The Apple and The Tree
Chandler took the damp morning air into his lungs and started to fall into the hypnotic tempo of his steps as the Jersey Boys soundtrack was blasting through his earphones. The sky was crisply blue, uncharacteristic of wintry mornings. He was jogging through a trail in Pelham Bay Park and as Beggin' started playing, he looked at his watch and stopped, taking deep breaths before sitting on the sidewalk. He pulled out his iPod from his pocket and hit stop on the music.
For a couple of minutes, he took a break, enjoying the quiet and the immensity of the landscape, until the sound of his phone's ringtone shook him out of his trance. He picked up the phone after Ross's name appeared on the screen.
"Hey, man," Chandler said, short of breath and his voice raspy.
"Ew, are you in the middle of sex?"
"What? No, I was running."
There was a pause, and Chandler guessed his brother-in-law was unwilling to believe him.
"You were … running? Sex seems more likely."
"Yes, I was running."
"You, Chandler Muriel Bing, were running?"
Chandler rolled his eyes. It was one of those things. "Yes, me. I have a wife and three kids and I'd like to have as much time with them as I can so I'm exercising a bit, to live longer."
He could hear Ross's skepticism through the phone, even with Emma yelling in the background.
"Wait a minute," Ross said in a knowing tone. "Did Monica make you?"
"No," he replied matter-of-factly. "She tried a few times in the past and always failed miserably, she knows better. This is all me."
"Hmm, it's weird. I can't picture you running," Ross said thoughtfully. "Well, Mon must be thrilled."
Chandler grinned. "Of course, she's the first one who gets to reap the benefits."
"Ew! Dude, that's my sister!"
He could picture Ross's face scrunching up in disgust and it made him chuckle. "I know, torturing you never gets old."
"Ok, good for you," Ross said before a pause. "Maybe I should take up running too," he added as if talking to himself.
"Yeah, it's really great. At the end of a run, I can have the odd cigarette, come home all sweaty and take a shower straight away. It's a win-win situation for everybody."
"That's much more like you."
Chandler ignored the dig, and got up to walk toward his car. "So, what's up?"
"Oh yeah, I have to cancel our weekly Basketball game this afternoon. I already told Joey."
He made a face. "What weekly Basketball game?"
"You know, this decade long tradition we have of you, me and Joey playing a game of ball every weekend?"
"We hardly ever play anymore and I'm pretty sure the last five games were canceled. Technically, it's anything but a weekly tradition."
"All right, smartass. I was simply laying my soul bare about one of the hallmarks of our friendship, but fine, I guess, sentimentality is dead," Ross said in his typical over-dramatic tone, Chandler pulled the phone away from his ear until he finished talking.
"Okay, Ross, it's fine. Next time we have a game I'll pick up printed Boys Ball Game Tradition t-shirts or something," he deadpanned in response.
"That's a great idea!" Ross's enthusiasm then came to a halt. "You better not be joking! Anyhoo, Rachel and I kind of had a fight. I don't know if you heard."
Chandler pulled a bottle of Gatorade from the trunk of his car before putting on a training jacket. "Sure, it's you and Rachel, I've read all about it on Page Six."
It was Ross's turn to ignore his gibe. "So, to forgive me, I surprised her and we're going on a trip to Vermont."
"Makes perfect sense."
"You and Monica in?"
"I don't think so, she's really busy with the restaurant, business is booming and I'm spending time with the kids since Jack's test results came back."
"Oh yeah, about that. Congrats, dude. I wonder if Emma and Ben should take the test, I mean, intelligence is hereditary―"
"I hope arrogance is not."
"Fine. I'll stop talking. See you next week then?"
Chandler smiled. "At the Boys Weekly Traditional Ballgame ? Sure."
Chandler entered the house and found Monica in the living room, getting ready to leave. "Hey, babe."
He walked to her and started to kiss her neck while she was busy inspecting her bag.
"Oh, you're all sweaty and sticky. Go take a shower, I'm late for the restaurant."
"So what? All that sweat from working out, my bulging muscles, the glossy shine of my skin, droplets of sweat trickling down my back ..."
"Oh yes, dirty sweat," she said, pulling away from him. "Be still my beating heart."
Chandler smirked. "I recall you liking it dirty and sweaty a few times."
"Chandler! Not in front of the kids."
