Summary: "I've got some beer and the highway's free, and I got you and baby you got me."
This will be the last chapter of "The Open Road" series.
The song "Glycerine" is by Bush. "And So It Goes" is by Billy Joel. Finally, "Patience" is by Guns N Roses.
When he awoke, the rain was just beginning to die off. It tapped pleading at the pane, begging not to be forgotten after it's final drops were expelled from the heavens. The window was cracked a bit, letting in just enough of the outside stale air to hint at a day drowsy with damp grayness. Ross liked days like that, though. Besides, nothing could discourage him once he'd taken one look down at the curious blonde being sleeping soundly against his chest.
Her face was relaxed, and in a moment, he saw a glimpse of something wise beyond her years that might one day exist in her. It enveloped her in a soft glow before escaping her body on the breeze coming in from that proverbial cracked window. It comforted him, seeing her like that. Even if it was just for an instant, it allowed him a keyhole into the future- a glance into the fate that'd been intended for him since that first chance meeting with his sister's beautiful best friend.
He got up naked, like he'd done a thousand times before. He padded across the plush, beige carpet to the coffee pot. He stood, sipping his coffee, in front of the floor-to-ceiling window that faced the resort town below. He ran a hand through his hair, tousling it and taking a deep intake of air through his nose. All of these pedestrian, mundane acts that he'd performed a thousand times before seemed ripened that morning.
"Mmmm, morning," he heard her whisper from the bed. He looked over at her and smiled, setting his mug down on the dresser and returning to lay beside her again. He leaned over and rested on the bed on his stomach, still keeping both feel on the floor. She smiled, caressing his stubbly cheek with the back of hand and kissing him softly. He tasted like coffee and something vague that belonged only to him. And to her.
"We have to leave eventually, don't we?" he asked, kissing her neck and letting his fingers move across her stomach. She nodded, ruffling his hair with one hand and placing the other atop his on her stomach.
"We should go talk to them. We haven't even seen them since the wedding." The way she said wedding, so velvety and profound, made his stomach tighten in disbelief. Wedding. Married. Wife. His.
"You're right. Now, if only there were a way of doing that without YOU getting dressed..." he teased, now crawling into the bed completely. He curled up beside her, the sheets and comforter bunched loosely at their waists and their legs intertwined. Before he had a chance to make much of a move, though, she grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him out of the bed.
"No, no, come one. We'll take a shower and then go see if Chandler and Monica are awake. We have to check out by noon, anyway." He gave in, following her eager to the bathroom.
The other four sat at a long breakfast table, waiting for Ross and Rachel to make their debut appearance as husband and wife. They'd been there for a little over half an hour, speculating about what was holding them up and discussing the previous night's ceremony.
"Rachel called us like 45 minutes ago and said they'd be down in a few. Maybe they decided to pack first." Chandler gave a sarcastically compliant smirk.
"If by 'first' you mean 'before they have another morning quicky, which is what's ACTUALLY holding them up', then yes. They decided to pack first." Monica smacked his shoulder.
"Oh, come on, just because they're married now doesn't mean the only thing they could be doing it having sex!"
"Do you not remember that first week after our wedding, when we were on our honeymoon?" Chandler asked rhetorically. "We hardly left the room!" Monica begrudgingly agreed.
"So, the real question is...Whose sex is better?" Joey sprung, causing the other three to eye him skeptically and a bit confused.
"What?! Who are you talking about?"
"You know, you and Chandler or Ross and Rachel! Monica, you had a bedroom right next to her for like a year while they were first dating. You have to have SOME idea. Be honest, it's okay. We won't judge!" Joey seemed just a little too comfortable with the conversation, seeing nothing wrong or inappropriate in it. Monica, on the other hand, seemed disgusted. Chandler was unaffected, having know that something to that affect was coming at SOME point from Joey. Before Monica could answer, Ross and Rachel appeared at the table.
"Well, if it isn't Mr. and Mrs. Geller! How was the night?" Phoebe asked. Rachel flipped her hair as she sat down at the table. She was wearing a short lavender sundress with spaghetti straps and a matching choker. Ross held her chair for her before sitting down beside her. She smiled politely, knowing that she was going to answer in a few words but knowing that those words would only be vague masks as to what the night had REALLY been like.
"It was wonderful. Oh, and we're so sorry, you guys, for not talking to you after the ceremony. We feel really bad about that." Ross nodded in agreement.
