An original story by Gene Carver.
"No." Ross states angerly to Monica. "I don't buy what you're saying at all."
"I only tried to answer your question about what's wrong between you and Rachel, Ross. You don't have to bite my head off."
"I didn't do anything wrong. Chandler and Joey both agree with me."
Monica snorts, showing how much she thinks of their opinions on the subject of relationships. "You've been doing a whole lot wrong lately. Or are the type of breakups you had with Julie normal for you?"
"I don't want to talk about it. Besides Chandler thinks I handled that well."
"Mister sensitivity himself. Ross, you've got to stop listening to what others think and get in touch with what you feel."
"Don't you have something to bake or should be baking?" He hunches down in the sofa before the TV and pretends to be watching the beginning of the "Christmas Carol" on the late, late show.
"Ross, until you truely understand and admitt what you've done is wrong, you're going to get nowhere with Rachel or any other woman for that matter."
She sighs. "Goodnight, Ross."
The apartment murmurrs with the sounds of the furnace running and Ross warmed by the stir of air from the register sinks down in the sofa muttering. "Why is it always the man who's supposed to be wrong." His head nods and soon the room is filled with the sound of snoring.
A long period of time passes. At first there's only blackness, infinite and unbroken. Then there's a soft glow of light, expanding outwards to reveal the worn sofa with the reclining figure. The light spreads onwards, illuminating a figure sitting on a stool who stares at the reclining figure witha slight smile on his lips.
"Ross." He says softly. When the reclining figure does not stir, he repeats himself more forcibly. "Ross!"
Ross stirs and glances over at the man on the stool. "Oh, hi, Chandler. What time is it?"
"It's later than you think - far, far later." Chandler's smile remains unchanged.
"What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you decided to see a friend in upstate New York." Ross stretches.
"I'm not in New York and neither are you, Ross. You see you've crossed the boundaries of time and space, you've entered the "Twilight Zone."" He rises from the stool as the theme song from that long-ago TV show rises to fill the air.
Ross watches him with a weary look on his face. "Cut it out, Chandler. You're starting to scare me."
Chandler regards him with his hands behind his back. "That's good, Ross. Very good. You should be scared you know."
Ross gets to his feet, his vexation beginning to show. "I said cut it out, Chandler, and you can lose that stupid music." He turns and opens the door to the room.
Flames leap out in his face and the groans and laments of the damned rush through the open door. Ross slams the door and braces his back to it as he confronts Chandler. "What happened to the front hall?" He demands in a trembling voice.
Chandler replies in a perfect imitation of the voice of a young Julie Garland. "I don't think we're in Kansas any more, Toto." He grins at the disconcerted Ross and says in the voice of Ray from "Ghostbusters". "Or the state, county, or city of New York for that matter."
Ross looks about wildly. "What's going on here? Where in the Hell are we?"
Chandler claps his hands together in delight. "Bravo! Give the man a cigar. Or would you prefer a cupie doll?"
Ross looks at the smiling figure uncertainly. "You're not Chandler, are you?"
The smile grows wider. "I'm whoever you want me to be. I can be somebody you love." In his place Rachel stands smiling at him. "I can be a relative." Ross' father glares at him. "Or I can be someone you wronged." Julie stands before him with clenched fists, anger and hatred in her eyes.
Ross steps back with a gasp and Julie vanishes to be replaced by Joey. "I can be someone you're comfortable with," He says. "Even your sister."
Monica appears. "See, Ross. I told you what was going to happen if you didn't change."
She vanishes to be replaced once more by Chandler. He waves dismissively. "What a drag. How can you stand her?"
Ross steps forward to confront the smiling figure. "I get what's going on here. This is all a dream, isn't it? Monica warned me that I had to change how I was acting. So now all the ghosts of Christmas are going to confront me and make me change, aren't they? And that means you're imaginary." He steps back with his hands crossed across the front of his chest. "Well you can go back wherever you came from. I'm not playing."
A flame shoots out from the extended finger of Chandler's hand, driving Ross back with a gasp. "Does this look imaginary to you, Ross?"
He raises the finger with the dancing flame at its tip and smiles. "Hey, this is kinda neat." Turning he points the finger at the wall and a beam strikes out, exploding boards and plaster out over the room. "Look, Scotty, a real phaser."
"All right! All right!" Shouts Ross as he ducks the flying debris. "I'm playing." The beam cuts off. Ross rises and looks around tenatively. "Are you done?"
"Oh, I'll never be done with you, my friend. You summoned me and I'll be with you until you send me back."
"I summoned you. How did I do that?"
Chandler turns into Joey who grins as he works repeated changes of his clothing from a thesbian scene out of one of Shakespear's dramas to another out of the "Three Musketeers". "This is a lot better than getting it from wardrobe. No waiting and it's always a perfect fit."
Ross getting a little picqued. "Hey, remember me. I'm the one who summoned you."
Joey now dressed as Portos sweeps a flowing cape behind his back and branishes a fencing foil. He advances on Ross with the foil extended in an en garde position, backing him up until his back is against the wall and the point is resting on the tip of his nose. "My friend, don't think I've forgotten that." He downsweeps the sword away from Ross.
Ross sighs. "Can we get on with this."
"Spoil sport." Joey sticks his tounge out at Ross but places the sword back in his belt. He gestures towards the wall and a very familiar series of events reveals itself there.
Ross watches as the whole drama with the list unfolds. "Well?" He asks as it fades. "What was I supposed to learn from that?"
He starts as Joey is replaced by a duplicate of himself. The duplicate Ross smiles and gestures at the wall. "The consequences." He replies.
A new scene forms. In this one Rachel is staring out a rain-soaked window. Her face is filled with pain. The duplicate appears behind Ross and places a hand on his shoulder. "You were so concerned about your own happiness that you never once thought about the consequences of your actions or what they would do to the woman you professed to love. You who are supposed to be so sensitive was insensitive in the extreme."
Ross gulps and his eyes are filled with pain. "Rachel." He extends a hand but the image vanishes.