He looked at the kids sitting on the couch in front of the TV. "They'll grow up and understand."
"You're going to be ok here? Erica has a bruise on her knee from soccer practice and she's going to make you listen to her part in the Christmas pageant, Jack is buried in some math equation and I have no idea what it is, and Andrew is particularly craving attention today."
He stared at her blankly. "Why did we have kids again? It's escaping me right now."
"Fulfilling the meaning of life or something like that."
He smiled as he leaned to kiss her, and tried to avoid touching her, but she willingly kissed him back, a hand going over his neck. "I'll come home as soon as I can," she said, sighing as she looked at the kids then at him again. "I hate working during the holidays. Why did I become a chef?"
"Because you love it and you're so good at it, rich, sophisticated foodies all the way from Asia and Europe travel to New York to taste your overpriced, delicious food with Vivaldi playing in the background."
She cocked her head to the side, before pecking him on the lips and slapping his backside as she passed him on her way to the door. "I love you."
"I know. Drive safe."
Monica left and Chandler turned to his kids in the living room. There was a suspicious moment of silence, which was never a good sign as far as he was concerned.
Suddenly, Jack had an outburst. "Erica, stop coloring on my book, it's ugly!" he yelled at his sister.
"You're ugly! I'm making it fun."
"This book is not for coloring. Dad!"
Almost mirroring each other, the twins turned to him, waiting for their father to take a side in their kerfuffle, when Andrew jumped from his spot with a drawing in his hand. "Daddy, look, I made something for you."
A shower and an hour later, Chandler had joined the kids on the couch. Erica stood in front of the TV, performing to her father with Andrew looking positively impressed and Jack less than thrilled his study time was being disturbed.
"It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the hap, happiest season of all!"
Chandler had successfully solved everyone's crisis, preventing an escalation that would have needed a UN resolution. He distracted Erica by asking to listen to some of the songs she was going to perform at the school's "Holiday Hoopa" ―an all-inclusive version of a Christmas pageant―leaving Jack quietly working on his math equations, part of the advanced class homework he was given for the holidays. For every other kid it was homework, for Jack it was one of the few worthwhile pastimes that could grab his attention fully.
Chandler was glad he could get a vacation for Christmas and New Year's after Jack's test came back. They had been warned the dynamic between the twins could shift after finding out Jack was gifted. They had to make sure both Erica and Jack were equaled encouraged and supported in their passions and their strengths. At the same time, he knew it would only be detrimental to try and level the field between them. He knew it was a source of worry for Monica and remembered how hurtful it was for her to feel inferior to Ross and even more so when she learned he might have subconsciously messed up to make her look good. Parenting was an eternal damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't game, and to some extent, he could sympathize with the Gellers but their treatment of Monica was inexcusable to him. He would do everything in his power to never let Erica feel an ounce of that hurt and those feelings of inferiority in her life.
"Very good, Erica!" he said as she bowed to them at the end of her performance.
"I wanna sing with Eri, Daddy," Andrew exclaimed, jumping up and down the couch.
"Go ahead, Andy," he responded, tapping him on the nose.
Andy started his own rendition of It's The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year, singing one word and forgetting about half the rest of the lyrics.
Erica then twirled on one foot with grace and finesse, showing off her new powder-blue tutu. Andy, watching his sister, tried to twirl too, with a lot less skill but looking very proud of himself.
"Look, Daddy, I can twirl!" he announced.
At that moment, Jack looked up from his notebook and put his pen down, Chandler caught a glint in his eye.
"Come on, Jackaroo, you want to give it a try too?"
Jack seemed to ponder as he looked at his father, Chandler nodded in encouragement. Jack stood up and joined his brother and sister, twirling and finishing with his arms wide open.
"That's good, Jack!" Erica said. "Here, I'll show you another one." She went to him and gestured with her hands another dance movement, and now they were both laughing and giggling at themselves and at Andrew beside them. Sometimes that was all it took for them to make up.
"You can color on my book if you want to," Jack said bashfully. "You too, Andy."
"Nemo!" screamed Andy, whose attention switched firmly to the TV screen now. "Daddy, I wanna watch, please?"
The kids looked at Chandler with their best impression of puppy-eyed dogs, each one of them in Christmas-themed jammies with a different color. Chandler felt an overwhelming wave of love for his kids. An hour earlier, they were the evilest little creatures, and now, they could bring peace to the world through the sheer power of their cuteness.
