October 2008

Chandler threw the truck into third, sending a cloud of dust puffing around his wheels.

He let his fingers drift over the radio buttons and fall away. Silence, for now. He rolled down the window and let the October in, leaning his elbow out, feeling the wind on his face.

A leaf spiraled across the roadway in front of him, tiny gusts propelling it upward in a lazy ballet. The fields stretched out to either side, hay bale monoliths presiding.

He passed the covered bridge and took a right, seeing it all new again. The city had faded out of Chandler over the years, like the color had faded out of his clothes... he washed everything until it fell apart, quintessential bachelor, who still treated the washing machine like a squat, boxy monster that only gave his clothes back because it was biding its time to attack.

He pulled into Megan's driveway, carefully avoiding the menagerie soaking up warmth in the dirt. Animals seemed drawn to Megan, especially the hurt ones, crawling and dragging themselves to her house, seeking sanctuary. She never had less than twenty at a time.

"Hey, Snoozer," he said warmly, scratching behind the ears of a basset hound that could barely be bothered to lift its chin from the ground. Had he been afraid of dogs, once? It was almost too ludicrous to believe.

Chandler took the steps gingerly, avoiding tabbies and calicos, and knocked on the door of Megan's trailer.

"Come on in," she called. "I could use some help, actually."

He found her in the kitchen, trying to hold down a raccoon with one hand and give it a shot with the other. He slipped behind her, adding two hands, and she slid the needle home. The raccoon gave them a dirty look and skidded with a clatter of nails off the kitchen island.

They crossed to the sink and washed their hands.

"Got you all set up for tomorrow," Megan said, pulling down a dishtowel. "Your flight leaves at nine, you have a brief layover in Atlanta, and you should be at LaGuardia by two."

She continued talking as she walked back to her little office, handing him things as she walked.

"Here's your tickets. Here's your interesting fan mail; I already answered the boring stuff. Bills are paid. Your laptop's back from the shop... and I bought you a new black suit. Shoes too."

"Ross is picking you up from the airport, he'll meet you at the gate. Here's the galley copy of "Lowdown" you wanted. Neil called, I told him what was going on, he said he'd give you a call next week."

Megan looked around, hands on hips. "Is that everything?"

Chandler, arms bulging, laughed. "I couldn't hold anything else."

She met his eyes and grinned. "Why don't you let me get you a bag for that."


He stopped by the grocery store on the way home, grabbing a basket and filling it with Chandler-food: minimal cooking, maximum speed, taste optional. He waved to Diane at the meat counter, noting the Bible verse of the day on the blackboard behind her.

Hebrews 13:4. "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge."

Diane had a way of letting you know when she and Darrell weren't getting along.

He pulled down a loaf of bread and smiled to himself, remembering the first -- and last -- time he'd convinced his own wife to come in here. This place, with its sun-faded can labels, handwritten signs, and overall dust color, had horrified Monica on some deep chef level even before he'd given in to his wicked impulse and tossed her a can of "Pork Brains In Milk Gravy".

He hefted a gallon of Mayfield's and nearly dropped it again, suddenly remembering the other part of that trip... when poor Phoebe had decided to 'commune with nature'. He and Joey had come running out to the porch from a horrible noise... only to find Phoebe, running around the porch, cursing like a sailor, being attacked by a duck.

"Oh you... you feathery piece of crap!" Phoebe screamed again in his mind, blonde hair flying as she scrambled for escape. "Don't make me pop a cap in your ass!"

She'd stared Chandler and Joey down, defying them to make a comment, and Chandler had wisely kept his mouth shut... then, and on every occasion during the rest of the visit when Phoebe had glared nervously at the animals she loved too much to eat.

This place, this way of life, had wormed its way into Chandler's heart... but it hadn't have the same effect on the other five. Especially Monica, the one he'd wanted to love it the most.

He set his basket on the checkout counter, and Alice looked up at him with a smile.

"Hey Chandler," she cooed, sliding a can over the scanner, "When's the next one coming out? You're killing us here."

"Got a galley copy in the truck," Chandler grinned.

Alice batted her eyelashes coyly, and Chandler couldn't help laughing.

"Tell you what. This one's going to New York with me, but I'll get more next week. I'll bring you one by."

"What's got you headed North? Book tour?"

"Not this time," Chandler said with a sad smile.

"Oh my god," Alice gasped, putting a hand to her mouth. "Is your wife all right?"

"Ex-wife," Chandler reminded her gently. "She's okay. But her husband's not."

"Oh," Alice said. "Well, that's... that's..." She trailed off, unsure whether to congratulate or sympathize.

"I liked him a lot," Chandler said helpfully.

"Well then, I'm very sorry for your loss."