The other Ross stalks around in front and confronts him. "But that's only the tip of the iceberg. All this summer you had a relationship with another young woman. A relationship that you told your friends made you happy. You constantly harped to them about your happiness. And what did you do when Rachel became available? You calously destroyed a woman who loved you."
A new image springs up. In this one Julie is sprawled across her bed with her head buried in her arms, sobbing her heart out. "She loved you with all her heart but you loved only your happiness. You forgot that when you love you have to care for the happiness of the one you love or it's not love.
"Instead of treating her with any of the respect you professed to have for her, when it came time to end the relationship, you cast her off like an old shoe. You made a thing out of her."
A new scene reveals an outraged Julie confronting Ross as he says. "I'm sorry, Julie. I cannot live a lie."
"Is that all our relationship was to you? A lie!" She sweeps up dishes and anything else that comes to hand and begins hurling them at him. "Bastard! You used me! You son of a bitch, I'm not your play thing!"
The scene fades as the image Ross ducks and edges towards the door. "I can't take this."
The other Ross sneers as the image is replaced by that of Rachel sitting by the window. "It's no wonder that she has her doubts about a relationship with you. How can she trust a man who showed so little concern for a woman he professed to love."
"Oh, My God." Ross holds his head in his hands. "What have I done?"
"Only what Joey or Chandler would've done in my place." The other mocks. "But I always thought I was better than that. I always prided myself on my caring and in the end I was revealed as the fraud I really was for I only cared for myself."
Ross looks up at himself. "Who are you?"
The other grins. "Why you of course." His face swims and is replaced in rapid succession by Joey's and Chandler's before returning to Ross'. "All the faces of who you are and who you deny yourself to be. The little boy who wants to be a man and only succeeds in being 'one of the guys.'"
The other Ross turns his back to him, steps over and lays a hand on Rachel's shoulder. "But this night there is one face that best fits you." He turns back and Ross recoils in horror as Paolo grins back at him with his arm about Rachel. "Do you like who you've become, Ross?"
Ross begins to shout. "No! No! No!"
As he does the room fades around him and he is revealed to be sitting in his chair before a TV with a test pattern. Ross shakes himself and runs his hands through his hair. "Oh, my God! What a dream."
He gets a comb out of his pocket and stands before the hall mirror, trying to calm himself down. He finishes combing and puts it away. "I'm glad that wasn't real."
His reflection whispers back. "It wasn't?"
Ross staggers back and falls into the chair. He stares at the reflection. It says nothing. He considers for a long time and then with a weary sigh, he picks up the phone and dials. After a few seconds, he hears a voice at the other end of the line, swallows and says. "Julie, I want to appologize for what I did to you and I hope we can at least be friends."
He winces as she says quietly. "Go to Hell, Ross." A dial tone hums in his ear.
He dials another number. "Rachel, this is Ross. I'd like to..." The dial tone hums again.
Staring at the phone, he says. "I can see that this isn't going to be easy."
The air of the bar was filled with the thick, bitter odor of Russian cigarettes. It made Ross' stomach unsettled as he threaded his way through the crowds of laughing and singing men and women looking for Alexi.
"Over here, moi priyatel'." Ross' face lighted up as he saw Alexi waving to him from a corner table.
He gratefully drapped his coat across the chair facing Alexi and sat down. "I want to thank you for agreeing to see me."
Alexi shrugged his broad shoulders. "It's no problem. I not like others who say they know that 'Ross is rat.' I wait and see. You prove to me if you are one."
"Thanks, I think. At least that was better than I got from Taneka." Ross shook his head. "When I called her, she really unloaded on me."
Alexi nodded. "Taneka's good friend to Julie. You want to know what do make ammends to Julie for hurt done her. I like you. So I tell you why Taneka so angry. Then maybe you understand Julie better.
But, look I forget my manners." He signaled to a passing waiter and a moment later a new bottle appeared on the table with a clean glass. "Drink up, moi priyatel', there's enough sadness in the world as it is."
Ross' eyes buldged as the liq. fire poured down his throat.
Alexi smiled. "Is good, no?"
"Too good." Ross gasped. He took his handkerchief out and wiped the sweat from his forehead. It was already hot in the Russian Tea Room and the drink had just raised his internal temperature several degrees.
"Like all things Russian. It strong and full of heart." Alexi downed his second drink without blinking an eye and refilled both their glasses.
Ross eyed the refilled glass with trepidation. "You were going to tell me about Taneka."
"Ah, yes. Taneka Julie's oldest and closest friend. Taneka love that girl, maybe even die for her." He drank down half of his glass and leaned forward. "In high school Taneka was transfer student from Ohio and feeling very lonely. She also of African descent. There some who resent this and make her feel unwelcome, even frightened.
Julie angered by this. She ignore others and openly welcome Taneka. She walk to school with her, get her into clubs, and take her into her home. For this Julie shunned by those who not like Taneka, but Julie not care. Taneka say 'Julie do what heart say and not what others say.' To me this is right. This is Julie."
"Julie never told me any of this."
Alexi shrugged. "She not braggart either. I surprised you not notice this."
"How'd you meet Julie?" Ross said to change the subject.
"At father's house. You know I study the violin. Graduated with honors from Moscow Conservatory. When I come to this country, someone tell me. Alexi, go see this man. He make greatest violins since Stradavarius. First I no believe. But after visit and play one, I believe. Such sounds of beauty I never hear before.
"Julie heard playing and came to applaud. On hearing I have only motel in which stay, she invite me stay with them. She not take no. Taneka there too and we spend 'evening on town.' Later when I get bill from father for violin I find it only half what I expect. When I ask why, he say "If my daughter likes you, that is the highest reccommendation of your honesty and intentions towards my work. In your hands, I'm sure it will be a thing loved, giving joy for years." Julie invite me visit her in city. Visit now three years."
Alexi finished off his drink. "It very simple understand Julie, tovarish Ross. She person who no like see stray cat suffer. Maybe you stray cat when she first meet you, eh?"
Ross sighed. "A pathetic puppy is more like it."
"One who feel like ungrateful cur now?"
"You don't beat around the bush, do you?"
Alexi smiled. "Not Russian way."