"Let's watch Nemo then," he finally said, scooping Andrew on his lap.
After the movie, the kids had a few cookies and chocolate milk smeared all over their faces, lying on the couch in contentment when a commercial piqued Erica's curiosity.
"Dad! Daddy, look!"
Chandler looked up from his crouched position, cleaning cookies crumbs with Monica's finest vacuum.
"It's Munkustrap!" Erica said.
"Oh yeah, it's Cats. Huh, it's coming to New York."
"Can we go? I love Cats, I'm Grizabella! We can take Mommy."
Chandler shook his head. "Mommy doesn't like people dressed as cats, or cats dressed as people or plain cats for that matter."
"But it's my favorite!" Erica looked at her father with wide eyes. She knew she would get what she wanted, the only question was when. "We could sing Memory all together. Memory! Turn your face to the moonlight!"
Chandler cringed, he was left with no choice. "Ok, ok Erica, I'll talk to Mom. Just―let's enjoy some quiet."
"Thank you, Daddy."
Jack shook his head at him and Chandler swore if his son's eyes could speak, they were mumbling "Suckah" to him.
Monica came home and found Chandler sitting on the couch, with a notebook and a pen in his hand and two glasses of wine on the table.
"What are you doing?" she asked, pecking him on the lips and looking over his shoulder.
Chandler took off his glasses. "Oh, just drawing some storyboard ideas for the Hershey's campaign. How was your day?"
"Crazy! I'm on a roll. We had to make these lemon pies for the last service, the last four pies we had. Then Massimo suddenly dropped one of them."
Chandler raised an eyebrow. "Is he dead? Did you come home to ask me where to hide the body? Our backyard won't do the trick."
She nudged him. "No! He went completely white and froze and I had to think fast. I mean, I would have yelled but really, it was such a disaster... So I thought, we have two stars, we can't just say 'we dropped the pie, kind sir, pay up!'" Monica said in an unfortunate British accent, which made Chandler bite his lip to prevent himself from laughing.
"I picked up the pie and added more lemon juice on it. And I tried to make the other pies look like they were squashed too. We presented them to the guy as a surprise dessert and I called it 'The Imperfectly Perfect Pie' and guess what?"
"He asked you if you were Chandler Bing's wife and were inspired by his advertising savvy?"
She smirked at him. "He loved it! He thought it was genius and it turned out he was a food critic from San Francisco. I couldn't believe it."
"That's amazing, honey."
"I mean, it's weird. A month ago, I'm not sure he'd think it was genius. Is this what being a starred restaurant means? Every accident is labeled genius? I don't know how I feel about that."
Chandler pulled his cheek up in a sarcastic smile. "Oh, what a problem to have."
"Okay, I'll shut up. How were the kids?"
Monica frowned. "Is that a genuine fun or a sarcastic fun?"
"A genuine fun. I got them to calm down, we sang and danced, watched Nemo."
"Did Jack cry?"
"Yes, and I did too."
She grinned. "That movie is your kryptonite."
"And Andrew wants me to only call him 'dude' now."
Monica settled against his side, taking off her shoes and a sip of wine. "Aw, that's cute. Are they asleep?"
"Out like a log."
"I can't wait to take a couple of days off, I miss playing and having fun with them."
He smiled and kissed her hair. "I know, honey. Oh, speaking of which, when do you have a night off?"
"Well, this commercial came on … and an off-Broadway show of Cats is coming to New York."
"My first night off in two weeks and you want to go watch full-grown adults dressing in cat costumes, singing nonsense?"
"Honey, for the hundredth time, it's actors dressed like cats who sing like people. I mean, come on! Now that's what I label genius!"
Monica glared at him and took a deep breath. "You know I don't like cats, so imagine what I feel about the idea of voluntarily paying real money to hear them sing! I really don't get your fascination with this show."
"Erica loves the music, and remember, we have to encourage her interests just as much as we do with Jack. She wants to go see it, the kids want to. For the kids?" he asked with a pout and raised eyebrows.
Monica sighed. "Of course, you had to play the kids card. Fine, we'll go."
"I love you."
"Yeah, yeah. You know, one day, Erica will ask you to buy her a pony and all she'll have to do is bat her eyes and you'll get her one, you realize that?"