"Thanks," Chandler said, swinging his bags into his arms. "Say hi to Charlie and the kids for me."

He put the bags in the passenger seat, carefully moving the book out of harm's way. He opened it again, running his finger down the first page.

The dedication. He'd gotten the publisher to change it the day Joey'd called with the news. He'd planned for this one to be to Ross, but Ross would understand.

"In memory of Dr. Richard Burke. A great man and a great friend."

He shut the book gently and slid it inside the grocery sack.


Chandler let himself in the house, pocketing his keys and setting the sacks on the counter. He checked the clock on the wall. Fifteen minutes to Joey's show.

He went ahead and turned the TV on, letting "Entertainment Tonight" play in the background as he put away the groceries, built a fire and made a sandwich. He'd just grabbed a beer when he heard Joey's name, and sauntered into the den, twisting the cap off and leaning against the fireplace.

"And tonight, on our 'Behind the Nominees' series, we take a look at Joey Tribbiani, up for Best Actor in a Drama."

"That's right, Marianne. It's a little known fact that, before he began his television career as 'Dr. Drake Ramoray' on Days of Our Lives, Joey Tribbiani had some... not so great acting roles. Let's take a look."

Chandler laughed out loud. Oh god, poor Joey. There was a clip from 'Freud!', and another from that god-awful milk-pourer commercial. Joey as Pinocchio, Joey dead in 'Outbreak II'. How'd they find all this stuff?

"We dug up some other interesting things about Joey Tribbiani, Paul," Marianne said with a grin. "Did you know he was once fired from a role as Robert DeNiro's butt double?"

"No kidding," Paul laughed.

"And unbelievably, when he was in his twenties, Joey Tribbiani was roommates with Chandler Bing, bestselling author of such novels as 'Noon Shadow' and 'Carolina Darkness'. They lived together for almost a decade."

"Wow, wouldn't you have loved to be a fly on the wall of *that* apartment?" Paul added jovially.

Chandler shook his head, a smile on his face. Whatever those broadscasters were imagining... he was pretty certain it didn't contain "Fireball" and "Hammer Darts".

He bit deeply into his sandwich, smiling to himself, remembering.


"Hey, you," Ross said softly, closing the door behind him. "Feeling any better?"

"Did Ems get to sleep?" Rachel asked, setting her book down across her swollen stomach.

"Yeah, she's out cold. You oughta be, too. Big, crappy day tomorrow, long drive."

"I know," Rachel smiled. "Just reminiscing." She patted her book lightly.

"We'll see them all tomorrow," Ross said, turning down his side of the bed and sliding in next to her. He ran his fingers lightly over Chandler's name embossed on the book cover.

"I know, but... we're all in here, you know? Like we used to be. Reading this one's like watching an old home movie you've seen a million times. It's a comfort-food book."

"You know, I heard that Reese Witherspoon might play you in the movie," Ross grinned.

"Oh, really?" Rachel said with false apathy.

"Like you don't check the rumor website every day."

"Well, they'd *better* get someone good for me," Rachel laughed. "Kate Hudson's playing Phoebe! Well, you know, 'Penelope'... but Phoebe."

"It's gonna kill Joey to not play 'Francis'. Talk about a role you were meant for..."

Rachel sighed. "Isn't that sad? We're too old to play ourselves."

"You know what isn't sad?" Ross grinned, trailing his finger up from Rachel's book to her chin. "All these people, reading this book, hoping and hoping that you and I would eventually end up together."

"You think that's what finally did it?" Rachel laughed. "The prayers of ten thousand Chandler Bing fans?"

"Hell, it worked, I don't care," Ross smiled, kissing her and snapping off the bedroom light.


Monica laid on the loveseat, scotch on the rocks in hand, looking out the window at the lights of the city.

She was cried out, drained, numb. She'd finally convinced Joey and Phoebe to take the kids and go on to the hotel. As much as she loved them, as comforting as they had been for the first few hours... she needed to be alone.

Alone. Oh, god.

Almost forty. Almost forty. Just a few months to go now. A divorcee, a widow, the mother of none. Oh, she had stepchildren -- all older than her -- and stepgrandchildren. Were they her ex-stepchildren now? How did that work?

Of all her friends -- that close-knit group of six she'd once been a part of -- *she'd* been the one who'd wanted kids, hungered after them, longed for that kind of life.

And she was the only one who didn't have it.

Well, there was Chandler, but that wasn't the same. Chandler loved his new life, had found himself, had become almost unrecognizable. Quieter. More confident. Centered.

Leaving Chandler had been the best thing she'd ever done for him... and *that* hurt like hell.

And Richard. God. She'd cheated herself out of years with him, so hell-bent on her perfect family, her perfect children.

