Title: Westerly Winds
Setting: Post-finale, slightly AU. Rachel didn't get off the plane to Paris. She and Ross have since drifted apart, with minimal communication.
Disclaimer: The characters are the property of Bright-Kaufmann-Crane. I don't own them.
AN: I don't know anything about the geography of the area I'm placing Ross in for this particular story, so forgive me if I'm a little (or totally) off. I also don't know anything about Hofstra other than that it does have geology department; it was just geographically convenient.
Tuesday, May 3rd, 2005
He'd sequestered himself in his bedroom again, flanked by a stack of term papers on his left and a television remote on his right. He reached for the remote control first, pressing the red power button, igniting a display of vivid color on the formerly vacant screen in front of him. He debated wordlessly whether or not he should check to see what was on the Discovery Channel or settle for the History Channel documentary about the French Revolution that had faded into view as the TV tube warmed up. Either would do, he quickly decided, since he hadn't come in his room to watch television anyway. When he'd first moved in, he'd turned one of the empty rooms into an office, complete with a comfortable faux leather chair and a stately oak desk in which he could easily avoid the audio-visual distraction altogether if he so desired, but grading in his room became so routine in his New York apartment, when he hadn't the luxury of extra space, that he found himself unable to get comfortable enough in the quietude of the new space to get any work done. He picked up the paper on top of the stack with his left hand and wielded a red pen in his right. His eyes mindlessly began to drift down the page, his pen bleeding mercilessly upon each mistake while some unknown register in the clandestine recesses of his mind kept a running tabulation that would ultimately determine the final grade of the work in hand. As he flipped the first page over, his attention was wrenched screenward by the sound of simulated gunshots and bombshells, an attempt to bring a touch of realism to an otherwise corny battle re-enactment.
Ever since he'd moved to the quaint Hempstead house, the noise of the TV had become a nearly constant fixture, one he employed to gag the deafening silence of the slightly-pastoral suburb. It was an irony that, after wanting desperately to get away from the bustle of the city, he found that every facet of his daily life seemed off-kilter without it. Mornings and nights were suddenly too quiet and his thoughts were suddenly too loud, which was especially a pity when they were often the only companions he had. Sometimes he welcomed the sight of a stray cat or dog on his property as a change of pace from the still, stagnant, and seemingly endless solitude that suffused his dwelling. Where endless hordes of people had been his community before, nature was now.
To say he felt like he belonged would've been an overstatement— he'd met his neighbors, but never spent much time getting to know them— but when his daughter and her mother flew overseas, his sister and his best friend started a new life outside the city, his other best friend switched coasts, and one of his most trusted confidants was busy starting her new life with her new husband, it seemed that there was no longer a niche into which he could fit. This had seemed as good a place as any to get away from it all and start over. Besides, it was close enough to his sister, his parents, and his son that he could visit if and when he needed to. The offer to take the Geology department chair at Hofstra was just the icing on the cake.
He glanced vacantly around the room as a stiff gust of wind rolled through the window, swept across his cheeks, and bounced of the wall of gel holding his hair in place. He breathed the fresh air in deeply and smiled. Sometimes he swore he could smell the coffee from Central Perk when the westerly winds blew just right. Sojourning for a moment, he picked up a small shiny metal frame from his nightstand and stared longingly at the picture within. In the center was a little girl, gazing curiously back at him.
She was smiling a little and there was a hint of mischievousness to her demeanor, as if her ignorance of the whole picture-taking ordeal was a total put-on. Ross had often found himself in similar situations wherein his children seemed to know something intuitively that was far beyond their years. Maybe Emma didn't understand the sentimentality of photos yet, but she sure knew what a camera was for. He wondered what she looked like now. Rachel had sent pictures every month or so since they'd left and Ross's heart ached every time he opened an envelope to see inches of growth he'd missed, or the developing characterization to her smile that he was growing less and less familiar with, or even a new outfit that he never got to see her wear for the first time. Raising Ben intermittently had been hard enough; this was torture. It wasn't that Rachel had deliberately kept Emma from her father. They came into the country for Thanksgiving and he'd gotten to spend almost a full week reacquainting himself with her then, but it was just enough for him to realize how much he'd truly missed her. They were supposed to have spent Christmas in the States as well, but some work crisis arose at Louis Vuitton and Rachel was unable to leave Paris. Ross tried to visit during Hofstra's spring break, but Rachel had rebuffed him, claiming that she had business on the road that week and would be in Italy, Greece, and otherwise unavailable. It'd broken his heart, and it wasn't that he didn't believe her— he'd learned much from their past fallouts and wanted to let her career come first— but he would've packed his bags and paid his own way and then some in a heartbeat to accompany them for the chance to be a family again, even if it was just for a few days. Now that summer vacation was around the bend and he'd have more time off, he'd started thinking about visiting again, but was hesitant to mention it to Rachel in one of their infrequent phone conversations lest she had some new obligation that took precedence over him coming to Paris. He wasn't even sure how he would handle it if she said 'no' again. He had no desire to embitter their already-tenuous relationship either.