"Oh, Sweety, don't worry about it. We understood completely. But hey, we were thinking that we'd hang around here until this evening and then head back. There's still a lot of stuff that we haven't done," Monica answered, provoking a befuddled look from Chandler.
"Like what?" Monica shrugged.
"Well, we used to ride horses when we came here as kids. Oh, and there's badminton and tennis. There's a really good lounge singer in the bar tonight, too, so I thought that'd be fun to hear before we left. Come to think of it, the guided nature hike leaves from the lobby in like 30 minutes, so we'd better go get changed, honey!" An overly exuberant Monica grabbed Chandler by the wrist, who was still not done with his lunch, and pulled him towards the elevators.
"Have a good first day as husband and wife, you guys!" she yelled, before they rounded the corner down one of the main hallways.
"Actually, that reminds me. I have a surprise for you," Ross announced, raking Rachel's hand and kissing it. She looked surprised.
"Really? Aw, honey, what is it?"
"Now, I can't tell you or it won't be a surprise! What time is it, like one?" She looked at her watch, nodding in response.
"Okay, tell you what. You go back up to the room and pack, and I'll go talk to some people and set it up. Come down to the lobby at 4, and you'll get your surprise." She looked a little disappointed, turning in her chair to face him.
"Honey," she whined, "that means I don't get to see you for like 3 hours on our first day of being married! What am I supposed to do until 4 o'clock?"
"We can hang out!" Phoebe chimed in. Rachel still looked slightly disappointed. "I mean, it's not 'guided nature hike'," she continued, "but surely we can find SOMETHING to do around this place for 3 hours. It'll be fun- like the girl nights we used to have. Only, it'll be during the day!" Rachel seemed a little more enthused now, and agreed. After kissing Ross goodbye, Rachel left with Phoebe. Joey and Ross were the only two left.
"So, what's the big surprise?" Joey enquired, still working on his meal.
"Rachel told me once that she'd never been canoeing, but she thought that it'd be really romantic at night. So, the guy who owns this place agreed to shut down the lake to all of the resort visitors for 2 hours this evening."
"Wow, man, sounds like you've put a lot of thought into this." Ross nodded.
"Yeah, but I've got a few more finishing touches to put on the whole thing. It's going to take me a while to work it all out, but it'll be worth it when I do. I just wanted to do something special for her."
"You need any help?" Ross shook his head, declining.
"No, thanks. It's going to require an electrician, which I think the resort is providing for me. It shouldn't take that long. Go enjoy the rest of the day, man. I'll catch you later." Just as Ross got up to leave, Joey stopped him.
"Hey, Ross, let me ask you something. Whose sex do you think would be better- you and Rachel's or Chandler and Monica's?" Ross made a disgusted face.
"Dude, what are you doing? That's my sister! I don't want to think about that!"
"Oh, come on! I've always wondered! Here, on a scale from 1-10..." Ross cut him off, putting a hand in the air to stop him.
"Joey, no, I'm not doing this!" Joey put down his fork.
"Okay, okay, fine! Then just tell me about last night. Was it great?" Joey flashed his classic "Joey smile"- the one that might accompany the patented "How you doin'?" Ross hesitated for a beat, then grinned.
"It was amazing. It always is."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Why do you think that is?" Ross thought for a second before answering.
"Well, I dreamed about it a lot in high school, but I don't really know if that's it. I guess it's just because we wanted it for so long, but it somehow never worked out. No matter how much I loved her, and no matter how much she loved me, it took us forever to actually get to that place where we could be together and understand one another. So, I guess that's just one way we found of letting each other know that we'd really meant it that whole time- that we'd wanted each other from the beginning."
Phoebe and Rachel sat out on the side porch of the main lodge, drinking daiquiris and enjoying the view. It was nearing 4 o'clock, but the sun was already setting behind the hills in the distance. While they drank, they laughed over what Monica probably had Chandler doing and debated over what Ross' surprise could possibly be.
"Oh God, poor Chandler. You know she probably has him doing a Yoga class or sitting in on a poetry reading or something." Rachel laughed, sipping her drink and nodding.
"Yeah, we're probably going to have to help pay for his testicle retrieval operation."
"So, what do you think Ross' surprise is? OH, MAYBE IT'S SKYDIVING!" Phoebe suggested excitedly. Rachel shook her head.
"Are you kidding me? Ross? Skydiving? Just about the only thing less likely than that would be Ross at a live tarantula exhibit."