"Finally a grown-up excuse to buy a pony, I always wanted one."
Monica couldn't help a smile then she sighed. "Oh God, she'll sing Memory all the time after that. Curse those cats!"
"Why do you hate cats so much? It can't just be the allergy."
"Because cats betray you, Chandler. They're cold, ruthless, unemotional creatures. I used to love cats," she paused to reminisce dreamily, "my Nana's cat, Fluffy Meowington, I loved him. He was so cute, but then it turned out I was allergic and I couldn't spend nights in the apartment until he moved out with Nana."
Chandler looked at her and raised his eyebrows. "That's your cat PTSD story?"
She rolled her eyes in response. "Oh please, that's rich coming from Mr. Dogs-are-so-cute-they-scare-me."
He snorted. "Well, at least I love the things you hate and I hate the things you love. Aren't we made for each other?"
"Imperfectly perfect for each other." She put down her glass and kissed him slowly, his hands coming up to her face, tilting her and leaning forward while she leaned back until he was hovering over her on the couch, his sweatpants smooth against the insides of her thigh as he pushed up her skirt.
"How about we take this to our bedroom and I show you how compatible we are?" he said against her lips.
She let out a soft moan. "Took you long enough, I would have jumped you already if you didn't bring up cats."
Tuesday came and they drove to the West Village with the kids. The house lights of the Lucille Lortel theater began to dim only moments after Chandler, Monica, Andrew, and the twins took their seats in the audience, composed mostly of other families. Slow, melodic music began to play from the orchestra pit, and a single blue light illuminated the first Cat character alone onstage. Chandler smiled down at a mesmerized Erica while Jack looked mostly indifferent and Andrew was more entertained by the light effects.
The show's songs picked up in rhythm with fast-paced dancing and more spectacular costumes, and Chandler knew the kids were getting into the spectacle when he noticed Monica didn't need to open her bag of snacks.
"The whole show's premise is: look at us, we're cats, not dogs!" Monica whispered to her husband during the intermission.
Chandler laughed. "You know, I'm usually the sarcastic buzzkill but you're very good at it tonight."
"What can I say, this show just brings it out of me."
"And by the way, I could see you rolling your eyes very hard, be careful they don't get stuck, you might spasm like a cartoon character."
Monica smirked. "Are you listening to these lyrics? It's like they made them up on the spot."
He ignored her and instead looked at his daughter. "Erica, you're enjoying the show?"
"Can I be a cat, Daddy?"
"Well, you do enjoy napping."
"I want to pee."
"There's definitely no reason you can't be a cat, honey," he told her, kissing her head.
Monica took Andrew and Erica to the restroom for the second time as Chandler stayed behind with Jack in the hall, close by the inside of the theater in case the second act started, he walked a little with his son until he stopped in his steps, not quite believing the sight in front of him.
She was the last person he expected to see at a theater filled with kids. If Janice had the mystical power of appearing in his life every now and then, Kathy, on the other hand, had left with another man and never crossed his path again since she broke his heart. In the aftermath of the breakup, he had imagined every version of how they would meet again— the angry, the passionate, the blasé version―but the scenario where he would see her after more than a decade, with a ring on his hand and a gaggle of kids, had never crossed his mind once. It was a closed chapter, and seeing her was like a librarian dusting off a book from ancient times.
"Wow! Chandler, it's been an eternity," she said, her face lighting up.
"Yeah, it is. What are you doing here?" Chandler didn't mean to sound so defensive, resentment was a strange thing, it crept up even when you were certain memory had wiped out painful past events.
"One of my friends is on this show. He plays Mistoffelees."
He felt a little more relaxed as Jack squeezed his hand, reminding him of the present, the present was definitely resentment-free. "That's Jack's favorite cat. Isn't he, Jack?" he said, looking down at his son, suddenly shy and ducking his head away once the attention was on him. "He's a little shy," he said in an apologetic tone to Kathy. "Jacky, say hello?"
"Hi", Jack said quietly.
"Is he … your son?" Kathy asked in a tone Chandler perceived to be total disbelief.
"Yes, he is." He couldn't help a proud grin as he looked down at him again. "I'm actually here with my family."
There was an awkward moment following her stunned silence, and Chandler realized he'd have had a similar reaction if his ten-years-ago self had appeared to meet his present self.