"But how do I make things right with Julie?"
"You made first step today. Now must talk."
Ross spread his hands in exasperation. "I already tried that. She told me to 'go to Hell.' and hung up on me."
"No, tovarish. Not on phone. In person. Obvious you have feelings still. Tell them in person from heart. You do and Julie listen, maybe even forgive, and in time be friend like me."
"It sounds too easy."
"All complex truths easy when seen with clear eye."
"Hey, Alexi." Shouted a beanpole of a man with frizzy hair. "Did you forget the Philharmonic audition this afternoon?"
"Moi Bog! Spasibo, Ivan." He picked up his coat and grabbed the check. "Excuse me, tovarish. I must go. We do again when have more time. Then I show you how two comrades really drink."
"Do svidaniya, Alexi." Ross replied.
"Not 'goodbye', Ross. Do zavtra 'until we meet again'."
Ross watched him go, pushing through the crowd. As he did so the thought came to him that a man or woman is known by the friends they keep. Alexi as Julie's friend said more about her than any words ever could.
Ross pulled his coat collar up against the cold wind andhunched down, trying to make himself as small a target as possible. It didn't do much good. Winter had arrived early in New York witha vengeance. As he walked along trying to avoid patches of ice and the litter which seemed ever present on the streets no matter how many 'Keep New York Clean' campaigns there were, he thought disgustedly about what had just happened.
Alexi's advice to talk to Julie face-to-face might as well have not been given. How can you talk to someone when they won't buzz you into their building and then tell the security gaurd to make sure that you leave, as quickly as possible?
He'd already tried talking to her at work and that hadn't been much better. If she saw him coming, she went another way and the one time he'd come after her, she'd simply avoided him by going into one of the restricted areas which he didn't have a pass key for.
Maybe that was a thing that he and Julie had in common. He hated confrontations and obviously so did she. The sad thing was that a confrontation was the last thing he desired. What he wanted was some type of reconciliation so that he could get on with his life and concentrate on Rachel. However, ever since the night of the dream in which he'd been forced to face the fact that most of his problems with Rachel and Julie had been his own fault, he'd gotten no where in trying to make peace with either woman.
"Are you happy now." He asked his reflection in the store window. He received no answer and wasn't surprised. Ever since the night of the dream his tormenter had not reappeared. He'd long ago decided that a guilty conscience was a better explanation than that any of it'd been real. It was easier to live with that way.
He started to turn away to the subway and home when the gilt lettering on the display window caught his eye. "THE SIXTIES PLACE" and in smaller letters "Judy Horowitz, prop."
Judy? Wasn't that the first name of one of Julie's friends, the one who had such a passion for things from the sixties and seventies? He didn't remember her saying she ran her own business and he wasn't certain that her last name had been Horowitz but it wouldn't hurt to check. If it was indeed her, maybe she could give him some clue on how to make peace with Julie. The worst she could do was throw him out. He hoped that he wouldn't run into Taneka. She'd do more than just throw him out.
As he pushed open the steamed up door to the shop, a small bell tingled and a soft contralto voice called out from a door behind the counter. "I'll be with you in a minute." It certainly sounded like Judy's voice.
His eye was attracted to a large gilt-framed picture of a bearded man. The picture frame was draped with black silk. Ross frowned. He should recognize him. Hadn't he been a member of some band?
"We lost something irreplaceable when Jerry passed away." The familiar voice said from just behind him.
Jerry? Of course. Jerry Garcia. That was the man's name. He'd been the founder and leader of the Grateful Dead, one of his mother's favorite groups.
"Are you a Deadhead, too?" She asked.
"Some might say that." He turned around. "Hello, Judy."
"Ross. What are you doing here?"
He regarded the willowy redhead the top of whose head just came up to his nose. Surprise was fading quickly from her green eyes to be replaced with anger. "I'm trying to see Julie." He replied quickly to forstall her pending outburst. "I need to appologize to her."
"Isn't it a little late for that, Ross?" She spat out.
"Alexi didn't seem to think so."
She sighed. "Alexi, the incurable Russian romantic. What did he tell you?"
"He said that Julie and I need to talk in person and that I should tell her exactly what's in my heart." He shook his head. "It's what I should've done the first time. I botched it, Judy, really bad. I never intended to hurt her as bad as I did."
"Ross, no one ever intends to but in Julie's case you couldn't have done it better if you'd tried." She considered something for a moment before continuing. "In fairness though some of what she's going through is not even your fault."
"What do you mean?"
"Before I answer that tell me this. How serious are you about this? Are you just trying to ease your conscience or are you really concerned about Julie?
"Some of both, I guess. But I've come to realize that I don't want to lose her as a friend."
She smiled slightly. "At least you're honest." She turned. "Come on in the back and we'll talk."
The back of the shop was warm and comfortable. A movie poster from "The Graduate" decorated the wall above the coffee maker and two lazy cats occupied places of honor on the table.
She poured him a steaming cup, elicitating only a sleepy 'mrrow' from one of the cats.
He took it gratefully and while he added sugar and cream asked. "What did you mean, it wasn't entirely my fault?"
Judy considered him over her steaming cup for a minute before replying. "I mean that Julie put too much of herself into the relationship because she wanted so desparately for it to work." Abruptly she seemed to change the subject. "Did you ever wonder why she smiles so much?"
Ross blinked. "I assumed because she was happy."
"That's only part of it. Very few smile as much as she does. With Julie it's a defense mechanism. Certainly you noted that when she was alone with you that she didn't smile as often as when she was with strangers?"
"I didn't really think much about it, but I think you're right."
"That's because she felt safe with you and that's a tremendous complement considering that when she was in high school she was beaten up by a gang of men."
Ross started, nearly dropping the cup. Several drops struck one of the cats who got up and stalked off with a very injured look to it. "Oh, my God. How'd it happen?"
"It happened because she was defending me." An angry voice declared from behind him.
Ross turned half-way around and said weakly. "Hello, Taneka."
"Hello yourself, you bastard." She raised a finger at Judy. "You have no right to be telling him this, no right at all."
"Taneka, Ross is here to help Julie."
