Past & Present
Chapter 15: The Finale: Run Away
DISCLAIMER: I don't own "Friends", but the world would be a better place if I did.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: At long last, after 18 chapters and nearly 100,000 words, we've reached the end. It was important to me to end this on the night that "The One In Barbados" aired again. It ends where it began. Full circle, you might say.
I want to thank every single one of you who reviewed, emailed me, supported me, proofread, beta read, checked my hot scenes to see if they were hot enough, etc. Special thanks to Kristine for being my writing lobster and to the girls of "Something Unexpected" for being my best support system.
If you have EVER left a review or sent me an email, now is the time to do it again. I poured everything I have into this finale to make it happy and full of closure for everyone. I'm pleased with it and hope all of you will be as well.
The songs used in this chapter are "I'm Not In Love" by 10cc and "Run Away" by The Corrs.
Read, review, and enjoy…for the last time.
"How long have they been in there?" Monica looked at the door of Joey and Rachel's apartment.
"Two days." Chandler took his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door to apartment #20. "They're going to have to come up for air at some point." He pushed the door open and held it for Monica. "Like, in about two hours."
Monica set her purse down and glanced at her watch. "Yeah, that's exactly how long we have before it's time to go pick up Ross and the kids at the airport."
Phoebe staggered out the bathroom. "For the record, I never want to eat that potato-pea-onion dish again." She put her hand over her stomach and turned a new shade of green before returning to the bathroom.
"You feel up to taking her to the doctor later?" Monica settled on the couch with a magazine. "I've got to get off my feet for a little while, and I think she's too sick to go alone."
Chandler shrugged. "Sure, I'll take her. After I pick up Ross and the kids. It's going to be a long day."
"Can I get you a refill?" Joey held up the bottle of champagne with a sudsy hand.
"Please." Rachel reached down to the tile floor and picked up a champagne flute. She held it out to Joey on the other side of the bathtub. He poured champagne into it until it spilled over into the bubble filled water.
"What do you call this again?" Rachel selected a strawberry from the basket beside the bathtub.
Joey grinned. "London style, baby!"
Rachel scooped up a handful of foamy bubbles from the surface of the water and blew them at Joey. "They must have bigger bathtubs in London. This is a pretty tight squeeze in here."
"Well, you know, big fancy hotel tubs are a lot different from this, but I'm not complaining." He inhaled deeply. "Now I know why you always smell so good."
"It's nice, isn't it?" She glowed with happiness for a moment. "But you know, Ross and the kids will be back in a few hours, and we'll have to make some changes around here."
"Separate rooms, when Emma's here." Joey took a drink of champagne. "Anything else?"
Rachel leaned back against her bath pillow. "I don't know, to tell you the truth. This is all new for me. I guess we'll handle each situation as it comes along."
He reached across the bathtub and took her hand. "We still got two hours, you know."
She opened her eyes with a suggestive smile. "Do we? What could we possibly do to pass the time?"
When he pulled her wet, soapy body across the tub to land on his, she responded with a laugh and pulled the shower curtain shut.
"Ross!" Monica leapt up from the couch and ran to embrace her brother.
"Hey." He hugged Monica with a weary sigh.
"Where are the kids?" Monica stepped back and studied him.
"Chandler and I dropped Ben off with Carol on the way over, and I just took Emma over to Rachel." He paused. "And Joey," he added as an afterthought.
Monica tilted her head to the side. "Are you really ok with this?"
"You know what? I really am. Rachel loves him and he loves her, and I want them to be happy."
Monica patted his arm. "I'm so proud of you. And I know you're going to find the right person someday. She's probably just around the corner, waiting for you."
"Monica, can you help me lace up my boots?" Phoebe called from behind the bedroom door. "I'm going to throw up if I bend over."
"I'll be right there," Monica called back to her before turning to Ross again. "Where's Chandler?"
"He's downstairs talking to some guy from work - we ran into him at the garage." Ross stared at the bedroom door. "She's morning sick?"
Monica shook her head. "No, she's morning, afternoon, and night sick." She checked her watch. "And she has to be at a doctor's appointment in 30 minutes." Monica started for the bedroom but Ross stopped her.
"Let me." His dark eyes pleaded with Monica.
Monica blinked. "Ok - but why?"