"Your family? Wow, it's really been a while. Chandler Bing domesticated, huh?" She chuckled nervously.
"Stranger things have happened," Chandler said, turning his head to catch the sight of his wife and kids. "Oh, they're coming."
Monica appeared from the restroom with Erica ahead of her and Andrew holding her hand. "Erica, don't run!" she said as her daughter ran up to her father the minute she saw him. Monica was still focused on Andrew as Chandler kissed Erica's head.
"Honey, Andy is getting sleepy―oh, hi," Monica said as she looked up to find Chandler with the unexpected ghost from the past.
If his ten-years-ago self appeared right now, he'd be running for the hills already, Chandler thought to himself. "Mon, you remember Kathy?"
"Yes, I do now. How are you, Kathy?"
"Good, thank you," Kathy responded, and Chandler swore she looked intimated.
"Kathy, you know Monica. Well, she's my wife," Chandler said with a Borat impersonation, one he regretted right away.
"That's a good one," Kathy said. "I'm not surprised you liked that movie."
"Guilty as charged."
They chuckled lightly, then Kathy looked at Monica with an amazed expression still on her face. "I can't believe you two are married. That's great, amazing … Your kids are adorable."
"Aw, they're all right," she replied, prompting the kids. "Erica, Andrew, say hello to the lady."
"Hi," Andrew said.
"Good evening, miss."
Monica rolled her eyes at her daughter's Miss Charming routine she displayed with strangers, and it always inevitably worked.
"I hope you're enjoying the show. A lot of people think it's cheesy but I always loved Cats," Kathy said in Chandler's direction.
"We are enjoying it, right, kids?"
"I love it! I sing just like Grizabella!" Erica said.
Jack shrugged his shoulders. "It's okay. It could be better if it had a story."
"Too smart for his own good," Chandler said as he put his arm around Monica's waist.
"Hey, em, this is a little awkward, and probably a little late ... I guess seeing you after all this time is a real kick in the head. I'm sorry for the pain I caused you, you know, back when―"
"It doesn't matter. It's the past," Chandler said. He looked at his wife. "It was just a step on my way to happiness," he said, kissing Monica on the lips as she smiled shyly at him. "What about you, Kathy? How's life?"
"Oh, me? Still on my way to happiness, didn't get there yet. But I'm focusing on my career, I'm doing this play on the East coast."
"That's cool. Your career was always important to you."
"Yeah, it was … still is," she said, with a bit of longing.
This was so painfully awkward, he thought.
"Mommy, can I have more candy!" Andrew interrupted the deafening silence.
"Andy, you've had enough," Monica warned him.
Not deterred, Andrew turned to his father. "Daddy, I want candy."
"Listen to your mother, she's always right," Chandler said as Kathy smiled. "Oh I'm sorry, we have to, you know," he said, motioning toward the theater with his head.
"Oh yeah sure, sorry for keeping you. It was nice seeing you, have a great night!"
"Thank you, to you as well," Monica replied.
They turned and walked back inside the theater, getting back to their seats.
"Well, that was unexpected," Chandler said.
"Sure was. She looks great." Her tone of voice was cool and detached.
"Okay? That's all?"
He sighed. "I don't know, Mon. Her hair is longer I guess."
Monica tilted her head. "You don't have to butter me up, you can admit she looks hot."
"Honey, I'm not buttering you up. She looks fine but she doesn't hold a candle to your hotness," he replied then turned over toward the kids. "Kids, please tell your Mommy she looks great, maybe she will believe you."
"You're beautiful, Mommy."
"You're very pretty," Jack said bashfully.
"Thank you, little bunnies."
Chandler looked at his wife intently and was about to ask her what was bothering her so much when the show started again. He noted Monica had stopped her cutting comments as the second act was nearing its end.
"You're awfully quiet."
"Well, Cats won me over in the second act because it is so different from the first act."
"There you go."
When the play ended, Andrew was already asleep. Chandler held him carefully as they put the kids in their car seats, the ride jostled them and they were all sleeping peacefully as they drove home along the Hudson River. Chandler glanced at Monica, who looked thoughtful.
"Are you okay?" he asked her.
"Yes, just tired."
"Just tired? Are you sure?"
