In the days that followed what I decided to call The Laundry Agreement of 1992, I kept waiting for things to turn weird with Monica and me.
I waited for it to happen when we bickered the next morning about which towel I'm authorized to use.
I waited for it when she caught me humming a tune from Cats in the shower.
I waited for it when she went on a rant about the other sous-chef at her restaurant who's "slower than cold molasses" and messing up her system.
But each time, it simply took a moment, a look shared and my fears would all but subside.
And as I reach for the cereals, sitting at the kitchen table, at an impossibly early hour before she leaves for work, and right after a few nocturnal laundry sessions―she comes from behind and kisses me goodbye on the lips.
"I'm free tonight at 5. Can you make it?" she asks.
"Well, technically I work till 6. Let me see, input some meaningless numbers until 6 or have sex at 5 … Now, that's a choice, Sophie," I say, looking in the distance. Then I shake my head and grin at her. "Let's go with the sex. I will make it."
She smiles at me before leaving.
I eat my cereal and it hits me. I feel ridiculously content.
No, more than content. Happy.
I can't believe we haven't been doing this the whole time.
After our earlier 5 p.m. session, we head with Joey to a bar downtown, to celebrate Ross and Carol's engagement announcement.
We're only there for five minutes that Joey already excuses himself from our booth to meet up with some girl he picked from the crowd with surgical precision.
I bring the drinks to our table and sit beside Monica. We give each other a look as we notice that the newly engaged couple in front of us are paying practically no attention to us.
Monica chugs the Martini drink, and I raise my eyebrows at her.
"What's the rush, champ?" I ask her.
"Everyone is celebrating. We should be celebrating too," she tells me as she chugs my drink too.
"Joey isn't celebrating," I say as I turn to look him up, he's involved in some heavy making out with his 'target'. "Okay, he's definitely celebrating something."
"See, let's get some drinks. Celebrate the happy couple."
I chuckle as she gets out of the booth. "All right. Let's celebrate."
I follow Monica with my eyes until she reaches the bar. She does seem more relaxed than I ever knew her to be, and I do wonder if I am a contributing factor to that … but I shake it off.
It's probably the alcohol.
"Chandler, keep an eye on Monica, would you?"
I snap back and it's Ross, still half paying attention to me.
"Oooh," Carol interjects, "I think she's doing just fine."
I'm confused by her tone so I look around and scan the room.
Monica's still at the bar, but now talking to a guy.
I try to see if she looks interested or it's just my imagination, my insecurities, or life playing cruel tricks on me. When a new song plays in the bar, everyone is whooping and cheering.
Except for Monica, and the blonde guy she's chatting up at the bar.
Immediately, I can't help but think … we did conclude our agreement would stop if either one of us meets someone. Maybe I should have thought this through.
I should be happy for her if she meets someone.
But we're having so much fun and so much excellent sex and now she's meeting … Blonde Bar Guy.
I sigh. Sex with Monica is truly excellent. It was excellent that first time in her bed, excellent last Monday before work, even better on Tuesday. And Wednesday, and Thursday. And it was excellent earlier in the kitchen minutes before we headed to the bar.
I'm left to ruminate in my seat, until Monica comes back with our drinks … and a napkin, with something scribbled on it.
Carol disentangles from Ross to clap at her. "You go, girl!"
"Yeah, that guy gave me his number," she says, waving the napkin at us as she sits down.
"And remind me why you aren't over there hitting that?" Carol says again.
"Carol!" Ross yells.
"I'm sorry, sweetie. The man is handsome and your sister deserves to finally get some."
It feels like a massive kitchen knife in my chest.
It shouldn't be a big deal, it isn't a big deal. And yet …
Monica glances up at me and scrunches up her nose. "I wouldn't ditch you guys on my brother's engagement party."
I feel like I'm suffocating so I get up and head towards the restroom. When I get there, the door is closed, so I lean against the wall and close my eyes.
I don't quite understand what prompted this feeling in my gut, but it's not a good one.
