Prologue


Spring 2010

Chandler stepped into the bathroom and undressed. The light of the window glowed, and he was startled by the pleasant warmth of an early spring morning around here. It made him think of New York and how Westchester was still recovering from a long rainy and snowy winter, and he thought of Monica. At all moments, he could predict where she was, feel her rhythms and her routine in his bones. She would already be up and running at this time, whipping eggs for breakfast here, hunting for little mismatched shoes, playing hide-and-seek with Andrew there, getting the twins ready for school now ...

His hand went to the level and he let the water pummel him a second later, cold enough at first to almost make him jump out, then enjoying the heat on his face as the stream became thicker and warmer. He closed his eyes, standing mindlessly, and a small certainty began to develop inside him, an aching longing. He wanted to be home, running around flying kites in the backyard with his sons and his daughter, and his wife smiling at his silliness from the kitchen window.

He got out of the shower, a towel around his waist, and opened the blinds. The sun pierced his eyes like swords. He knew there was nothing here for him anymore.

He closed them and dressed, before sitting down at the desk beside the bed. He opened his laptop and a moment later clicked on a video folder titled: Andrew's Birth 10.18.2006.

"Ow. Ow. Ow."

The sounds came before the images on the computer screen; Monica was trying to breathe deeply, looking at him for reassurance and mirroring his raspy exhales. They were in the ER after arriving at the hospital and Joey, who had convinced them to let him film the birth "as per tradition," was waiting for them. Somehow he had gotten there before them. Chandler still couldn't wrap his mind around that to this day.

"Honey?" Monica called to him, looking up from her position on the wheelchair and tightening her hand around his. "Sushi was a mistake."

He laughed at the memory. Earlier that day, they had ordered take out food when Monica got hit with a weird sushi craving. She hadn't eaten sushi during her entire pregnancy, but so close to the delivery date, a few slices of fish didn't seem to matter anymore and Chandler wasn't about to disagree with a nine-months pregnant Monica. She had woken up later in the middle of the night with stomach cramps and they couldn't decide if the pain was because of the sushi or contractions. As it turned out, she was already in labor and they had to rush out to the New York Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital, fifteen minutes away from their house, after Mike and Phoebe came to take the twins.

Chandler skipped through the video, catching frames of the events unfolding: Monica in the hospital room; their friends arriving, followed by her parents, and a couple of hours later, his parents. Then their friends and parents leaving the room; Monica's screams and grunts with Joey still following them.

"Joey, you don't have to film every single moment," Chandler had said to his friend, getting closer to the camera, his hand covering it. He had glanced back at Monica before speaking to him quietly, "This could last hours."

"Fine, fine," Joey had replied.

The footage cut to black suddenly, then minutes later, it was on again, the lens of the camera was covered by Joey's hand.

"Four centimeters." It was the voice of one of the residents that had examined his wife.

"Four? FOUR? No, no, that can't be right. Right, Chandler, please tell me it's not four?"

"Honey, it's okay. You'll get there. Remember what we said in class, babies know when they're ready to be born. You're doing great." Thank God for those prenatal classes, Chandler thought. He had snickered throughout all of them and it had provided endless material for quips, turning Monica temporarily blind from excessive eye-rolling. Bless them and bless those parroting expressions straight out of a wife-in-labor-101 instruction manual.

"I'm tired."

"I know. Shhh." He was trying to soothe her, as the contractions rose and fell. Chandler couldn't remember himself being so collected and calm during the birth. He would never have expected that. Then again, it was always easy to be brave with and around Monica.

Forwarding the video once more, he resumed play when he heard "Push!" repeatedly yelled by the doctor in the delivery room, and by him, trying to encourage a tired, crying Monica and alleviate the unthinkable pain she was going through. Her knuckles went white from gripping his arm until one last furious screech came out of her and one of the nurses' voices had announced, "Oh, there he is!"

A gusting, furious baby scream followed.

He watched himself on the screen, holding Monica's hand and kissing her forehead, as the doctor called to them.

"Look up. There's your baby boy!"

And there he was, his skin pink, eyes squinched shut, head perfectly bald, and wailing.

"That's my baby," Monica said between sobs. She looked at Chandler, and repeated again, as if she couldn't believe it, "That's our baby." And Chandler laughed through the tears.

Minutes later, he was cutting the umbilical cord then slipped away from her side, Monica never tearing her eyes away from the table where the baby was being wiped and weighed and wrapped in a blanket. He looked at his son and helped adjust a cap over his head. "He's perfect, Monica," he said, the tears were coming hot and fast now. How could he ever have doubted one day his ability to cry when his children would be born?

Chandler clicked on the toolbar, jumping to the end of the video, and now they were in a recovery room. Monica was holding the baby, a nurse not too far away. Their friends were all there, Judy and Jack Geller by his wife's side, and his father and mother were there too, a little uncomfortable like fish out of water, Chandler noted, as he focused on them in the video. His dad, in particular, was shuffling his feet. It made him smile to realize his father was as awkward as he was in highly stressful social situations.