"Yeah, you're right. I bet it's something really romantic, though" Phoebe suggested. Rachel nodded, unable to contain the smile that spread across her face.
"He is a pretty romantic guy, isn't he?" She found herself wanting to giggle, she was so giddy with anticipation of what he had in store for her. Just then, she jumped when a hair of warm hands shielded her eyes. She knew almost immediately that it was him.
"Guess who," he whispered in her ear before removing his hands from her eyes and kissing the top of her head. He moved around to stand in front of her, and the first thing she noticed was how sharply he was dressed. He'd changed into a pair of black slacks and a white dress shirt. The sleeves were rolled up to the elbows and the collar was undone, giving the effect that he'd been working hard on something. He wasn't wearing a tie and his hair was a little tousled. He was gorgeous, especially with the soft sunlight caressing his tanned skin.
"Ready to go?" he asked, extending his hand to help her up from the chair. She obliged and took it. She waved goodbye to Phoebe, who smiled when she saw how genuinely and girlishly excited Rachel was. She was sure that Ross would never stop making her feel that way. She saw it in her friend's eyes every time he was near her- every time he touched her back when guiding her through a doorway, or rubbed her leg while watching a movie, or tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before kissing her. Rachel's eyes lit up every time.
They made their way down to the shoreline hand-in-hand. Occasionally, he would drop her fingers to wrap his arm around her waist and settle his hand on her hip. She'd do the same- squeezing tightly to his side with no intention of ever letting go. When they finally reached the lake, Rachel saw what he'd done.
In the center of the gazebo sat a CD player. It was hooked up to several speakers, which seemed to run on extension cords for quite a few yards in all direction. Tied to the dock, there was a single canoe. It bobbed expectantly up and down in the water, begging to be taken out to play amongst the waves. It wasn't until they were standing on the dock that Rachel could see the purple and white lily petals he'd speckled the boat with. He turned to look at him.
"You always wanted a canoe at nighttime," he said simply, smiling back at her. He helped her into the boat, laughing when it wobbled and she let out a high-pitched squeal. He rocked it intentionally when he boarded, earning him a slap on the leg.
He untied them from the dock and pushed them out into the lake with the end of his paddle. He sat in the back so he could paddle while they made their way into the middle of the lake. Secretly, he watched her back and admired her graceful and feminine movements. She'd been sailing with her dad several times when she was little, but she seemed absolutely baffled by the whole encounter. It was getting darker now. The sun was just moments away from plummeting entirely behind the trees that lined the lake. When they got to the center of the lake, Ross put the paddle down and motioned for Rachel to come sit with him in the middle of the boat.
"What was with the CD player, Ross?" she asked as she clumsily crawled towards where he was sitting on the boat's floor.
"Oh, right, I almost forgot." With that, he pulled a small remote control from his pocket. Even from the 100 yards or so that they were from the gazebo, the sound of speakers switching on was emitted clear over the lake. Seconds later, the soothing sound of Chris Issak's voice singing "Wicked Game" sailed through the air.
"The world was on fire,
and no one could save me but you.
Strange what desire
will make foolish people do.
I never dreamed that I'd
meet somebody like you.
I never dreamed that I
knew somebody like you."
He sat with his back resting against one side of the canoe and his feet pushed against the other. His knees were bent in the middle, and she crawled between them and leaned her back against his chest. He enveloped her in his arms, wrapping them tightly around her stomach. She shivered slightly. It was getting significantly cooler as the sun went down, and she was still just wearing that sundress from that morning.
"Aren't you cold?" he breathed against her ear, kissing her there for emphasis.
"No." She held on tightly to his arms, pushing herself more firmly back against him.
"What a wicked game you play
to make me feel this way.
What a wicked thing to do
to let me dream of you.
What a wicked thing to say-
you never felt this way.
What a wicked thing to do
to make me dream of you."
When she did it, he couldn't help but moan a little and shift his hips forward. It was instinct. She even giggled a little when he did it.
"Sorry," he teased. "Force of habit."
"I want to fall in love.
I want to fall in
She closed her eyes and let her head lull back against his chest. He was so firm and warm, and something about the way he held her so tightly and protectively to his body, even when no one else was around, made her feel safer than she ever had. There was a quiet stillness when the song shut off, and a moment of static filled the air until the next one began playing.
"It must be your skin
I'm sinking in.