"How? By exposing every dirty little secret in her past? Didn't he do enough when he took her trust and ground it into the dirt?
Ross stood up. "You may not believe this, Taneka, but I still care about Julie as a friend and as a friend I want to help her just like you do."
"You had a funny way of showing it when you broke up with her, whitebread."
"All right, I screwed up." Ross shouted. "I admitt it. I screwed up. I got so hung up with what was happening to me that I forgot the ones that I should've been concerned about. If you can't buy that then I guess there's no use me hanging around."
They locked eyes for a tense moment but it was Taneka who turned away. "Can I buy that he asks? Ross, baby, I'm probably the one person in this room that can."
She waved him back to his seat, picked up one of the cats and rubbed it behind its ears while she considered him for a moment.
She shook her head. "You really are something, Ross Geller, you are really something. You're the perfect man for Julie and its that poor girl's bad luck that it aint going to work."
"How much do you know about me and Julie?" She abruptly asked.
Startled, Ross took a few seconds to reply. "Only what Alexi told me. That she befriended you in high school when you needed a friend."
"Huh, that's a mild way of putting it. You ever been discriminated against, Mister Geller? I don't mean just locked out of a job by quotas. That's nothing. I mean really hated by people who don't know a thing about you but your color? Well, I have, baby, and let me tell you after a while you get so you don't trust nobody.
"All I saw when Julie came along was another white bitch out slumming, saying to herself 'Oh, let's help the poor little colored girl' and not really caring about what I felt or thought at all. I'll bet that Ruskie didn't tell you that I rejected Julie and called her some pretty ugly things."
"No, he didn't."
"Thought not. Alexi aint one for long stories. Well, I'll try and keep this short. About six weeks after I dumped all my pent-up rage on poor Julie the trouble started. Seems some of the local nigger haters decided to teach me my place during the school spring dance. About ten of these brave, upstanding citizens dragged me aside and started slapping me around. It was then that Julie lit into them. I remember thinking. 'What in the Hell does she think she's going to do? Just get herself hurt bad along with me that's what.'
They were really pissed and proceeded to beat the crap out of her. They were turning back to me to finish the job when the cops arrived. Seems that Julie had called them earlier. Most people wouldn't have done any more than call the cops but not Julie. She couldn't just stand there when they started to hurt me. She just don't stand by when others are in trouble."
She shook her head and a tear trickled down her cheek. "That kid didn't know how mean some men can be to a woman and it messed up her mind real bad. She was months recovering and it was years before she even wanted to consider having a relationship with a man.
"That's why you were so special, Mister Ross Geller. You were a decent, honorable person who was sensitive and caring. You were just what my Julie needed."
Ross' throat felt tight. "I'm sorry, Taneka. But there was another I loved long before I met Julie and I only just realized that she loved me too. I'm sorry that that love caused Julie such pain."
Taneka sniffed. "Don't you ever be sorry for loving someone, Ross. There's too little of that in this sad, old world as it is. So don't you ever be sorry about love. Just be sorry that the human heart is too small to share that love with more than one."
Judy laid a comforting hand on Taneka's shoulder. "The children of the sixties tried to share the love and some of them even succeeded for a while. But in the end?" She shrugged. "They found themselves acting just like their parents. Most of the women found they really didn't want to share their man with another woman. It happened to my parents and they got married when mom laid an ultimatum on father." She smiled. "We still see 'aunt' Vicky every once in a while."
She picked up their cups and placed then back on the table. "I think it will help Julie recover for her to see that Ross here is still the same decent person she fell in love with. The question is how to get them talking with the way she's feeling?"
Taneka dropped the cat back on the coffee table. "You leave that to me, Judy. Ross, I'll give you a call when I've arranged things with Julie. It probably won't be tomorrow or even this week. She still needs some time to herself, but I'll see that you two get together."
Judy looked at her watch. "Look at the time. I was supposed to be closing ten minutes ago. Why don't you two wait out front while I put the shop to bed."
Ross sighed as he stood in the entrance way with Taneka. "I never realized that you can go with someone for so long and not really know them. You, Judy and Alexi have told me so many good and sad things about Julie but nothing really bad. It seems almost unreal."
"You're only hearing the good things because you're talking to us. What do you expect friends to do? Make up a list of a friend's bad points and share it with everyone? You want bad things you ask an enemy. That's what they're for."
Ross started and suddenly it came to him that was part of the reason that Rachel was so angry at him. "I think I'm learning that." He said softly."
He smiled weakly at his reflection in the window glass. For a moment it seemed to wink at him but it happened so quickly that he was never sure if it had or not.
Several days ago Chandler had been thrilled with his notebook computer. He'd been unable to restrain himself from taking it everywhere and showing it off at every opportunity to his friends. Joey had called it 'his new toy' and that was just what it'd been.
That was then. Today he stared at the screen and ground his teeth in frustration. First there'd been that problem with Rachel and the list that he'd meant to erase and then there'd been harmless little glitches or bugs. He'd expected those. They were common to every new system until you learned its quirks. What was not common were these replies to the EMS's that he'd sent Darcy, the hot chick from accounting with the great pair of legs. The first response had said very simply:
I don't think we should see each other anymore.
What had him really mystified was her reply when he'd asked why?
If you don't understand after your last message, then I'm not going to waste my time trying xplain it to you.
Could there be something wrong with the mail system? To check it out he'd sent messages to his work station in his bedroom using Ross' phone a few minutes ago. He looked up expectantly as Joey slipped in the door with a tearoff from the big printer.
"You're not going to like this, Chandler." He was grinning as he held out the paper.
Chandler snatched the paper and as he read it his eyes widened. His test message was there and intact. However, at the bottom there appeared an additional tagline. It said simply. "I don't give a s--t for a woman's feelings. All I want to know is how good she is in bed."
"I never sent this part." He exclaimed.
"Try it again." Joey suggested.
A minute later they were both staring at a sheet on which the tagline read. "In my opinion a woman is only good when she's on her back."
"This is unbelievable." Chandler said.
"Yeah." Joey agreed. "It's like the computer is reading your mind."
"It's not funny."
