A/N: Allrighty then!
I started off with this story, and got lots of negative mail & reviews from people who hated where the plot was going, begging me to make it a dream or in some other way not real. So I did... and now I'm getting negative mail & reviews from people who actually liked it before and *now* detest it, are confused, knew where the original story was going and liked it better, etc.
Color me frustrated.
So here's what I'm doing. There will now be *two* copies of the first two chapters up on FF.net... one called "Hanging By A Moment", with the revised plot beginning in Chapter Three, and one called "The Other Gold", with the plot I had originally intended. So if you're reading either one for the first time, the chapter duplication is *intentional*.
So read whichever one you preferred.
In a way, the stories will end up being companion pieces. "The Other Gold" will fully explore the reality only visited by Monica in "Hanging By A Moment". Depending on people's reactions, I may do other companion pieces fleshing out the vignettes Monica warps through in "Hanging By A Moment"... we'll see. And if there's an alternate reality you'd like to see Monica warp through, leave a review. I've already received a few, and *will* be doing one Monica/Chandler reality, as well as a Rachel/Will (Brad Pitt).
"We-he-hellll," Chandler drawled, leaning against Monica's doorframe. "*You* look just... beyond yummy."
He crossed behind her, taking her hips in his hands, leaning down to murmur against her neck. "You didn't have to get all dressed up for me, you know..."
Monica winced, lowering her lipstick tube. "Chandler... I'm not, actually."
"Not actually... what?"
"Dressed up for you."
He blinked, taking a step back. "You, uh... have some work party or something?"
"I have a... date." She stuck in her earrings, keeping her eyes on her dressing table.
"Oh!" he blurted, rubbing the back of his neck. "Well, that's stupendous. T-that's fantastic. I mean, I... I couldn't be more happy for you!"
"Look, Chandler, I... I know we've been fooling around lately, but... I'm a little old for that, you know? I need to be in a real relationship. One that has a future. We're fun, but... we're not going anywhere. I mean... that's why I broke up with Richard. Twice. I can't... I can't get myself in that situation again, no matter how much fun we have."
Chandler stuffed his hands in his pockets and avoided her eyes. "Right."
"Chandler, I'm sorry... but... don't you agree with me?"
"Oh, sure! Yeah, totally. I'm gonna... I'm gonna go see what Joe's up to. You, uh... you have fun on your date, okay?"
He leaned in awkwardly and kissed her forehead, striding out of the room and gently shutting the door of Apartment 20 behind him.
Before slamming the hell out of the door to Apartment 19.
"I thought you didn't smoke anymore," Richard said, dropping wearily to the steps beside Chandler and pulling a cigar out of his pocket.
Chandler looked up, flicking ashes to the step below their dress shoes. "Yeah, well... it seemed like a good day to take it up again."
"I hear ya," Richard laughed. "It seemed like a good day not to quit."
"Here," Chandler said, fishing his Zippo out of his pocket and lighting the tip of Richard's cigar.
Richard puffed until it ignited, regarding Chandler sadly. "You're in love with her, too."
"Well sure, yeah, but other than that... *bitchin* wedding, right?"
"I'd expect nothing less from Monica."
Chandler barked harsh laughter. "Especially with unlimited funds."
"Monica Becker," Richard mused, plucking at the knee of his dress pants. "That's really just a horrible, horrible last name."
"She seems to like it."
"Would you like to go get really, *really* drunk and feel *very* sorry for ourselves?"
"Always knew I liked you, m'man," Chandler cried, clapping Richard on the back.
"Oh holy *crap*," Phoebe burst out. "You guys... oh my god... come here!"
"You opened your card from Monica already?" Rachel crossed the living room, Santa hat drooping on her head. "Pheebs... we were gonna do that *together*."
"Hold it up, Pheebs, what'd she..." Chandler blinked. "Holy Mary Mother of God!" He sprinted for the tree, where Rachel had stuck their Monica envelopes among the branches.
"Well, there's my rent for the next three years," Phoebe stuttered, pulling out the check and gaping at it.
"What'd the card say?" Joey asked.
"Dearest Phoebe, we hope you're having a Merry Christmas. We weren't sure what you'd like, so we got you this. We're in Paris right now, but we'll give you a call at New Year's. Love, Monica and Pete."
"What does yours say, Chandler?"
"Dearest Chandler," Chandler read. "We hope you're having a Merry Christmas. We weren't sure what you'd like, so we got you this. We're in Paris right now, but we'll give you a call at New Year's."