She saw herself in her mind's eye, there at Barry and Mindy's wedding, throwing it all away.

Throwing it all away, for nothing.

"You can't *have* kids," she told her younger self, dancing in Richard's arms. But just like the last thousand times, Young Monica refused to listen.

The apartment still smelled like Richard, was still filled with reminders of a life interrupted without warning. A card on the fridge, reminding him about a dentist's appointment. His coat on the wall peg, ready to be wrapped around him. A documentary about the civil war in the DVD player. He'd never gotten to watch the whole thing.

Half a cigar in the ashtray. Newspaper open to the crossword puzzle. Reading glasses on top of a book. It was clutter, but she couldn't bring herself to clean it.

She noted with no surprise that the book was one of Chandler's. She'd recognize that cover anywhere. Richard had loved that book.

Monica... Monica had hated it.

That book. That *particular* book, the one Nora had begun and Chandler had finished. Her last request.

It had seemed like such a blessing at the time. Chandler was unemployed, grieving his mother, feeling helpless, sinking into a depression.

He'd been scared out of his mind to even try... and it was Monica, stupidly, who'd convinced him to. It was so much money. So much money. And all he had to do to inherit it was finish one book. It didn't even have to be good. Just finished.

He'd floundered for two weeks, pounding the table next to his laptop in frustration, reading all his mother's novels, convinced he was going to fail.

It had been Phoebe who'd unlocked it for him, sitting next to him at the kitchen table, watching him write, highlight, and delete, over and over and over.

"So it's sort of a star-crossed thing between these two here?" she'd asked, pointing at the screen and biting into a carrot. "Near-misses, misunderstandings, things not revealed until it was too late?"

"Yeah," Chandler had moaned. "I have nothing. Nothing."

"Huh," Phoebe had replied. "Yeah, I've got no idea where you'd get inspiration for *that*..."

And Chandler's eyes had followed Phoebe's pointing carrot to the couch, where Ross and Rachel were involved in a stupid argument over some guy in Rachel's office.

His story had taken him, then and there.

All day, all night. Tapping keys. Chandler in various stages of unwashed exhaustion, responding in grunts, 'hang on a sec's, and 'lemme just finish this paragraph's. The story was riding him, driving him, pouring out of him. On the rare occasions she managed to get him out of the apartment, his eyes had a faraway look, writing in his head, polishing dialogue. He'd found his heroin, and Monica had faded into the background.

Monica had cried with happiness the night he finished. He'd thought she was so supportive.

The truth was, she wanted the book out of their apartment. She'd already come to think of the book as female, a dangerous succubus sucking the life out of her husband, a mistress she couldn't fight.

"I'm so glad you're done," she'd cried, hugging him around the neck.

"Me, too," he'd sighed. "It was *so* hard to get that last bit written."

"Well, that's okay! 'Cause you're done! And you don't ever have to..."

"It was just so hard to concentrate on finishing *this* book when I want to start the next one so bad," he'd finished.

"Next... one...?"

"I have *such* a great idea. It's not going to be a romance novel at all, really, this one's going to be more of a mystery. There's this detective named..."

"Chandler? You're writing *another* book? I thought you were going to get a real job."

"Screw a real job, honey! This is what I was meant to do! Not once, not for one single second in the decade at my old job, did I ever feel this way about working. Now I have what you guys have! I love this, I love doing this!"

"But sweetie... it's so hard to make it as a writer... I know your mother left us a lot of money, but we'll burn through it so fast once we have kids..."

"You think I suck," Chandler had stated flatly.

"No, no! It'd just..."

"You think I suck. My *wife* thinks I suck. You've sat there watching me write for months, thinking to yourself that I was wasting my time."

He'd set his champagne glass down so hard it shattered. There was a ferocious set to his jaw she'd never seen before. Chandler... her Chandler... didn't stand up for things. Not without covering his ass with a joke.

"Well, I'll tell you something, Mon. I *don't* suck. You'll see."

And he hadn't. The reviews had poured in, each one more glowing than the last, almost unheard of for a book finished posthumously by a different author. It climbed the romance charts on the strength of Nora's name and then, unbelievably, crossed over.

They'd woken up one snowy Tuesday to the news that Chandler and Nora's book was the only one on the bestseller list *without* "Harry Potter" in the title.

And Chandler wrote, deep in novel two, ignoring everything around him, body clock totally abandoned. More nights than not, she slept alone, listening to the detested tap-tap-tapping of his fingers on the keyboard. She'd wake up just as he was stumbling to bed. They communicated mostly by notes, and the occasional gushing review that Chandler took a passive-aggressive joy in magneting to the fridge.

Then he'd finished the second book, and all hell had broken loose.


To be continued...