"Maybe we could get you and your computer a spot on the Tonight Show. The amazing Chandler and his mind-reading chauvinist computer."
"You worry me, Joey. It almost sounds like you're developing a sense of humor." He turned back to the notebook. "Let's see what else it prints out. I think I can set up a loop program so that it'll send messages until I tell it to stop."
Joey leaned forward to watch as Chandler's fingers hesitantly moved over the keyboard. "This should be interesting."
It turned out to be more than interesting. A half hour later Joey was staring over Chandler's shoulder at the words on a huge pile of computer printout unraveling on the bed as Chandler scanned through it. "Well," He said. "I think we can rule out mind reading. You don't know words like that."
"What do you mean I don't know words like that. I use them all the time."
Joney grinned. "I'm not talking about the four-letter ones."
Chandler ignored him. "Either the phone company is showing what it really means by 'being your true choice' or I've got a virus.
"That's funny. You don't look sick."
"Keep working on that sense of humor, Joey, and we might get you a spot on Letterman."
"As a stand-up comic?"
"No. As a stupid pet trick."
He sighed and leaned back while Joey scanned through the printout. He paid no attention even when he heard Joey exclaim. "I've got to write that one down. You got a pencil here?"
If he had a computer virus there was only one person he could think of to call. That was Walter Parker, Julie's friend, who'd given Ross some computer names and a list of advantages and disadvantages of the different brands when he'd been told he was in the market for a notebook. That list had been one of the primary reasons he had this machine and Walter had left him his phone number just in case he'd had any questions.
He disconnected the modem, plugged in the phone and dialed. A moment later he heard the pickup at the other end.
"Hi, Walter? This is Chandler."
"Chandler? Oh, yes. Ross' friend." He made Ross sound like a swear word.
"Yes, Ross' friend. Do you remember the color notebook you suggested I get?"
"I suggested at least ten that would suit your needs. I'm not claravoyant."
"I got the AST."
"A good choice for your needs. So, what's the problem?"
"I can't send an EMS without a file being added."
There was a significant pause. "What does the file say?"
"It never says the same thing twice. Here let me read you one." There was the sound of paper rustling and Chandler's voice came through faintly. "I don't care if you're saving it for Shakespear himself. Give it here." A moment later he came back on. "Sorry, Walter. This one's even poetic:
Roses are red, Violets are blue. come to bed, I'll f--k you."
"The one below it says. 'If you're a woman don't believe a word this lying SOB says.'" There was the sound of someone saying something and Chandler growled just off the phone. "I'm better than that." His voice came back on. "Sorry, Walter. Look. Do you have any idea what's going on?"
"Uh, yes, Chandler, I think I do. What's your net address?"
"I don't have one. I've been using Ross'"
"You've been using Ross'. Wonderful. What's Ross been using?"
"He doesn't use the internet at home. He has a computer at work that he uses for webbing with other scientists. He got the Compuserve service and then assigned it to me when he found he wasn't using it. Do you have any idea what's going on?"
"Yes, I do. Bring your computer by my place and I'll fix it."
Chandler hung up the phone and picked up his injured notebook. "I'll see you later, Joey."
Joey emerged from under a pile of printout. "It's up to three hundred and still not a repeat in it. This thing could replace scriptwriters."
Chandler shook his head and left his friend to his fun.
The address that Walter had given him turned out to be one of the modern high-rise luxury appartments. Very chic and extremely expensive. By the time that Chandler reached Walter's appartment he felt like he'd tried to break into a CIA complex.
Walter turned out to be a slender man in good physical shape. An exercise bike and a Nordic Track over in the corner of livingroom hinted at why. Chandler was a little surprised for Walter fit none of the sterotypes of a computer nerd. Absent were the pale complexion, poor muscle development and glasses. Walter could have and would blend completely into Chandler's place of business without raising a ripple.
His surroundings were definitely not nerdy. Disney parphanelia were everywhere from figurines to fully framed animation cells and the one he'd looked closely at was an original not a duplicate in a numbered series. Mickey as the sorcerer from Fantasia ruled his domain from the shelf over the computer desk. In another room Chandler could see what looked to be a very expensive home-theater system.
"This stuff is neat." Chandler said, feeling a little envious.
Walter smiled. "I've always liked Disney and when I got to the point I could afford it, I decided to indulge myself. Do you collect cells too?"
"I wish I could. I'm not at a point where I can indulge much beyond this little toy." He gestured at the little AST cradled gently in Walter's hands.
"It's a good little machine. Let's see what I can do." He led the way over to the computer table and after making connections between the two machines, he fired them up.
With a quick series of keystrokes he called up a submenu and with the mouse punched in a program. "I'm running a virus check of my own design here. If there's anything going on, other than whatI suspect, it'll tell us."
The screen blinked and the broom from Fantasia began filling a room with water. Off in the corner of the room Mickey as the sorcerer's apprentice slept oblivously on as the water rose higher and higher.
"That's a neat program."
"Like it? It's my own design. I can give you a copy of it if you'd like."
The water rose up to the point where Mickey's chair tilted over and he disappeared in a large splash. The screen blinked and began printing out the diagnostics.
Walter frowned. "I see the problem I suspected but you have a couple of viruses I wasn't expecting. Have you been downloading net programs without a filter?"
"Yes. Is that a problem?"
"It was, but I'll fix you up with a real good filter. Let's get rid of these things." His fingers flew over the keyboard. The screen blinked again and the figure of Black Pete appeared in the center of the screen in full cowboy gear. He began shooting uprunning figures of Alice in Wonderland cards. A moment later the screen blinked again and Pete's face appeared in full close-up. "All done, boss." He said and the screen blinked back to its ready mode.
Walter unhooked Chandler's notebook and handed it back to him. "All done."
"Thanks." Chandler tucked the notebook under his arm. You said that you found a virus that you expected. Why did you suspect it?"
Walter considered this for a moment. He sighed. "Because I sent it."
"To me? Why?"
"Not to you. To Ross. That was the net address he gave me. I just didn't know it wasn't his primary."
"But a virus for Christ's sake. Why?"
