Not two months later, Ross and Rachel found their nearly brand new, once spotless apartment half empty and cluttered with boxes. All of the superfluous, decorative items that made their house a home—picture frames, candles, throw pillows, books, movies, CDs, and most furniture, for that matter—had already been packed away. The only items remaining were the ones absolutely essential to daily living, as they'd be officially moving the next morning.
Then, they'd shut the doors forever to the penthouse they'd refurbished and reconstructed all for themselves.
Ross was on the phone with the dean of the board in the barren living room, standing (as there was no longer really any place to sit) amongst the boxes and bags. As he hung up the phone, Rachel approached him from behind and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head against his back.
"I'm sad," she whined.
"I know." He turned in her embrace and kissed her forehead.
"What did he say?" she muffled against his chest. Ross exhaled deeply, obviously going to be very happy when the commotion and stress of all this was over.
"Well, I apparently have a week to move in and get adjusted before my first day at the museum. Also, they've set up a meeting for us with an interpreter when we get there to help us sort out the apartment stuff."
"This is going to be exhausting, huh?"
"Yep, sounds like it. What did your people say?"
"I don't start for two weeks after we get there, which is good, I guess, because it'll give me time to find a good preschool for Emma. Oh, but I did find out our apartment is, like, 10 miles from my office," she huffed, rolling our eyes. "Boy, nothing's easy, is it?"
"But, you know, when this is all over, it'll be so worth it."
"Mmm, I hope so," she whispered, hugging him tightly before walking away back into the kitchen. "So Monica said they'd be here around 7 tomorrow morning," she yelled back at him. Their friends had insisted on driving them to the airport. Their car had already been shipped.
"And what about tonight?" he asked, following her into the kitchen to help box away the last of the utensils and appliances. "You know, you still haven't decided what you want to do on our last night in New York."
At this, Rachel scrunched her nose up in dismay. She hadn't wanted to think about it. On the one hand, she kind of wanted to just spend the night at home, saying goodbye to this place they'd built and she felt belonged only to them, now. On the other hand, she didn't want to waste one moment away from the city. She loved this city—in a way, she'd really grown up here.
"Hmmm, well, you know, I think there's really only one thing we can do."
Rachel pushed Emma's stroller through the double doors of Central Perk around 6 that night with Ross trailing right behind them. She looked around and smiled nostalgically.
It was only their third time going back there since they'd moved, and maybe their last ever.
Ross instinctively went to the counter to order coffee for himself and Rachel, while she staked out their seat on the couch. She watched her husband's conversation with Gunther. They were undoubtedly talking about the wedding, which made her smile, but she couldn't help but notice how their interaction seemed detached and vaguely indifferent. They were almost like strangers now, to the people here—to this place. They knew no one here, anymore, and that thought saddened Rachel.
Ross placed the big multicolored cups on the table in front of them and brought Emma to sit on his lap.
"You remember this place, Em?" he asked, bouncing her up and down on his knee. She shook her head timidly, grasping her teddy closely, and he smiled and kissed her forehead. She was in one of her shy moods—probably because she DIDN'T remember this place. "You were only a baby the last time Mommy and Daddy brought you here."
"Do you think we'll ever come back here again?" Rachel asked suddenly, her eyes fixed on nothing in front of her, her mind seemingly somewhere else. The question jarred Ross, who honestly didn't know how to answer.
"I don't know" he admitted. It seemed impossible that they'd never see that place again, but sometimes…people just move on. They were in their mid thirties and married with a daughter. What's more, they were moving to another country in less than 24 hours. Sure, they'd be back to visit their friends and family, but they wouldn't be coming to the coffee house when they were 60. Who's to say how much longer it would even be open for. Nothing's forever.
Rachel laid her head on Ross' shoulder, and he could sense the sadness and serenity that had washed over her. While they were both so excited about this next chapter, they was mourning the loss of this life they'd known so well. They'd been losing touch with it, little by little, for years. Once they'd had Emma, they could no longer be carefree like they'd always lived. Once they'd gotten back together, they'd shut the door on single life forever. When they'd moved away, they'd physically left it all behind, and now with Paris…it was like the last in a long series that made up one slow, painful goodbye.
"You okay?" he asked, kissing her forehead. He put Emma back in her stroller, noticing her head begin to lull from sleepiness, and wrapped an arm around Rachel. He swept her bangs out of her eyes.
"Eh, I've been better." Her voice cracked a little. He sighed deeply and nodded.
They sat like that for a little longer, letting their coffee get cold. Neither especially felt like drinking it. It had only been ordered out of habit. They watched the 20-somethings that made up a majority of the café's customers scurry busily around them, sipping their lattes, bitching about failed dates and first job interviews, and laughing for no reason at all. That had been them once…forever ago.