In the top left corner of the picture, on Emma's shoulder, was a hand. Rachel's hand. Ross looked at the two hands comparing the little similarities that few other people would probably notice: The shape of the cuticles, the way her pinkies curved slightly outward, the coloring, the smoothness; the hands were all Rachel's. He'd memorized those hands years ago and could easily pick them out of a lineup. He missed them terribly— the way they smelled, the way they fit in his, the way they touched his face and his body— and wondered if someone else was getting to know them now like only he had for years. They'd never discussed romance since she left. He didn't really want to know if she was seeing anyone, and apparently she didn't mind not telling; it was an unspoken consensus much like the one that they'd agreed upon on the matter of discussing "them" as well.
Catching his mind adrift, Ross set the framed photo down in its place on his nightstand and returned his focus to the paper. After a moment of regrouping, the red pen began its dance again.
He culminated a paragraph of remarks with an unyielding '76' and tossed the paper on the mattress to his right. He sighed at the two stacks of papers neighboring him, noting wistfully how diametrically diminutive the size of the "graded" pile was in comparison to the "to do" pile. He'd been putting these papers off for days now in favor of a new spy novel he'd gotten into and was now deeply regretting his negligence. He picked up his second victim off the pile to his left and grumbled audibly before beginning his mechanical decomposition of its contents. Noting the name of the author to be that of one the more skilled writers in his class, he took an extra second to scan the title:
Community Structures of the Middle Cambrian Phyllopod Bed. by Bernie Smallwood
Ross jerked upright with a start and wiped off the trace amount of saliva that had pooled in the corner of his mouth and leaked onto his bottom lip during slumber. He looked around the room in a sleepy daze and saw that the TV was still on, but was the only light filling the room now as the daylight that had poured through his bedroom window earlier had expired for the day. He began fumbling around his bedside table, searching for his watch and wondering how long he'd been out. He sullenly conceded that he had no idea when he'd actually drifted off and laughed at the impossibility of answering his question. Finding his dresser by TV-light, he ran his hands across the smooth wooden top until he felt his watch under his palm. He pressed the Indiglo button and gasped when he beheld the illuminated visage before him.
10:00? Damn it! How many papers…?
He reached out towards his bedroom door and flipped a switch next to the frame causing a small lamp on the dresser to come to life. He squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light and seated himself on the bed. As he reached for the "graded" pile, he saw that the document on top was opened to nearly the last page, the header at the top of which read:
Oh my god…
Bernie's paper had been only the second one he'd attempted to grade. Ross tried not to panic, but in his hazy state was having trouble keeping his mind rational and well-grounded. He began to do some rough calculations in his head to determine exactly how much time he'd need. Organizing things may have reached a new level of psychosis with his sister, but nevertheless was a panacea that ran thickly through the veins of both Geller children.
38 papers to go… 30 – 40 minutes per paper… grades due by noon, Thursday…
No, wait… Friday? Why the hell can't I remember?
Ross exited his room for a few moments before returning with his briefcase. He flopped it down on the bed, turned a few dials, and popped the clasps open. He sifted through the mound of papers within for a few moments before withdrawing a yellow, computer printed information sheet with the school letterhead across the top. He scanned the contents for the grade deadline, hoping that the result would be the latter day, yielding him the precious 24 hours that could be the deciding factor of not only students' grades but his job stability. Ah, there it was:
"Grades MUST be entered into the University System by 12:00pm, May 6th, 2005."
Something about the date immediately stood out to the tired professor, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was at first.
Suddenly, the phone rang. Ross darted out of his bedroom and into the kitchen, frantically yanking the phone out of its cradle and snapping it to his ear.