I know, rationally, Monica and I don't owe each other anything, we made a deal―the exclusivity part is a temporary one.
As I try to calm myself down, I realize that she did turn down the guy.
My shoulders drop. Turns out, sleeping with your best friend is not so uncomplicated and fun.
Just as I'm about to get back to the table, Monica emerges in the alleyway and pauses when she sees me.
"There you are."
"Hey," I say, walking up to her. Before she responds, I grab her hand, pulling her toward one of the side exit doors.
"Chandler, what are you―"
I push her up against the brick wall and kiss her. Hard. She responds immediately, her hands sliding to my back, nails digging through the fabric of my shirt.
I bite her lip slightly and she moans against my mouth. When she pulls back, she gives me an inquiring glance. "Did you plan this?"
"Maybe," I answer, still nibbling at her throat and kissing every part of her skin I can reach.
"You're full of surprises, Chandler Bing."
I can't help but smile. I look up and check the alleyway. It's too public for what I want to do to her and what I want her to do to me.
We settle on kissing for a few minutes. "Let's go back inside," I tell her.
She makes a pouty face and her hands come around to cup my face. "Unless we get out of here?" she asks tentatively with a glint in her eyes.
"What about Ross and Carol?"
"They just got engaged. I don't think they care about anyone other than themselves."
"You think you'll see him before tomorrow?"
She resumes kissing me, making sure to tilt her hips and grind herself against me and I'm very close to losing all control or decency.
"Let's get a cab," I whisper to her ear.
She smiles smugly, satisfied with my request. I take her hand again as we move toward the main street.
"Have you ever fooled around in the back of a cab?" I ask her.
"Me neither. Let's fix that."
I don't know what it says about me that when Monica asks me if I want to go with her, Ross, and Carol to spend the weekend at her parents' house in Long Island, I jump at the chance.
And I know full well that we won't be fooling around and that her parents aren't the biggest fans of me and that my previous trips at the Gellers are memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Monica said she needed emotional support, a friend, or a buffer but I wasn't hard to convince.
I enjoy Joey's company in my free time, but I'm finding out that I look forward to spending time with Monica any chance I get.
We are used to spending time together as friends/roommates: casual trips to the grocery store, going to the movies, grabbing a bite or a beer … but that's our life bubble, and her childhood home in Long Island is outside that bubble.
This trip feels more … deliberate.
I have to remind myself of the sex drawer, friendship drawer rule … and not think too much about the implications when the two drawers merge.
Ross and Carol seem completely oblivious to our sexy-times under their nose, probably due to their pre-marital bliss, while Joey is … Joey, I am worried about this being the first time we're in close quarters with someone else.
Not so worried about Jack, her father, who's sort of goofy and scatterbrained, but I am terrified of Judy Geller.
The way Monica talks about her, she strikes me as the kind of parent who … knows things.
So I avoid her as much as possible from the moment we get there. I leave Monica and her mother chopping vegetables in the kitchen and I join Jack in the garden manning the barbecue.
I offer my help which he accepts while turning on the radio broadcasting a football game.
I jerk my head toward him, I didn't exactly expect him to strike up a conversation. I was hoping we could quietly listen to the game on the radio.
"I hear you got a nice paying job straight out of college."
I shrug. "Well, it's a job."
He laughs. "You make it sound terrible."
"It's not terrible, but also not nice."
"Let me tell you a secret. When I started dating Judy I was unemployed, but I told her father I was a lawyer."
My eyes go wide for a second. "Yeah … I don't think my job is that impressive anyway."
Jack goes to turn the volume down on the radio then turns to me. "But here's one thing, that old filthy habit of yours of smoking marijuana … you need to let go of that."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Come on, son. College, marijuana. Ross told us."
I cackle nervously. "Um, no, that was Ross. I'm fine with just regular cigarettes, Mr. Geller," I pause for a moment. "I shouldn't have told you that."