"Maybe we should go back," Ross suggested, not wanting to just sit there and sulk. The sadness was festering and ruining their last night. "We should probably put Emma to bed soon, anyway."
"Okay," she agreed, nodding and quickly wiping a small tear from her eye. Ross threw a few bills on the table as a tip before they left.
Strolling back, hand in hand, neither spoke for a long time, both a little disconcerted that their last trip to the coffee house had been so much less reassuring than they'd hoped.
"I'm glad we did that," Ross initiated. And he really was. It was good closure—something they hadn't always been good about getting for themselves. He squeezed her hand with reaffirmation.
"Me too," she nodded, still a little lost in thought, but she squeezed back and smiled weakly. She shook her head. "This is all just a little scarier than I though it'd be."
Ross didn't say anything. He only nodded. He knew this was hitting her harder than it was hitting him. He was more or less ready to start their new life together. Hell, he'd been ready to have a wife and family since he was 15—ironically enough, this specific wife and family. He was sad to be leaving, but harbored no regrets and really no trepidation. He'd just have to be the rock for the both of them for once, he thought. Usually, it was Rachel who grounded him.
When they got back to the apartment, Emma was already completely zonked out, so they put her to bed a little after 8 with the intention of finishing up packing and going to bed, themselves, shortly afterwards.
Ross packed away the remaining items in the kitchen—folding the glasses over in paper and rounding up the silverware—but could tell Rachel was still somewhere far away. She wasn't crying, but her eyes were wet and he could tell she was on the verge. He hated seeing her this way. It almost made him think she was regretting their decision. He knew he couldn't take it personally, though. Rachel was just an emotional girl.
"Sweety, why don't you get some fresh air," he proposed, nodding towards the balcony off the kitchen and placing a hand on her back. "I'll finish up in here."
"Okay," she whispered weakly, setting down the wine glass she'd been holding absentmindedly and heading for the double doors.
When Ross finished packing everything away, he loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves and went out onto the balcony. He found Rachel with her back to him, leaning against the railing, looking out over the city. He came up behind her and kissed her shoulder, wrapping his arms tightly around her middle.
"Hi," he whispered.
"Mmm, hi," she replied, closing her eyes and leaning back against him.
"You gonna to be okay?"
"Yeah," she sighed, nodding. "I'm just…thinking."
"How quickly everything's change…where I was a year ago, and where I am now…" she trailed off, shaking her head and looking down at her hands folded on the railing. This troubled Ross a little. Was she suggesting that she wasn't as happy with her life now?
"Rachel…you don't…I mean, you're not regretting anything, are you?" he asked feebly, a little scared of her answer. So much had happened recently, with them moving in together, and getting married, and now this move…Would she have been happier just getting on the plane the first time?
"Oh, Ross, no," she insisted, turning around to face him. "God, I'm sorry if I made you think that, sweety. Of course I don't regret anything." She linked her hands around his neck and kissed him gently.
"Good," he nodded, rubbing her back. "I was a little worried there for a minute."
She leaned her head against his chest and moved her hands down to wrap them around his middle, hugging him tightly and swaying a little in the gently summer breeze of the night.
"It's getting kind of cold out here. You want to go to bed?" he suggested.
"Yeah," she yawned, as if on cue, having gotten sleepy just from standing there like that in his arms.
He surprised her by picking her up in his arms, causing her to giggle. He carried her back through the house, turning off lights on his way, and set her down on the bed in their room. Initially, before getting up to get ready for bed, he just laid on top of the sheets beside her, stroking her stomach and burying his face in her hair.
"Mmm, I love you," she whispered, her voice just barely audible.
"You too," he answered, punctuating the sentiment by kissing her firmly on the side of the head.
"And thank you for being so supportive. I want this…I promise," she assured him, wanting to alleviate any of his concerns about how she really felt.
With that, he got up and stripped down to his boxers, brushing his teeth in the bathroom while discreetly watching her strip down to only her panties out in the bedroom, smiling to himself. She was gorgeous, and sexy, and hot, and flawless…and all his. Those Frenchmen would undoubtedly be all over her, and would probably laugh once they found out he was the American geek who somehow managed to bag her, but that notion made him giddy more so than jealous.
He turned off the lights and got under the covers beside her, nestling up to her back and snooping cozily with her. He kissed her cheek, and jaw, and neck and listened to her whimper lightly under his touch.
"Speaking of wanting things…" he quipped, running his hand down her stomach and over her thigh suggestively.
"Mmm, honey, we've got a long day tomorrow," she protested, batting his hand away playfully.
"Oh, come on, you can't get all naked like that and then hold out on me! Is that how the French would do it?" he whined, nudging his pelvis forward into her ass. She giggled, happy that the tone of the evening had finally settled on lighthearted.
"Oh, I'll show you how the French do it."
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Stay tuned for the epilogue