"The why is quite simple. I hated Ross for what he'd done to Julie."
"Is that what this is all about? Revenge?"
Walter got to his feet and stood facing the window. "I don't expect understanding."
"Try me. I'd like to know why somebody just screwed up my four thousand dollar computer."
"You ever seen a divorce? I don't mean a run of the mill breakup. I mean a gut-wrenching, hate-filled distruction of a marriage."
Chandler flinched. "I have."
"Then maybe you will understand a little. I was ten when my parents broke up and I ended up being the object of a long and bitter custody battle." He shook his head. "I won't bore you with the sorrid details. Let's just say it left me with strong feelings about relationships."
He motioned for the other to join him by the window. " I think if they're home I can show you something. There. See the silhouete of that couple hugging against the curtains in that window two floors up?"
Chandler grinned. "Yeah. Looks like they're going hot and heavy."
"That's Mr. and Mrs. Silversteiner. They just celebrated their fiftieth wedding aniversary."
"You're kidding" When Walter shook his head, Chandler's grin became even wider. "Well, good for them. But what does this have to do with Ross?"
"Relationships like that of the Silversteiners are so rare that they should be treasured, Chandler. When Julie first started going out with Ross, I was suspicious until I met him. Afterwards I knew they were going to be the next Silversteiners. They were perfect for each other. Maybe it was only wishful thinking on my part, but it seemed so right."
He was silent for a while. "Then when it came apart and so badly, I lost it. Who was I going to blaim? My friend Julie who was the one dumped or Ross who'd calously tossed her aside in a single day? I can see now that part of my rage was because I was reliving the breakup of my parents. Sending the virus was the act of a spoiled child and I'm not proud of it." He turned back to face Chandler. "Well there you have my reasons. As I said before I don't expect you to understand."
All Chandler's gibbness vanished as he remembered his own parent's divorce and how he'd felt. Yeah he could understand Walter. But, where Walter had learned to treasure relationships that worked he'd come on the other hand to avoid them and the pain that came with their inevitable failures. For they were always doomed to fail. He glanced up towards the Silverstein's room. Weren't they? He decided he didn't want to think along that line. It made him uncomfortable.
"I understand more than you might think." He help up the computer. "Any more booby traps?" When Walter shook his head, Chandler said. "I'll be going now. Maybe I'll see you around, Walter."
Walter didn't answer. He was still staring up towards the appartment across the way even after Chandler shut the door.
Excerpts from Julie's Diary (Beginning a few days after the breakup)
Wednesday November twenty second
Thank God the little tortise shell cat was still at the shelter. The young man who collected the fee for her said that she would not have been there after Thanksgiving day. She curled up besides me on the car seat and purred all the way home. That night she seemed to understand my need to hold onto something and was content to sleep in my arms as I rocked back and forth, staring at the cold rain pouring down against the windows. I'm calling her Whitney after one of my favorite singers.
I hope I can get some rest tonight. I'm still having nightmares, waking up, and then tossing and turning the rest of the night. Oh Ross, Ross. Why did you do this to me? What did I ever do to you?
Thursday November twenty third - Thanksgiving Day
I went home for Thanksgiving and now I'm filling pages of my diary. I will start at the beginning.
I couldn't hide my feelings from Mom and Dad. Shouldn't have even tried.
When Mom went into her lecture mode on how I should've been more careful and that she hoped to God I was on the pill, I lost it.
Dad interceded and took me for a walk along the shores of the bay. Asked me how I first met Ross to get me talking.
I told him of the attraction I'd had for Ross when I'd first seen him as a teaching assistant at U Conn and that it was Ross who'd inspired me to major in micropaleontology and that I'd had a thing for him for nearly seven years before he'd noticed me.
I broke down crying and told him Ross had been the most wonderful and kind person I'd ever known and in the end he'd been an abuser and a user just like all the others.
He asked me if I'd been able to take Doctor Shall's advice for dealing with my emotions. I told him that I still found it easier to grin and bear it than to scream and shout. He shook his head and changed the subject.
Dad told me that the reason that Mom was so concerned about me was that she'd had two miscarriages and lost both babies, nearly dying during the process. He said her anger was really concern for me and she was not trying to run my life. He gladly retired to his shop while Mother and I awkwardly talked. It turned into the first real talk Mom and I've had in years.
Maybe there was something good that did come out of this if it draws me closer to my Mother.
Friday November twenty third
For the first time I actually slept the whole night last night. I still feel the pain but after yesterday it's no longer dominating my life.
Saturday November twenty fourth
Returned to New York and celebrated a belated Thanksgiving with Alexi, Judy and Walter. Taneka is at her Grandfather's place in Columbus. The rest of us went Christmas shopping and I thought I saw Joey at one of the stores selling perfume, but in the cowboy outfit I couldn't be sure.
I've slept well the last few nights.
Sunday November twenty sixth
I almost fainted on getting up this morning. I made breakfast but became so nauseous that Whitney had to finish my scrambled eggs for me.
I can no longer ignore the signs and will have to see the Doctor. After talking to Mom I'm scared. What if I have a miscarriage? What if I die because of...
Damn it! Why can't men have to pay for the consequences of their actions? Why is it the woman who has to suffer?
Monday November Twenty seventh
I was woken in the middle of the night by a call from that son of a bitch Ross. The bastard wanted to appologise. His voice reawoke all the memories and the pain, I'd buried so carefully. I wanted to scream and shout at him but most of all I wanted to curse him for getting me in this condition. I couldn't speak without breaking down. I mastered every bit of calm I could, smiled sweetly and told him to go to Hell. Then I hung up on him.
I wish he'd never called. I know I'm going to spend the rest of the night pacing the floor and breaking things.
Wednesday November twenty ninth
Doctor Cook confirmed I'm pregnant. He has put me on a special diet and restricted my activities. He considers me a high risk for a miscarriage and even more so since both my Mother and her mother had them. He said that an abortion may be my only option to save my life if things get really ugly. He didn't say so but I had the feeling that he'd be relieved if I decided to have one now.