The card dropped slowly in his hand. "Love, Monica and Pete."
"Ross? How about you?"
"Gimme that," Chandler said, grabbing Ross's card and holding it up next to his. "This is a *handwriting font*, you guys. It's a *mail merge* from a *database*."
"Hey, it's Sherlock Nerd," Phoebe quipped half-heartedly.
"She didn't even sign the checks. It's a stamp." Chandler shoved Ross' card back at him. "Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-*blech*."
"I'm her *brother*," Ross said softly, turning the red envelope over and over in his hands.
Chandler's cellphone chirped, and he held it to his ear. "Chandler Bing..."
He put his hand over the mouthpiece. "Richard got one too. And so did your parents, Ross."
Chandler wandered into the guest room to talk to Richard, and the other four sat around the coffee table glumly.
"Wow," Joey finally said. "This is the first time I've ever held a check this big and felt bad about it." He considered. "Actually, this is the first time I've ever held a check this big."
"Well, maybe she just didn't have time to shop," Phoebe said. "I mean, she's jetting all over, y'know, going to foreign countries like Japan, um, and France..."
"And Vermont," Joey said helpfully.
"Uh-huh. And maybe she didn't have time to shop."
Phoebe looked at the clock, then the silent phone. "Or call."
"Oh, c'mon... *answer*," Monica Becker sighed, pressing the "end" button on her phone with a groan. "You can't have *all* moved."
She looked out at the blizzard currently turning New York into a blank page, sighing to herself. She really should have called them more, kept in touch... she'd just kept telling herself she'd do it tomorrow. And then there'd been another benefit, another opening, another ski trip in the Alps, another opera...
She dialed another set of numbers, waited.
"Hi, you've reached Chandler and Joey's. We're screening our calls. Here comes the beep, impress us."
Oh, thank god. At least some things hadn't changed. "Hi, guys, it's Monica. The blizzard grounded our jet, and I thought I'd see what you guys were up to. If you're really screening, pick up."
Silence. "Okay, I guess you're really not there. I'm gonna go by Central Perk and see if anybody shows up... if you get this message, my cell number is..."
She finished leaving her message and pressed the button to lower the window separating her and her driver. "Malcolm? It's that little red shop, up there. You can just drop me off, I'll probably have to wait a while."
"Certainly, Mrs. Becker."
She grabbed her purse and stepped out of the limo, struggling to see against the dense and blinding snow, waving a gloved hand for Malcolm to go.
Monica wrapped her coat tighter, stepping up onto the curb. Her first cup of Central Perk coffee in, what? Four years? It was gonna taste like heaven.
She reached the window, breathed a hole in the frost and peered inside, searching out the orange couch.
It wasn't there.
Monica ran her glove over the glass, cutting a thicker view, and gasped.
Bookshelves. Row after row of bookshelves.
She ran to the front door, repeating the process on the window, revealing words etched in glass.
"The Bookworm Fine Used Books."
Monica stepped back in horror, then ran across the street, craning her neck upwards.
Only one person still had their Christmas lights up in February.
Rachel still lived here. And judging from the light inside... she was home.
Monica knocked on the door of apartment 20, shaking the snow off her boots impatiently.
"Ross... Ross, honey, will you see who that is?"
A surge of happiness... following by an equally large share of guilt... crashed through Monica's chest. Rachel and Ross... her best friend and her brother... had gotten back together... and she didn't know.
"I suck," she mumbled, brushing her hair back beneath her cap. "I really, really suck."
The door cracked.
"Mon?" Ross said in shock. He turned and called over his shoulder. "Hey, you guys... it's, uh, it's *Monica*!"
"Well, uh, hey -- hey, Mon," Ross said awkwardly, turning back to her. "So what... what are you doing in town?"
"Our jet got grounded. The snow, y'know. So do I... do I get to come *in*?" she said pointedly. Ross was still standing with the door cracked.
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure. Of course." Ross took the chain off and opened the door.
"Oh, wow," Monica breathed. "It's... it's *different*."
The apartment was a sea of dark wood and neutrals... not what she'd expected from Rachel at all. It looked like... it looked like she'd invited Ralph Lauren over and told him to go to town.
Well, that made sense, Monica thought to herself. She probably got a discount.
She shook her head, grabbing Ross in a hug. "It's so good to see you!"