Jack takes a moment to think. "You know what, I knew he was lying but his mother wanted to believe him so I went with it."
"Mrs. Geller thinks I smoke marijuana?"
"It's okay, Chandler. She didn't like you very much anyway."
"Oh, I feel better now."
Jack shrugs, then he looks over the window at the kitchen. "How's she doing?" he asks.
He rolls his eyes good-naturedly. "Who else?"
"Well, why ask me?" I say, dropping my head to focus on the steaks.
"Maybe because you two have been living together for months? You must be very close by now," he says, shooting a speculative glance at me.
I can feel my hands shake a little. I take a deep breath … let's stay calm, there's no mention of the sex.
No mention of the excellent, amazing, mindblowing sex.
Bing, not the time or space to think about sex with the man's daughter.
"She's good," I say.
He nods unconvincingly. "You know, Chandler, I am very protective of Monica. Judy worries about Ross, but I don't really. Now he's engaged and he works at the Museum … I don't worry about Ross, frankly I never did." He turns to face the window, his eyes on his daughter. "I worry about my little Harmonica."
I chuckle lightly at the nickname, then match his seriousness.
I got it all wrong. Maybe there's more to Jack Geller than the goofy dad. I glance over with him. "Yeah?"
"Single girl in the city … Now her brother is getting married. I don't like thinking my little girl is on her own out there. I know she's a tough cookie, but I worry."
I stay silent. I want to tell him she isn't on her own, that I am here for her, and I may be limited in many ways, but I would never let anyone harm her.
"She will meet someone one day," he continues, thoughtful, "but I want her to have someone who's there for her."
I swallow and glance at him. "She has me," I say quietly.
Jack looks over me and smiles. "I know that, son. You're a nice young man, but I am her father. One day, you'll meet your true love too, and things change."
My brain rebels instantly against the idea. "They won't."
"They have to," he responds gently. "And it's okay. Enjoy being a bachelor, it's a great time, but you'll fall in love someday, and that person won't be okay with Monica being your number one girl. And it is the same for the man Monica is going to marry. That's how life works."
I open my mouth to protest, but I shut it.
I can't imagine right now anyone else replacing Monica as my number one girl. But then he is right. A girlfriend or a wife or whatever wouldn't be okay with that.
He takes a sip out of his beer, then laughs. "I'm sorry Chandler, it's a dad thing. I know you're a great friend to both Ross and Monica, Ross has Carol but you can't forever be there for her."
I understand him but it doesn't mean I like what I'm hearing. Yes, Ross is getting married and we won't see him as much, maybe … He'll have a family one day, but I liked the idea of me and Monica, and even Joey and our weird little friend group just living in the moment and not having to worry about … stuff.
Maybe I don't get it, because I don't have a father and a mother in Long Island worrying about me living single in the city.
"Monica's been dreaming about getting married and having children since she was a little girl," Jack smiles as he reminisces. "She changed her little doll's diapers when she was four!" He then looks at me, seriously. "She won't be fully happy until she gets that dream, I know that."
Is she not happy right now?
Does she need marriage and kids?
Am I a distraction, a temporary frivolous thing until something―someone better shows up?
I can't say I blame her, I wasn't ready to be Janice's boyfriend a few weeks ago, I won't be ready to be a husband and father anytime soon.
If I'll ever be. Bings don't do marriage and kids―not well, anyway.
I pick up my beer, tilting it back as I wait for my thoughts to sort themselves out into something that makes sense.
"Steaks are ready!" Jack announces, opening the window.
I mentally shake myself and force a smile.
I'm good, Monica and I are good.
Except I'm not. The idea of one of us being with someone else … The idea of her being married to someone else is embedded in my thoughts.
And I don't like it at all.
After the barbecue talk, we went back inside and had dinner together. Monica seemed relieved that her parents' attention was all on Ross and Carol and their wedding plans.
The meal went well but I couldn't chase the previous thoughts in my head. The Gellers went to bed. Ross and Carol followed them, and we stayed, taking care of the dishes.