As I left the clinic some protestor screamed in my face that I would burn in Hell if I aborted my baby. I wanted to scratch her eyes out but instead I started crying, grinned at her and forced my way past.
Can't such people see that they are not preaching about a God of love but one of hate?
Later at work I saw Ross following me down the hall. After the events of the morning, I couldn't face him. I escaped him by going through a security door.
Thursday November thirtieth
Sick again this morning. I was half an hour late getting to work. Ross had tried to see me at my office. Sarah told the secretary that he was not to be admitted unless I wanted him to be.
She told me she thought I was acting foolish and that sometime I was going to have to talk to him. I promised her I would. However, when he killed our love, he also killed my trust. It will be a long time before I'm ready to face him. But I shall have to face him if the baby makes it.
I cannot tell him about the baby at this time. I could not stand his pity or the false concern for me that it would create.
Monday December fourth
Asked Alexi at lunch how his audition for the Philharmonic went on Friday. He thinks he did good which means he played superbly. They will send him word later this week.
He told me that Ross had been to see him and that he thought Ross was sincere in his desire to make ammends for what he'd done.
I almost screamed at poor Alexi that did that mean Ross could take back my pregnancy and make that better too? I clamped my mouth shut just in time.
I thought about seeing Father Thomas to ask him what I should do about the baby. But after that foul protestor I can't. Whether I abort the child or not is a decision that only I can make and if that damns me to Hell because I'm exercising the free will that God gave me, so be it.
Wednesday December sixth
I couldn't believe it. Ross actually showed up on the front steps of the building and tried to talk me into seeing him. I told the security gaurd to keep him away from me.
I watched from behind my curtains as Ross walked down the street. He looked so slumped over that I almost relented. I can't believe that I still feel something for him.
I know it's going to be a restless night and I'd better put the dishes away. I can't aford to buy another set. Ross why does your face still haunt me?
Thursday December seventh
Doesn't he ever give up? Judy revealed to me at lunch that she and Taneka spent the entire evening talking with him after he left my appartment complex. She said he is really sincere about wanting to put things right between us.
What surprised me even more was that Taneka called this evening. She told me she'd changed her mind and that when I felt ready I should talk to Ross.
What type of spell has he thrown over my friends and should I see him? Could I bear the pain of talking to a man whom I thought loved me and then left me for another?
Saturday December ninth
Taneka and I took a long walk around Central Park today. I think we saw Monica out jogging but she was so far away that I couldn't be sure. I told Taneka about the baby and somehow she wasn't surprised. She told me she would stand behind me in whatever I decided to do.
Taneka did say just before we parted that a baby from Ross would be a tie between the two of us that would never be broken for the rest of our lives even if we weren't married. She also said that she now believed that Ross was just like I'd first thought him to be. That like her he'd screwed up and was sorry. She said I should consider that in making my decisions.
Wednesday December thirteenth
10:00 PM - Whitney was playing on my desk and knocked my diary off on to the floor. When I picked it up, I saw that it was open to the entry I made the day when I went with Ross to see his son Ben. After I read the line I wrote about 'how could something created by Ross out of love not be beautiful?', I broke down and wept.
I called Ross and made arrangements to meet him near the T-Rex exhibit at the museum. I think deep down inside a part of me will always love the sweet Ross who set off fireworks for me on that sandy hill in China and the timid Ross who told Sarah he loved her by mistake. For the sake of these memories I will talk with him. I will tell him about the baby.
11:00 PM - Since I wrote the above I have had two phone calls and as a result an emotional reservoir has burst inside me.
First, I talked to Monica who was encouraging me to see Ross, not realizing that I'd already agreed to. She'd apparently been caught in a cross fire between her brother and Rachel and in her anger let some things slip about how hard Rachel had been on her for even going out with me shopping and that was why none of the others had gone.
The clincher came when Phoebe called. She wanted to see if I wanted another haircut just like the previous one that Rachel had helped her with. I think little innocent Phoebe wanted to help Ross by putting me in a good mood.
Unfortunately I had disliked that haircut almost as much as I detested her stupid song that night at the Central Perk when she exposed to everybody what was going on. I know too damn well what rhymes with Hulie.
I asked her what did Rachel think of me that she would do something so mean? Phoebe got flustered and said Rachel wasn't really mean. I asked her what she would call someone who wanted to hurt you because you were going out with a man she wanted?
Phoebe became even more flustered. She must have had a new boy friend with her because I overheard him ask her who she was talking to. When she replied 'Julie' and tried to hush him, I was enraged to hear him say 'Oh, the one that your friend Rachel hates and claims is a manipulating bitch.'
I said 'thank you, Phoebe.' and hung up.
Rachel, you don't know what hate is. You were jealous and frustrated, a spoiled brat because you couldn't have what you wanted. Because of you I had my life ripped apart. Because of you everything I ever desired or wanted was taken from me. But I'm grateful to you. You have given me something I could not obtain by myself.
Thanks to you, Rachel, I now have the strength to face my emotions and to allow them full play. The fear that has ruled for so long is gone and I feel whole. Ross, watch out. Passive Julie is a person who no longer exists.
Tyranosaurus Rex, affectionately known as T-Rex to his legions of young fans, dominated his domain in the rotunda of the museum. The hollow echoing rumble of voices that are common to both museums and armories filled the air about Ross as he waited on the bench in the shadow of the bones of the long-dead carnivour. Legions of school children being led on the tour that their fathers and mothers had taken before them filed past him filling the hall with their small cries of delight and murmurs of awe.
Ross remembered when he'd been part of that never-ending stream of humanity. It'd been his first sight of T-Rex which had left him filled with such wonder that he told his father that day that he was going to be a 'dinosaur person.' He'd kept his promise much to the old man's surprise. Today he hoped that other promises were going to be kept. He glanced at his watch wondering what was keeping Julie.
Then he saw her, entering from the exhibit hall. She clenched her teeth and moved towards him like the prow of a battleship through the waves of humanity filling the hall.
Ross got to his feet and stared at her in amazement. For the first time since he could remember she was not smiling. Smiling had always been her defense mechanism. No more. The perpetual grin had been replaced by a look which could only be described as pure rage. "Julie, I..."