"Yes, Chandler. Just tired. I'm sorry we aren't all as crazy about Cats."
He slowed the car down and looked at her. "That sounded … pointed," he replied. "Wait, are you … jealous?" he asked, almost incredulous.
She sighed. "No …" She took a deep breath. "And what if I was, I'm not allowed to?"
"What could you possibly be jealous of?" He grinned. "I told you honey, and I meant it. I am so grateful you're my wife and if I had to be screwed over by every New York woman on the way …. worth it. And come on, we ran into Janice more times than it should legally be allowed, really, what's so different?"
Monica frowned. "You're not the only one who gets jealous or insecure, Chandler. I'm not thrilled to run into any of your exes, Janice or not. And Kathy is different."
Chandler looked at her again, puzzled. "She is?"
"Yeah. You risked your friendship with Joey for her, you … She was the definition of your dream girl, wasn't she? She loved the same comedy as you, the same books …"
"That's a pity Aw Honey. Please don't Aw Honey me."
He let out a disbelieving laugh. "I'm not. Monica, you don't have to be so strong all the time. It's okay."
"I'm sorry," she said, slumping her shoulders. "I'm just really tired and cranky for some reason, and seeing her …"
"Mon, you are my dream girl, you always were. You didn't even know it. I risked my friendship with Joey because I was stupid. I was obsessed with this girl I knew nothing about and thought I had to give her everything and risk everything because I was projecting a fantasy … I didn't know what I was doing. And you know, we liked the same things. So what? It doesn't mean anything. Now I know it really doesn't. She didn't really know me and I didn't really know her. I clung to the fantasy and got over-jealous and ridiculously possessive and she couldn't see or understand any of my insecurities. But you do, you get me."
Monica pursed her lips. "Keep talking."
"And I get you," he said with a huge smile. "You never gave up on me when I freaked out and got all Chandler on you. Not once. Monica, look at me. You will always be my dream girl. You're my dream wife, and I still wonder what I did to deserve you."
She relaxed at his words, bashful all of a sudden. "It doesn't bother you that we have different tastes?"
"Of course not. You don't like Cats and you still came. I know nothing about wine and I still go to your wine tasting classes."
"I thought you liked wine tasting!"
"I like tasting wine with you," he quickly corrected. "We're like chocolate and peanut butter, different but together, it's the most amazing combination ever."
"Huh, solid culinary analogy, honey. I'm impressed," she said, reaching to squeeze his free hand.
"I mean," Chandler started, looking in the rearview mirror to check the children were still asleep, "based on our sex life alone … Nothing comes close. The proof is in the pudding. Loving you is a piece of cake―"
"You're ruining it now."
They laughed briefly and stayed in a comfortable silence until Chandler spoke up again. "Actually, you want to know something?"
"Before Kathy, I was seriously falling for you."
Monica rolled her eyes. "Seriously? Come on …"
Chandler grinned bashfully. "Remember, that whole beach thing?"
"Oh," Monica said, then shook her head. "But you weren't serious," she added dismissively.
"I wasn't and then I was? I started thinking what if you were my girlfriend, you know? At first, I thought that would be cool, and allowing myself to think about it made me realize that yeah, it wouldn't be cool, it would be freaking amazing."
She cocked her head to the side, smiling. "I had no idea."
"I know, I repressed it very well. I'm pretty good at that. Which is maybe why I made such a big deal of my crush on Kathy. I was sure there was no chance with you."
"You're saying your relationship with Kathy was a reaction to what happened in Montauk? Isn't that a little convenient?"
"Maybe. But it's still true. You know when Ross was dating Julie and then Rachel kissed him? At the end of the day, he picked Rachel because Julie simply wasn't Rachel. That's how I feel about you. I would have picked you, I mean if there was a choice to make."
"That's so sweet." Monica looked adoringly at him. "Why didn't you tell me before? I would certainly not have been so jealous running into her."
"I like it when you get jealous," Chandler smirked. "It's kind of hot."
"Wake up, Mommy. Wake up, sleepyheads!" Erica exclaimed to her parents as she jumped on the bed. "It's Christmas!"
"Christmas time!" Andy said, followed by Jack, jumping on the bed.
"What time is it?" Chandler grumbled under his breath as Erica positioned herself beside her mother, Jack on Chandler's side and Andrew in the middle.
