began to whine. "Monica! Come on! You haven't told me anything about you two yet!" She exhaled out loudly as an exaggerated sign of her frustration.

Monica chuckled and shook her head. Her eyes never leaving the magazine she was skimming. "Rach. You've been grilling me for days. What else could there possibly be that I haven't told you or Phoebe already?"

Rachel turns to Ross, looking for an accessory in her pursuit for more information. "Ross!" She said his name as if it were a protest. "Isn't there anything you want to know?"

Ross looks away from the television to face her and rolls his eyes. "Do I want to hear about my sisters sex life? No Rachel, I do not."

Rachel throws her hands up in theatrical exasperation again. "You two are no fun!"

Before she can complain any further, the three of them become distracted from their conversation when they hear the front door to the apartment swing open. Chandler bounds into the room, his excitement almost electrifying. He greets Ross with a nod and lets out a terse, "Hey Rach" as he swings around the couch to face Monica. He stares at her for a brief moment. Her skin supple from the hot bath she had just taken. "You look amazing. I've never seen a more beautiful woman this early in the day."

Monica giggles at his overexuberance. "Chandler, I'm still in my robe."

"Don't care; you look radiant!" He leans over to kiss her and Rachel smiles at them affectionately.

"Oh, you guys are so cute." Rachel then sharply turns to Ross; her smile fades and her face becomes full of indignation. "How come when we were dating, you never told me how good I looked when I was wearing a robe?"

Ross drops his hands into his lap and shakes his head. "What?"

Monica laughs again, smiling widely. Chandler takes her hand in his. "I need you to go out with me tonight. I want to take you on a real date. Our first real date. What do you say?"

Monica furrows her brow, her confused expression only betrayed by a slight half-smile. "What do you mean. We've been on dates."

Chandler sits down on the coffee table across from her. "Not really. Not on a real date. One where you can get dressed up here in your apartment. Where everyone knows you are going out. No little white lies or hiding. I can pick you up here in front of everyone and we don't have to sneak around. A real world, no holds barred, first date."

Monica turns her eyes down and smiles bashfully. She looks over at Rachel and then to Ross quickly, as if looking to gauge their reaction. She feels almost slightly uncomfortable. Still not used to having what has been such a private part of her life, now on display for everyone to see, and judge.

Rachel gives off a sweet moan as if taken aback again by the tender moment. She turns to Ross once more, her eyes narrow scornfully. "Why didn't you ever take me out on a second first date?"

Ross' opens his mouth slightly in shock. "Rachel! There is no such thing as a second first date! That doesn't even make sense!"

Rachel stares at him smugly and gestures towards Monica and Chandler. "Well, what do you call that! They are going on a second first date!"

Ross returns his attention to the television and shakes his head. "I hate this. Not only do people talk about my little sister having sex, but now I am getting in trouble for a relationship that I haven't been in for almost two years!" His voice rising to an agonized crescendo by the time he reaches the end of his lament.

Monica purses her lips and waves him off, returning her focus to Chandler. "Well, how do I dress for this date tonight?"

Chandler stiffens up a bit and looks off to the side. "Uh, well, dressy casual. I'm not sure. We are going to see a show and then dinner. How would you dress for that?"

Monica tilts her head and raises her eyebrows, clearly already impressed with him. "What show are we seeing?"

Chandler starts to hum "Willkommen". The three friends turn to look at him, their faces expressing sheer bewilderment. "Oh, come on. Doesn't everyone know this?" He starts to hum again, gesturing with his hands as if pleading with them to name the tune. "I can't believe this." He begins to sing, slightly off key and stiff with self-consciousness. "Willkommen! And bienvenue! Welcome! I'm cabaret, au cabaret, to cabaret!" Ross starts to laugh as Rachel tries to stifle her own outburst with a smile. Chandler, looking at them incredulously finally blurts out "Cabaret! We're going to see cabaret! Don't you guys remember the movie? It was on all the time when I was a kid. My father used to play the record constantly. I don't remember that much about the story, but I still know all the songs."

Ross shakes his head. "No Chandler. My dad didn't make me watch musicals with Liza Minelli. He also didn't dress like Liza Minelli."