"Not here!" She snapped. She grabbed his elbow in a grip that was painful and became even more painful if he tried to remove it from her grasp. Without saying another word she marched him out of the rotunda and into an employee's only entrance.
Only when they were safely inside and away from the crowd, several of whom had stopped to stare at the tall, flustered man beeing forcibly dragged across the rotunda by an angry woman much shorter than him, did she release her grip.
"That hurt." Ross rubbed the offended joint.
"Good!" Her eyes were blazing and her cheeks were flushed with such an intensity of emotion that it struck him like a physical blow.
"Julie, what's wrong? I thought we agreed to talk. Last night you sounded anything but angry."
"Last night I didn't know what a simple-minded fool I'd been."
She stuck her finger in his face. "Ross, you are a son of a bitch. You told me you loved me, not once but many times. You made love to me and you told me you wanted me to bear your children. After all that how could you throw me aside for Rachel?
"Julie, I've loved Rachel ever since high school, but she never seemed to notice me until after you and I got together. It was only then I accidently found out that she loved me."
"I bet that was no accident that you found out."
"That's not true. She got drunk and left a message on my answering machine trying to give herself closure."
"Ross, Ross, don't you even remember your psych 101? No one does anything without being aware of what they're doing even when they're drunk unless they drive themselves into an halucinatory state. In normal drunkedness they just don't care or think about the consequences any more. I bet that she knew even in her drunken state what that message would do."
Her eyes blazed. "Accept it, Ross. Rachel is extremely self-centered and mostly concerned with her own satisfaction."
"I can't believe that of her."
"You mean you won't. Ask yourself very carefully, Ross, are you in love with her or in love with the thought of being in love with her?"
"I'm in love with her. I know I am. I have been for years." He declared passionately, looking her forcibly in the eye as if daring her to deny what he he knew to be one of his most fundamental truths.
Julie seemed to deflate under his look. She shook her head tiredly. "Me thinks you protest too much."
"Badly quoting the Bard." She stared at her hands. "I guess I have to accept that and pray for your sake that she loves you as much as you love her." She looked up. The fire in her eyes had been replaced with an infinite weariness. "All right let's get this over with."
"What?" Ross' heart was hammering. Suddenly he knew why he'd tried to make the breakup short and sweet earlier. He could not deal with confrontations.
"What you wanted to talk to me about. You want absolution for your conscience. You appologise, I accept graciously and you walk out of my life, a free man. Isn't that what you want?"
"Julie, I don't want to walk out of your life. I want to still be your friend."
"Why, Ross? Why do you want to be my friend?"
"Because, damn it, you're someone I care about."
"You have a funny way of showing it, sleeping with me and pledging your devotion to me before running off to her. But what should I expect? In this day and age honor is something that can be bought for a campaign contribution. Special interest groups lie and tell themselves that they're doing it for a greater good. Men and women lie and then use and discard one another. Whatever happened to pledging one's inviolatable word? Whatever happened to the truth?"
Ross took a deep breath to retort when he remembered what Alexi had told him. 'Speak to her from the heart.'
He sighed. "I will give you the truth, Julie. God knows you deserve that from me. I admitt that I loved you. However, I love Rachel more. Breaking up with you was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. I do not handle pressure well. It was the time in the tent in China all over again. I screwed it up there and I really screwed it up when I began to tell you that we had to break it off.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I want that breakup to go as badly as it did. I did not mean to say that what we had was a lie. It was not a lie. Those six months were among the happiest six months of my life. What I should've said that night when we broke up was that I would not lie to you and live with you when I really loved another. That was the lie I could not live. I would not cheapen you or our relationship by living that kind of lie."
She looked at the floor. "I wish I could believe you, Ross, for to do that I must trust you and you destroyed so much of my trust. If you'd done what you say you intended to do that night, I would've been hurt but not enraged. You would've left me with my dignity and myself respect intact."
She looked up and there were tears in her eyes. "However, you didn't. You left me feeling used and soiled. You made me feel like a thing. Appologizing may help but it's never going to take that feeling away. It does not make it entirely all right."
"What can I do? Tell me and I'll do it."
"For me? You want to be my friend? You will have to prove over time that you're sincere. You will have to act like one. For others and even Rachel?" She sighed. "Make sure that what you did to me, you never do to another as long as you live." Her eyes were filled with pain. "That's the only absolution I can give you."
He sighed. "I'll try."
"Don't try. Succeed."
He looked at her and spread his hands. "Now what do we do?"
She considered for a moment. "You know Saint Patricks is having its Christmas Cantata tommorow?"
"My friends and I always go there after we've been to Judy's to help her celebrate Hanuka. Please join us if you can."
"But I have tickets for the Knicks and Celtics."
She turned and opened the door, paused and looked back at him. "And they shall be made known to you by their deeds." She shut the door leaving him alone.
The next night Saint Patricks was alive with the glow of the holidays. Julie stood with Alexi on one side of her and Taneka on the other. Judy and Walter were talking softly just the other side of Taneka, engaging in their usual games of one-upsmanship.
Julie looked around. There was no sign of Ross. She sighed and Alexi laid a gentle hand on hers and squeezed it ever so slightly. She gave him a weak smile. Ross' absence told her more than any words of his could've ever hoped to do.
The priest resplendent in his robes mounted the dias and after making the required holiday introduction led the way into a carol hymn to warm-up both the crowd and choir.
Taneka's voice lifted so beautifully beside her in the timeless words of "Silent night, holy night." They were in the second verse when Alexi moved aside and another slid in beside her.
She looked into Ross' face and saw the caring from one friend to another there. "I gave my tickets to Joey and then I got caught in the traffic. I hope I'm not too late."
"Never too late, tovarish." Alexi squeezed his shoulder.
Tears filled Julie's eyes. Maybe hope could live after all. She still had no idea what was going to happen with the future and her pregnancy. She still had not been able to tell him about that. But as Scarlet would say 'there's always tommorow.' and maybe after tonight there was hope for tommorow. She listened to Ross' alto voice blending with the others and then lifted her own in the ageless song of hope and thanks giving.