"It's Christmas morning time, silly," Erica told him.
"And for the rest of us, it is …" Chandler sat up and looked at the clock with only one eye open. "6 A.M. Perfect."
"Can we open our gifts now?" Jack asked.
"Why don't we wait for your grandparents so we can play all together with the gifts under the tree and for now, you go brush your teeth?"
"Ok," they said dejectedly in unison.
"What time they'll get there, you think?" Monica asked Chandler as she got up and put her robe on.
"It's very sweet that you think they'll come together." Chandler sat up against the headboard. "Mom is at the Ritz so she should be here before dinner, as for dad, I'll call to see if there's any delays for his flight."
The kids came back into the room, now all three of them sporting Santa hats.
"Okay, we have another surprise for you, kids," Monica announced. "If you behave well today, tomorrow we'll go to the pet store and we'll get you a pet!"
Jack and Erica's eyes widened immediately.
"A dog!" Jack said.
"Cat!" Erica said practically at the same time.
"Houston, we have a problem," Chandler said to his wife.
"Turtle!" Andy said suddenly, and Chandler smiled, nodding toward Monica, visibly relieved. The idea also seemed to convince the twins.
"Well, you know," Monica started, "Daddy is allergic to dogs and I am allergic to cats. So, Eri, Jack, how about a turtle? You love the Ninja Turtles."
"Can we name him Michelangelo?" Erica asked.
"You have to agree all three on a name."
"We can call him Mikey," Jack suggested.
"I like Mikey," Andrew said.
"Can we give him an orange mask?" Erica asked.
Chandler laughed. "How about an orange collar?"
"Mikey the turtle, it is."
"Hey, Mom, you made it!" Chandler said as he opened the door for his mother, dragging a cart of wrapped gifts.
"Don't be ridiculous, honey. Of course I made it," she replied, kissing him on the cheek and entering the house. "My driver is parked in the front yard, he's going to bring the rest of the gifts."
"Mom. Our backyard is already filled with Wendy houses, bikes, toys of all sorts―"
"Are you insinuating spoiling my grandchildren is an inconvenience to you, Chandler?"
He rolled his eyes. "Of course not."
They made their way to the living room, Nora greeted Monica and kissed the kids.
"Nora, there's still some dinner left if you're hungry," Monica told her.
"Thank you, dear. I love your cooking but I had a full steak dinner at the Ritz. Oh, by the by, congratulations on your two stars."
"Oh, thank you."
Nora turned to her son, looking at him intently. "Chandler, sweetie, just because your wife is an acclaimed chef, I hope you won't act like those insecure men intimidated by their brilliant wives."
"Oh, Nora, Chandler has always been very supportive," Monica said as she joined him and put her arm around his waist. "He's only intimated when I beat him at sports."
"Well, how could I know, Chandler?" Nora defended. "I remember the day I got my RITA award, you were very embarrassed."
"Yes, mother. You getting an award for Steamiest Erotic Romance is exactly like my wife getting two Michelin stars."
"Food, in many ways, is an erotic experience. Right, Monica?"
Monica's eyes darted with uncertainty between her husband and mother-in-law. "I guess?"
The bell rang and she jumped on the chance to retrieve herself from the situation. "I'll get it," Monica said.
Chandler invited his mother to join the kids in the living room, then he recognized his father's raspy voice from the door.
Charles Bing joined them with Monica and his partner, Sal Garibaldi. "Hello Chandler."
"Hey, dad," Chandler said, getting up to greet the couple.
"Where are my grandchildren?"
"They're the ones with the chaos over there."
"I got gifts for you!"
"Yay!" The kids jumped from their spots, ready for another round of gift unwrapping madness.
"Hi Charles ... hello Sal."
Chandler cringed, standing between his parents, until he felt Monica's presence behind him.
"Let's eat some cheesecake!" she said, much to her husband's relief.
After dessert, the family gathered around the fireplace, Charlie Brown's Christmas special playing on the TV. Jack and Andy were sitting with Nora, Monica and Sal Garibaldi.
Chandler got up to clean the strewed toys on the floor as Erica was working on her newest dollhouse near the kitchen.
"It's a shame Jack and Judy couldn't make it," Charles said to Chandler, leaning against the kitchen counter, watching him with a glass of wine.