"Hey, Heathcliff," Monica says to me just as we finish the dishes.
I blink and frown. "Heathcliff?"
"Yeah, you're … pensive. What's going on with you?"
"Pensive. Like brooding and sexy?" I attempt to joke.
She nudges her elbow playfully with mine. "Right."
"How about a walk?" she asks after a pause.
"Now? It's dark."
She raises her eyebrows at me. "So? Are you scared?"
I nod. "Yes, absolutely."
"Don't worry, when I was trying to lose weight, I'd go on runs around in the neighborhood at night. It's boring suburbia, Chandler. It will give us a chance to be alone."
A few minutes later, she's wearing my NYU big college sweatshirt so I'm grateful that I brought a warm jacket with me.
We walk down the main street, it's quiet and pretty and boring and it reminds me that it must have been nice growing up in a neighborhood like that.
I breathe deeply the chill air of the night, finally able to relax a little.
We walk in silence for several moments before she speaks. "So what did you and my dad talk about that got you all … sexy and brooding?"
I smile at that. "Ross told him I smoked marijuana in college."
"Yeah, he smoked weed once in our dorm room and your parents came to visit. Blamed it on me apparently."
"I'm going to kill him."
"Well, your dad believes me now. Any chance your mother would believe me over Ross?"
"No, no chance in hell."
We laugh together.
Following that, I keep quiet, debating whether I need to tell her about the rest of our conversation, and how much of it she needs to know.
"He worries about you, your dad," I say finally.
She whips her head to me then sighs. "They always think I'm messing up my life. And now Ross is engaged, so I'm an even bigger failure―"
"You're not a failure, and he doesn't think so," I interrupt her, to which she smiles.
"He worries that you're alone now with Ross getting married and all."
"He said that?"
I shrug. "Little girl in the big city, something like that," I say as I shove my hands into my pockets.
"Well, that's ridiculous. I'm not alone. Ross and Carol aren't moving across the world, and I have you. And weirdly, Joey too."
"I just don't want our friendship to change," I say and I realize there's no playfulness to my words at all.
She skips ahead of me and holds up her hand against my chest so I have to stop. "What did he tell you? Where is this coming from?"
I've gotten to know what Monica is thinking just from the look on her face these past few months, and she isn't happy with me right now.
I look away from her. "I don't know if we can forever be like this. Carefree and having secret sex and inviting each other to our family homes …"
"Maybe we can," she says stubbornly.
"Can we? What if one of us meets someone? What happens when you meet someone, huh? Not just a random guy in a bar, but like … someone and … and you'll want to marry him and have children with him―"
"Woah," she interrupts me this time. "Chandler, you're unraveling."
We stay silent for a moment, a few inches separating us.
"Have you met someone?" she asks. "Did you run into Janice again?"
"What? No! I haven't met or ran into anyone," I say, a hand going over my hair. "But it's a possibility, right? Let's be honest with each other here, Monica. It's a very real possibility."
And for the first time tonight, she's the one looking away from me.
"Wow, I never thought you'd be the realist, reasonable one in our friendship."
Her smile is a little sad, and my laugh is anxious.
She takes a few steps then looks at me again with hopeful eyes. "Can we maybe just not think about the future? I'm happy, Chandler. For the first time in my life, I'm really happy to be living in the moment, you know? Does it make sense?"
"Yes, it does. You're right, I'm sorry for freaking out. Your dad … I never thought he'd get into my head like that."
She laughs finally and I'm relieved. "You've just been Geller'd."
We start walking again, the tension starts to fade, and I think maybe we're back to normal.
To where we agreed we should be.
But then, her hand reaches mine, her fingers tentatively brush my fingers.
I hold her hand, and I'd like to think I'm holding my best friend's hand.
It's uncertain and sweet.
A little desperate too.
We walk back home and I wonder if I didn't just plant a dangerous seed, a fear we're both too scared to name.