"It's good to see you, too, Sis," he said... and then his eyes flashed toward the bedroom for the seventh time in a minute.
"I can't believe you got back together with Rachel and didn't tell me," Monica laughed, hitting him lightly on the arm.
"Back with... oh, no." Ross chuckled. "We're just visiting."
"Uh. Me and my girlfriend."
"Me and... Pheebs."
"Pheebs?" Monica said slowly, shaking her head. "You and Pheebs and your girlfriend?"
"Um, no, actually. Me and my girlfriend... Pheebs."
"You're dating Phoebe?"
"Have been for a while, yeah." Ross said, smiling a little. "It's good, Mon. It's really good."
"Wow," Monica whispered. "Well, um. Wow. I wasn't expecting *that*!"
"A lot's changed," Ross said. "Actually, I, uh... I think me n' Pheebs are going to be the smallest shock you get tonight."
"What... what do you mean by *that*?"
"Hi, Mon," Rachel said softly, walking out of the bedroom door.
"Hey, Rach! Ross just told me about him and Phoebe! I'm still recovering!" She laughed, pulling off her gloves. "How have you been?"
"I've been great," Rachel said. "Really happy, um..."
"Hey, Monica," Richard said, coming out of the bathroom.
"R-Richard? What are you... what are you doing here?"
"He lives here," Rachel said, arms wrapping around herself defensively.
"He lives here," Monica repeated.
"Yeah... I... well... y'know. Made my parents happy, right? Married a doctor..."
"Mah," Monica said, trying to force her suddenly numb tongue to make syllables. "Mah."
"Married," Richard finished helpfully, holding up his left hand.
"You're dating Pheebs?" Monica stammered, "And you married *Richard*? How... how... how did it... how'd *that* happen?"
"Well, I started hanging out with Chandler a lot..." Richard began.
"This is a joke, right?" Monica blurted. "It's a joke. That's why it took you so long to let me in, you were coming up with this! It's f-funny! Good one, you guys!"
Ross, Rachel, and Richard shared an uneasy look as Monica continued to giggle.
"Monica... it's not a joke."
"Right," she laughed.
Ross sighed. "Look, Pheebs should be back in a minute, why don't you go out in the hall and ask her."
"Sure! Right! Richard probably called her cellphone from the bathroom." Monica wiped tears of laughter out of her eyes. "You guys are too much. Where are Joey and Chandler?"
"They're across the hall," Ross said, "but Mon... look... we should probably talk..."
"You crazy guys," Monica sighed, pushing the door open and heading out towards the hallway. "I'll be back in a minute."
She rapped on the door to 19, smiling as Chandler answered the door.
"Well hey, hey there, hey Mon..." he stuttered, swinging the door wide.
Monica's eyes roamed around the apartment. Same posters, same Barcoloungers, same foosball table... same old Chandler in his ratty blue bathrobe, same old Joey parked in the chair with Hugsy.
"Oh, thank god," she sighed. "At least one place is like I remembered it."
"You, uh... you wanna come in?"
Monica strode past Chandler, setting her gloves on the counter as he closed the door behind them. "You have no idea how happy I am to see this place, to see you guys. I should have known you two would be the one constant in the universe."
"Gimme a hug, Mon," Joey said, setting Hugsy aside and taking her in his arms. "You want something to drink?"
"That would be great." Monica sat down on a bar stool, regarding the old bachelor pad fondly as Joey pulled a glass out of the cabinet. "I'm a little freaked out, I mean... you would not *believe* the trick the other guys just pulled on me."
"Really," Joey said, shooting Chandler a look and setting Monica's glass in front of her.
Monica sipped her drink. "Oh yeah! I mean, adding that to finding out Central Perk is gone..."
"Yeah, it's been gone a while," Chandler added, leaning on the counter across from her. "I think it closed down in... when was it, Joe? 2000?"
"Somethin' like that."
"Anyway, it's just a huge relief to see some things don't change."
"Um..." Joey said awkwardly. "Actually, Mon... I think everything changes."
"Not you guys! There's Laurel and Hardy, there's Hugsy, there's the duck!"
"There's something else," Chandler said softly. Joey reached across and took his hand.
"Something else... what?"
"Um," Chandler jerked his head towards his and Joey's intertwined hands.
"No seriously, what?"
Joey bounced Chandler's hand up and down a bit, and Monica finally noticed.
Chandler and Joey both blinked and stepped backwards as she spat juice all over them.