Chandler closes his eyes and shakes his head. Monica shoots her brother a furious look and puts her arms around Chandler protectively. "Don't listen to him. This is the same guy who begged my mother to buy him a Bionic Woman action figure and threw a fit when she gave him Steve Austin instead." She looks back at Chandler. "I think it's sweet, but how did you get tickets so fast?"

"Well, my boss gets tickets all the time to events in the city through corporate. I guess to entertain vendors. Whenever there are extra tickets that he doesn't use, we can reimburse the company for them and take them ourselves. They're normally very good seats so we should be really close to the stage. I'll come get you here at six. Sound good?"

Monica shoots one more glare at her brother and then turns to face Chandler, smiling at him sweetly. "That sounds great. I would love to go on a real first date with you." They share a quick kiss. "Oh, I have to find something to wear!" Monica shoots up from her seat and begins to rock back-and-forth on the balls of her feet, awash in excitement.

Rachel springs up as well. "Oooo! I'll help you pick something out!" The two friends clasp their hands together and scurry over to Monica's bedroom, closing the door behind them.

Chandler steps up to the door of apartment 20 and takes a deep breath. He is surprised by the slight nervous energy he feels. Tingles running up and down his spine and through the tips of his fingers. He tugs at his tie lightly, wondering if he should have skipped wearing a suit and tried to appear more casual. He grips the small clutch of flowers he decided to purchase at the last minute upon Joey's insistence. "Dude. You always bring flowers. If you want to treat this like a real date you gotta bring flowers!" Replaying his roommates' words in his head helps to settle him down as he turns the knob and enters the apartment.

"Damn! I meant to knock!" He goes to turn around to walk out but hears footsteps gingerly collecting behind him which catches his attention.

"Are those for me?" He looks back towards the living room as Monica approaches him. She is wearing a cobalt blue dress that hugs her every curve. Her heels clacking on the floor as she approaches him. Chandler freezes, unable to answer and just pushes the flowers in her direction wordlessly. "Well, I guess that means you like my dress. You look very handsome yourself." She runs her finger lightly along his jawline and pulls him towards her for a kiss.

Chandler glances down at himself for a moment. Dark blue dress pants and matching jacket. White shirt and a red and grey striped tie. He smirks a bit, "I doubt anyone will even know I'm there. All eyes are going to be on you."

Monica takes the flowers from Chandler and places them in the sink. "Thank you for these, they're very pretty. I'll get a vase for them later." She turns and presses herself into him, running her hands down his chest and she breaths him in. "Mmmm. You smell good too. You're really are taking this seriously."

"Mon. If you keep touching me like this, we aren't going to go anywhere." She laughs and kisses him on the cheek. Chandler's eyes scan every inch of her, his mouth opens slightly as he licks his lips, his throat feeling dry. "I can't get over this dress. I am the luckiest guy in the whole world. I can't believe I get to go out with you. Why is that again?"

Monica, her face practically glowing from the attention, smiles at him as her eyes twinkle. "Well, because I love you. That's why."

Chandler clears his throat. "Do you know the name of that guy who thought you were Ross' mom? I want to send him a thank you note."

Monica exhales a short laugh as she takes his hand. "Okay Mr. lucky guy. Let's get going so we aren't late to the show."

Once they find their seats, Monica takes off her jacket but pulls it over her shoulders to stay warm in the cool theater. Chandler tugs at his tie slightly to let some air into his collar. He hands her the playbill to look over. She traces her fingers across the pages as she reads. "Is this play in English? I think I remember seeing a commercial for it. These costumes look familiar."

"What? Yeah. I mean, some songs have, I guess French or German? I'm not sure really. I just remember the words from the crazy amount of times I heard this playing in the background when I was a kid. I don't even know what this is about. I guess a dance party or something?"

Monica, still looking down at the playbill reaches her free hand over to him and they interlock their fingers. "Well, it sure has a lot of songs." As if on cue the house lights go down and the din of the audience dissipates, leaving mostly silence in the darkened theater until the first few bars of the opening song begin to play. As the actor slinks around the stage, singing seductively, Monica becomes enthralled. She only catches every other word or so, but she is completely mesmerized by the performance.