Chandler had scooted himself up by Monica's head. "You were amazing, honey," he said, kissing her lips softly.

"I know!" Monica answered, looking down at the baby again. "You were worth it, baby boy."

The nurse approached them with a chart. "Have you thought of a name yet?" she asked and Chandler and Monica looked at each other undecidedly.

"Well," Monica had started, her gaze focused on Chandler, "we were going to name him Daniel but I don't know—"

"He doesn't look like a Daniel," Chandler finished her sentence to which she responded with a warm smile.

"Yeah."

"We still have the back-up plan, Chandler Junior," he said, in an attempt to make her laugh.

"Oh honey, don't mock the name I picked for you," Nora Tyler Bing—amazingly attired in a sober leather sheath dress which didn't flaunt her cleavage, he noted with relief and gratitude— suddenly interjected. "In fact, it's a funny story."

"I'm sure it is, Mom, but is it the kind of funny story I want to hear in front of my friends and my in-laws?"

Then his father stepped up, dressed in a linen jumpsuit and cardigan, with his hair up in a neat, polished bun. "I think it could help, son. Your mother and I couldn't agree on a name so we rock, paper and scissored it. The winner would get to pick your first name and the loser would pick your middle name. Your mother won. Raymond Chandler is her favorite author."

"And Muriel's Wedding was your favorite movie?" Chandler deadpanned.

"No," Charles Bing said, smirking. "Muriel Evans, my favorite old Hollywood actress."

"Your father thought Chandler was too straight a name," Nora said around a laugh.

"Well, I'm glad you lost."

"Chandler, if I had won, I wouldn't have given you Muriel as your first name."

"We weren't that bad at parenting," Nora mused.

"If I'd won, I would have given you my middle name, which happened to be your grandfather's name too."

Chandler furrowed his brows, then his features softened as he remembered his grandfather's name. "Andrew?"

"Yes. Your grandpa was born in Scotland, in a town called St Andrews. He was named after it—his parents weren't terribly creative," Charles said. "My father and I … we didn't have the best relationship, you can imagine why. But if it was your first name, I would have named you Andrew. There are some traditions I like."

"Andrew Bing," Monica whispered to Chandler. "I like it."

Chandler smiled at her then looked up at the camera. "Andrew Joseph Bing," he added, winking at Joey.

"Aw, you guys. I'm going to cry," a louder voice from the recorder came. "Hello, Joseph Bing," Joey had said as his hand waving at the baby appeared on the screen. He got closer to the baby with Chandler retreating slightly to stand beside his father.

"It's good to know one Bing is a good father in the family," Charles said in a quiet voice to him.

Chandler turned to him. "I hope so," he replied sheepishly.

"You already are a great father, Chandler." His father put a hand on his shoulder and Chandler had slightly squirmed at first before relaxing. Charles leaned and kissed Andrew's forehead. "Welcome to the world, Andrew. You're a lucky baby boy."

Chandler paused the video as he felt his chest constrict, looking at the image on the screen of him and Monica beaming in awe at Andrew in her arms—he was so scrawny, with tiny legs in a froggy newborn position, so vulnerable. Then he watched Charles on the video, staring at Chandler in adoration, looking so proud and so fatherly, maybe for the first time in his life. Chandler knew, the resentment and the old bitterness the years had built up since he was a child, were all gone at that moment.

He took a deep breath and wiped at his eyes before resuming play. In the last moments of the video, the twins were there, sitting around their mother on the hospital bed, laughing and smiling at their little brother. Jack with a serious look on his face as he slowly and with extreme care held Andrew's hand, fascinated and scared to hurt him. And Erica, already asking all kinds of questions to her mother about him.

Andrew was three now. Chandler reminisced about his first few days as a red and wrinkled baby in his arms, barely able to hold his head. Three years later, he was now able to walk and talk, learning and engaging a little more every day with the world around him, laughing at the silliness of his siblings and crying when he wouldn't get his way.

And the twins were in kindergarten.

He sighed wistfully. "You'll forget how small they were," Ross kept telling him when he often ruminated about being a father, and Chandler didn't want to believe it. Jack and Erica were an invaluable gift, Andrew was a miracle and there was an annoying truth in some clichés—time had the unfortunate tendency of flying by when you were happy.

He stopped the video and closed the computer.

This is was it. This was everything. If not the meaning of life, the meaning to his life, to hold on and never let go.

Only Monica, Jack, Erica, and Andrew.

Home.

There was no time left to waste.


NOTES


I always wanted to write a post-series Mondler story but was afraid it would be a little overwhelming. Plus some of them already written here are so good (check them out!). But here we go, I'm giving it a try!

Special thanks to DocWordsmith, for beta-reading and helping with this chapter.

Thanks for reading, leave a review to let me know if you're intrigued at all—or just confused!