It must be for real,
'cause now I can feel.
And I didn't mind-
it's not my kind.
It's not my time
to wonder why."
"Hmm, this isn't one of our songs," Rachel pointed out.
"I know, but I like it and I think it applies to us. They could never really get it right, but somehow...it worked out anyway."
"Now you're here,
now you're away.
I don't want this.
I'll never forget
where you're at."
Softly but surely, she felt his lips hot against the skin on her neck. He rubbed his nose against her, smelling the scent there that was half perfume and half her. His hands moved slowly from her waist down to her thighs. Hers moved atop his. The song played on.
"I'm never alone.
I'm alone all the time.
Are you at one?
Do you lie?
We live in a wheel
where everyone steals,
but when we rise
it's like strawberry fields.
You treated me bad-
you bruised my face.
Couldn't love you more,
you've got a beautiful taste."
His kisses along her neck, moving occasionally up to her jaw, became bruising as her breathing became capricious. Again, that same predictable silence filled the void until another track could start. Seconds. Painful seconds.
"In every heart,
there is a room-
safe and strong,
to heal the wounds
from lovers past
until a new one comes along."
"This song's so sad." Rachel pointed out, directing their attention away from the flames that licked at her skin.
"Why did you pick this one?"
"Because this was us."
"And every time I've held a rose,
it seems I've only felt the thorns.
And so it goes, and so it goes,
and so will you soon, I suppose."
That had been him. That was, inside some deep corner of his heart, still him. He had doubted her, with good reason. He had left his heart open to so many women, only to be crushed in the end. She had been one of those women- the main one, really. It saddened her, and so she cried. Silently.
"And this is why my eyes are closed-
its just as well,
from what I've seen.
And so it goes, and so it goes,
and you're the only one who knows."
Just as she had broken his heart, though, she had saved him. More than Carol...more than Lindsay. She had been the one he'd stuck with.
"So I would choose to be with you,
that's if the choice were mine to make.
But you can make decision, too,
and you can have this heart to break."
"No more songs, Ross," she pleaded as his hand melted with the skin between her legs.
"Why not?" he panted, forgetting the question as soon as the last word dripped from his tongue.
"Because...I don't want to remember myself that way. All of these songs..." she stopped and moaned a bit from the back of her throat when his fingers found the lace of her underwear. "All of OUR songs..."she corrected, "they're all so sad. I feel like we got our fairytale ending, Ross. Sometimes I wish we'd had the fairytale story to go along with it." He nodded, understanding.
"I have a better one. I listened to it after that whole list thing. I don's think it's sad, though. I think it's...appropriate." The disk changer rotated and the static disappeared.
"Shed a tear 'cause I'm missing you.
I'm still alright to smile.
I think about you every day now.
There was a time when I wasn't sure,
but you set my mind at ease.
There is no doubt you're in my heart, now.
I said 'woman, take it slow,
it'll work itself out fine.
All we need is just a little patience'.
I said 'sugar, make it slow,
and we'll come together fine.
All we need is just a little patience.'"
They didn't make love that night in the canoe. They did exceed their 2-hour limitation, however, and did not row their boat in until the pitch of the night had swallowed their boat and they were forced to make their way back to the shore by lantern light. They left something out there that night, though. They shed a coat- a skin- that they'd both been wearing for too long. The weightlessness that they felt afterwards was exhilarating. Maybe Ross got his skydiving in, after all.
"I sit here on the stairs because I'd rather be alone.
if I cant have you right now, I'll wait here.
Sometimes, I get so tense
but I cant speed up the time.
You know, love,
there's one more thing to consider."
The other 4 were waiting for them on the shore. New York was waiting for them. Their new life together was waiting for them. Still, they couldn't help but look back over that lake with a sense of wonderment at what had really been discovered there that night. How many secrets have been wordlessly revealed? How many pacts had been forged? How many moons had been walked? How many possible pasts had died and how many future encounters had been born when they let go of all those mistakes and happenstances that had plagued them over the years? Before they piled into the backseat of that steadfast van, they took a clandestine moment between synchronized breaths to thank each other for the will that they'd mustered then and there to face all obstacles with a clean slate. Without another look back, they forged ahead toward another unforeseen adventure at the end of some other open road.
"I said 'sugar, take the time,
'cause the lights are shining bright.
You and I got what it takes to make it.'
We won't fake it."
"Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose."- Walt Whitman