Chandler, very subtly bobbing his head to the music throughout the play, has his eyes transfixed on her almost the entire time. He smiles as her face lights up when a dance number thrills her. Her eyes shimmer in the dark room and her chin almost quivers during the more tense and dramatic scenes. He watches her, marveling at how engrossed she has become in the play. The only time their hands separate is to share in the applause with the rest of the audience every time a song concludes. He leans over and kisses her on the cheek and she turns her eyes towards him for a moment, her lips curl up on one side. "You should be watching this you know. It is really good. Some of these songs are so beautiful."

"What I am looking at is pretty beautiful too. I have the best seat in the house. I feel really special right now." She turns to look at him, slightly confused. "I'm the only one here in this entire building who gets to watch you." Monica raises his hand up to her mouth and kisses him on the knuckles as she smiles bashfully. Her eyes, shining as the lights from the stage bounce off them. She leans into him, resting her head on his arm as they watch the rest of the play.

As the waiter finishes pouring their wine, Monica reaches across the table to grab Chandler's hand. "Thank you for tonight. I haven't seen a show in such a long time. It was nice to get all dressed up. I can't remember the last time someone took me out like this." Her nose crinkles a bit as she lets yet another smile spread widely across her lips. "I have to say; I am surprised you liked the play."

Chandler looks down at his wine glass and picks it up with his free hand. "Well, I mostly just like the music. I guess I grew up with a lot of Broadway soundtracks always playing in the house. Or at least, always playing when my dad was around. But you're right. There was a bit too much androgyny for me. Probably why my dad liked the movie so much."

Monica laughs. "Well, I thought that Cumming guy was pretty hot."


Monica smiles, having fun edging him on in his discomfort. "Oh yeah. Androgyny can be pretty hot. Look at David Bowie."

Chandler sips at his wine. "Maybe we don't talk about guys you find hot while you're having dinner with your boyfriend."

"But what if I find my boyfriend hot too. Can I talk about that?"

"Sure. As long as you don't find him androgynous."

"Oh, don't be such a guy about it. I love that you like things like the music to this show. Embracing your feminine side is very sexy." She runs her finger up and down his arm as she leans closer to him from across the small table they are sharing.

"If singing Broadway songs gets you to sleep with me, then you can call me whatever you want. Just maybe, don't tell the guys about it."

Monica rolls her eyes, and disentangles her fingers from his so she can pick up her wine glass and take a sip.

Chandler hits himself in the forehead with the base of his palm. "Oh, wait. I also got you something to make up for the other day when I, well, you know, with the ring. You were there. You know what happened. Let's not talk about it." Chandler reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small, gift-wrapped box. He slides it across the table towards her.

"You have done enough. Flowers, a show, dinner. You were already getting into my pants. You don't need to try this hard anymore." She opens the box and finds two sparkling diamond earrings inside. "Oh, wow, these are really beautiful. I hope you didn't spend too much. Well, I hope you didn't spend too little either." Monica snorts lightly at her own joke. "You know, I like this Chandler. I get to have him all to myself. I get to see you vulnerable. Not in a weak way. You have this happy kind of vulnerability. Like your defenses are down. You aren't as sarcastic either, which is a plus."

"Well, the night is still young."

Monica shakes her head and huffs, pretending to be put off. "Why do you make so many jokes?"

"Well, being the funny guy works for me. My jokes are why people like me."

Monica wrinkles her brow. "Is that the message you've been getting from us?"

Chandler offers up sarcastic laughter. "Making jokes is why everyone likes me Nobody really ever liked the real me. My parents sure didn't."

"Well I do."

Chandler scoffs. "No, you don't. This guy, with the sarcasm. That's the guy you all know and love."

Monica shakes her head. "Yes, I do. I've seen the other guy who exposes his soft underbelly. I've seen you almost every day for over seven years and I've seen you insecure and I've seen you be a jerk who can get mean sometimes. I'm sorry to break this to you, but now that I've seen relationship Chandler, I know every version of you and I love you. The best thing about it is that I get this whole other part of you. The sweet part who wants to impress his girlfriend even though he doesn't have to. The part of you that is smiling sincerely all the time and happy and sentimental. I love you Chandler; all of you."