"Yeah, they're in Hawaii. They're at that stage where traditions aren't so important and they're just enjoying their retirement days traveling the world."
"That's a good plan. What about Ross? We should have a whole dinner with both the Gellers and the Bings reunited, don't you think? That hasn't happened since your wedding."
"Well … Yes, why not. Couldn't go any worse than last time."
Charles put a hand over Chandler's shoulder "Your wedding was fantastic, honey."
Chandler offered a small smile and resumed his cleaning. "Erica, please pick up that small piece of furniture. If Daddy walks on it, he will cry."
Erica laughed and went to pick it up. "Okay, Daddy."
"You're such a natural at this."
Chandler looked up startled at his father. "Oh. I―I don't do much. Monica really is the one―"
"Don't sell yourself short. You're a great father, Chandler. The ways the kids look at you … I wish you looked at me like that when you were young. But it's all you. This is all you. You have built a great life for you and your family."
He blushed, a smile tugging at his lips. "Thanks."
Charles nodded and looked down at the empty glass of wine.
"Should I get you another one?" Chandler asked.
"Oh no, I can only have one for special occasions like tonight, my doctor wouldn't like that I had two today."
"Your doctor?" Chandler raised his eyebrows. "Are―are you okay?"
"I am, son. Just some high cholesterol. My partying years catching up with me, so now I have to eat healthy and sleep early and all these boring things people do."
He laughed at that. "It's not so bad."
"Sal takes good care of me, as I imagine Monica does for you."
"Yeah," Chandler said longingly, looking over at his wife playing with Jack and his train set. "Hey Dad, thanks for flying all the way here. We appreciate it every time you come, but you know, having you and Mr. Garibaldi―I mean, Sal, it's nice. It's really nice," he said thoughtfully, that was one sentence he never thought he'd ever say when he was a child.
"It's my pleasure, son."
Chandler inserted a sheet of paper and set the carriage of his shiny, new Underwood typewriter machine and began to type, his whole face lighting up as he was sitting at the small desk of their bedroom.
"I have a feeling I will regret that gift," he heard Monica say behind his back.
"It's the best gift ever. I feel like Jack Kerouac."
He went back to typing, closing his eyes in appreciation for the clunky and mechanical sound of the keys.
"I have another gift for you. It couldn't be opened in front of the kids and your parents."
A smug smile appeared on Chandler's face as he stopped typing. "I'm intrigued," he said before turning his chair to face his wife who was leaning against the bedroom door. She was wearing a red lace teddy and walking enticingly toward him. As she stood before him, Chandler watched and smiled all the way down to his toes. He was a lucky man, he thought. She was also wearing the necklace he gifted her, it had two star-shaped diamond pendants in honor of her achievement. Monica loved pretty things and Chandler loved showering her with beautiful jewelry, over the years he picked up her taste and knew what would truly make her gush.
Monica sat on his lap, her hand playing with the hair of his nape. She leaned to kiss him, a short peck which turned into a longer kiss, with tongue and sound and the acceleration of their breath.
Chandler opened his eyes when they finally came up for air. "Ross called, by the way."
"Could you not mention my brother when I'm about to unbutton your jeans?"
He laughed. "He wanted to let you know him and Rachel made up, they're okay."
Monica rolled her head back, still clinging onto his shirt. "Do you think they'll ever stop fighting?"
She nodded. "But they'll be fine, right?"
"Yes. They love fighting, but the only thing they love more than fighting is each other and Emma."
Monica grinned, her hand still playing with his hair. "Sometimes fighting is good, you know the make-up sex is good, once in a while, but ..."
Chandler cut her off as her voice trailed off. "But what we have is better."
"What we have is pretty great. Today was great, the kids are happy, your parents looked happy."
He nodded and kissed her again, his lips resting on hers.
"I'm so happy right now," she mumbled, as the kiss lingered again. In the heat of the embrace, Chandler lifted her as she gasped and put her down on their bed. He climbed and hovered over her, her luminous blue eyes were fixating his with endless love and affection, the sound of her laugh floating away in the room.
"Then I'm happy."
He felt so very lucky indeed.
+6k chapters, it's been a while … but endless holiday fluff after all that drama never hurts, right?
I started writing this chapter months ago, before that apocalyptic trailer of Cats (2019) came out. Truly a joincidence.
Thank you for reading and reviewing.