Chandler looks down sheepishly. "I pinch myself constantly about that. I don't get it."

"That's because you don't let yourself see you the way I do. You're the guy who speaks softly to me while we lay in bed. The guy who secretly helps his friends out with money so they don't feel bad. The guy who always made sure I got home safely. Chandler, the real you is all of these really great things. And if people couldn't see that before, well then, that's on them."

Chandler looks up, his face still with a half-smile as he makes eye contact. "I love you. I don't know how you were available for so long or how I got this lucky."

"Well, it isn't all luck. You are pretty good at this boyfriend stuff."

Chandler takes her hand and squeezes it gently. "I guess it comes easy. I think of you and how to make you smile. Not only because I know it means you're happy, but I get this rush knowing I can do that. Knowing I can make your nose crinkle up because you're smiling so wide. I know keeping this a secret probably helped us get to where we are, but now that we aren't hiding anymore, I'm so mad at all the time we wasted where I couldn't just be your boyfriend all the time. That I couldn't just kiss you and hold you whenever I wanted to. I know that we were worried about what would happen to the group if we didn't work out, but you were so worth that risk."

Monica looks back down, her cheeks flush as the flickering of the candle on the table bounces across her face. "That's maybe the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me." She composes herself for a moment, trying to get her emotions under control. "So, I guess this means no more freak outs?"

Chandler lets out a low chuckle. "I can't promise that. But I will say, if I do freak out, I'll be running in the opposite direction than I used to."

"What do you mean?"

Chandler looks around the table, trying to focus on some random object as he tries to cope with how open he has been during this entire discussion. "You saw what I did when I panicked. I bought a ring! I just think that this relationship is so important, that if I am running. It won't be away from it, but towards it."

"That's good. Because if you were to try to run away, I'd probably chase after you."

From the moment they entered apartment 19 they began kissing. Neither one reaching for the lights. Their touches were tender, unrushed. There was no sense of urgency in their passion. It was gentle, affectionate. Chandler finally pulls back and looks at Monica hungrily, his eyes now filled with desire. "So, you want to move this into the bedroom?"

Monica closes her eyes and makes a slightly embarrassed face. She slowly shakes her head. "I don't know. I actually don't feel so good."

Chandler steps further into his apartment, pulling her with him by the waist. "Oh no. Was it the food or the wine? Do you need me to run out and get you something?"

She reluctantly shakes her head. "No, no. I'm not sick. I'm okay, I just don't feel up to it tonight."

Chandler, looking slightly dejected, slides his hands from her and puts them on his hips. "Oh. Okay. Well why not get changed and we can go to bed anyway."

Monica steps back towards the kitchen. "I was thinking I would go back to my apartment tonight."

Chandler shrugs his shoulders and nods. "Okay, I'll come with you then."

Monica looks at him nervously and starts to stammer a bit. "Oh, uh, well, maybe…"

"Look, Mon. I just don't want to go to bed without you anymore. Even if you're sick. I'm sorry. Is that too much? I know I can come on too strong. I probably shouldn't have said that." Chandler suddenly becomes tense as he rubs the back of his neck with his hand.

Monica takes a deep breath. "No, Chandler. No. That's not it."

"I just know that I scared the other girls away by doing too much too fast. I'm sorry. Did I do something wrong?"

"Oh honey no. Chandler. That's exactly what I want from you. I don't want a boyfriend who's never around and I'm stuck watering his plants, or someone who lives across town where we go three days without seeing each other. I want this." She gestures at the space between them. "I want you all the time, near me, available. I want you to come on strong and I don't want to go to sleep without you anymore either. It's just, well, I kind of got know…" Monica starts to nod her head at him, trying to get her point across non-verbally.

Chandler's eyes widen as he surprises himself for how quickly he is picking up on what Monica was trying to tell him. "Ohhhh! Oh. Well, uh, so what. We can still do stuff if you want to."

Monica makes a face and shakes her head. "I'm not really feeling very sexy at the moment."

"Well, you look sexy." Monica shoots him an impatient glare. "But look. We don't have to do anything, okay. I just want to be with you. How about you put on some comfortable pajamas and bring over some sweats for tomorrow and we can just hang out here all day? Just relax and take it easy."

Monica tilts her head, raising her eyebrows in slight surprise. "Really? It doesn't bother you? I was normally able to avoid you during this time of the month when we were hiding from everyone else. It was pretty easy not to have a conversation about it."

"Well, we're living in the real world now, right? And periods are part of the real world. I don't mind if you don't. If you aren't comfortable, then I understand."

Monica leans back into him for one more long kiss. "No, I'd like that. Let me go change." Once Monica exits the apartment, Chandler stands around for a few minutes reflecting on the events of the evening and wondering why he wasn't uncomfortable talking about Monica's period. He shudders a bit as he thinks more on it and walks into his room. He pulls out a pair of pajama bottoms and flips a few shirts around in his drawer until he settles on a long sleeve grey shirt. He reaches over to the end table by his bed and grabs a pen and the folded-up newspaper lying there. He opens it up to the crossword puzzle and lays it down on the table in the living room. He then settles down into his Barcalounger and waits for Monica to return, still trying to get a handle on everything they had talked about this evening.

Monica finally walks in, flashes a smile at Chandler and places two wine glasses down onto the card table near his chair. He looks at her for a moment and realizes she is wearing the top that matches his bottoms. "Hey, I was just looking for those."

Monica turns to him and squints her eyes as she places a pair of sweatpants on the table next to the glasses and pours some wine out for them to drink. "Oh, yeah, I may have some of your shirts and pajama tops at my place. I would wear them sometimes whenever we couldn't spend the night together."

"Really? Why? I mean, you look very cute in my clothes, so I am not complaining."

Monica smiles at him as she walks over and sits down on his lap. "Well, they kind of have your smell on them. It made me feel like you were there even when you weren't."

"Really? You like my smell?"

She starts to tug on the fabric of his shirt. "When you're clean I do."

"From now on, we make sure to go to sleep together all the time so you don't feel like you're missing me and my smell. But keep the shirts. I'm not kidding. That's really hot." Monica laughs and plants another kiss on his lips as she reaches across for her wine glass. "Why are you wearing jeans though? Are you going to sleep in those?"

"Well, they tend to give me the most, um, security and they look better than my sweats."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you know. In case it gets…uh...heavy? I can't believe we're talking about this. Anyway, jeans tend to offer a little more protection from leaking. I have those really ugly, bulky sweat pants for later when we go to sleep."

It takes Chandler a few moments to understand everything Monica is saying, and he struggles with all of his self-control not to make a face that he realizes might make her feel self-conscious, even though he is a little uncomfortable. "Look. We're in this, together. Right? And now everyone knows and we are out in the open and it's real. So, we shouldn't hold stuff back." He holds her hand and plays with her fingers for a bit. "I won't lie. It's kind of scary to be out in the real world."

Monica lifts his chin so he can look up at her. "I'm a little scared too. Maybe we can be scared together." She leans into him for another kiss, but they both sense that this kiss feels different than many of the others they have shared over these last five months. It doesn't feel like the innumerable number of passionate kisses they have shared, hungry and wanting, that normally led to sex. It also didn't feel like a casual, quick peck they would use as a greeting or in a fleeting moment alone before someone was able to catch them in the act. This kiss felt new, and warm. This kiss felt like comfort and security. This kiss felt like a promise. This kiss felt like love.

A/N – This is the end of this part of their story. I always felt like breaking up the relationship into different "Arcs" made sense, and after the apology proposal, their relationship feels different. Chandler really doesn't revert back to the panicky guy who ran out to buy a ring until the wedding. Now, the two of them are a real couple, no more hiding.

Soon enough I will start the next part of the series, once I figure some things out. I will also be updating the pre-mondler story and the post-series story more frequently. I just saw the light at the end of this tunnel and wanted to close it out.

Thanks to everyone who took time to read this and especially to those who took the time to review. I had no idea how much I liked reading reviews until about half-way through this. So, I really appreciate it. For those of you who haven't reviewed, what can I say but "you're on my list!" ;)

Thanks again!