"Does there have to be a reason for everything?" He crossed the room and shut the door behind him.
Phoebe, seated on the bed, looked up when he came in and gasped. "Ross!"
He put his hands in his pockets and stared at his shoes. "I really missed you." He raised his eyes to steal a glance at her, hoping she'd say she'd missed him too.
Her skirt was bunched up to the knees, half unzipped. Her boots were unlaced, and her hair hung in tangles around her shoulders. In spite of it all, she managed to be the most beautiful thing he'd seen all day.
"I've got to go to the doctor, and David is still in Moscow." She picked up the hairbrush from beside her on the bed. "Lucky me, I can't stop throwing up - I can't even brush my hair without it making me sick."
Ross walked to the edge of the bed and knelt down. "I've got this under control, ok? You just relax and try not to get sick on my head." He laced her left boot up and tied it. "Too tight?" He gazed up at her.
"No." Her eyes misted over. "Just right."
He nodded and laced up the other one. "How about this one?"
She reached down and placed her hand on his face. "Perfect fit."
Her hand on his face nearly caused him to forget the engagement ring on her finger. If he moved forward just a few inches -
She sensed the change of mood and dropped her hand. "I've got to cut this hair. Maybe I'll go all Bonnie and shave my head." She grimaced and tugged the brush through a section of her hair.
Ross put his hand over hers. "You need to save your energy." He took the brush from her hand. "Turn around."
She complied, and he sat down on the bed next to her. He began to run the brush through her long blonde hair, untangling it carefully before smoothing it down again.
Phoebe cleared her throat. "Yeah, that looks good." She pushed herself up from the bed and tried to arrange her skirt. "I've got to get going. Is Chandler here? He's taking me."
Ross put one hand on her waist and pulled up her zipper with the other one. "You know who can take you to the doctor?"
His mouth turned up. "Ross can."
He watched her debate the pros and cons mentally before a smile spread across her face. "Ok."
He raised his eyebrows. "You mean it?"
She nodded. "I mean it. I want you to take me."
He beamed at her. "Let's go, then." He took her hand and led her to the door.
"Yeah, we've got to hurry up. Dr. Fonzie charges me for the whole appointment even if I miss it."
He stopped, wrinkling his face. "You're seeing Dr. Fonzie? Are you crazy?" He opened the front door and stepped out into the hall.
Phoebe shrugged airily. "We built up a rapport."
Ross rolled his eyes. "He's going to insist that you change Roxanne's name to Chachi."
Phoebe's laughter rang out from the hall as she closed the door behind her.
"Yeah, whatever you do, don't explain anything to me," Monica muttered to her magazine. What the heck was going on with the two of them? She hadn't seen Ross being that attentive to anyone since - since -
"Oh my God!" Monica shouted into the empty apartment when the truth suddenly broke through to her. "Ross loves Phoebe!"
"I'm glad that's over." Phoebe let out an exhausted sigh.
"You're fine and the baby's fine, that's what matters." Ross focused on the spectacle of people and buildings whizzing by outside the cab window. Her nearness served as a distraction from any rational thought - a distraction he needed to avoid.
"Thanks for taking me to my appointment." She moved a few inches closer and before he knew it, her head was resting on his shoulder. "You're like the big brother I never had."
That stung. "Brother?" Maybe she could pretend those moments hadn't happened, but he couldn't. "Do you always make out with your brothers in hospital vending rooms?"
She turned her green eyes up to his. "I had my brother's babies, Ross. Think of the implications."
She slipped her hand inside his and gave him a smile of pure contentment, leaving him more confused than he'd ever imagined possible.
Rachel gave the bowl of popcorn one last dousing of salt. "Popcorn's ready."
Joey shifted Emma from his right knee to the left. "We're making room." He patted the space next to him. "Have a seat."
Rachel stopped short, the popcorn bowl in her hand. "I don't know - all three of us in the recliner? You really think -"
"Yeah, I really think. Come on."
Rachel padded over to the recliner and squeezed into the remaining area not taken up by Joey. Somehow, the three of them managed to fit into the chair with relative comfort.
"What's showing tonight?" He took the popcorn from Rachel and handed her the remote control.
"Little Women - the new version." She pointed the remote at the entertainment center and hit 'play'.
"I don't guess this is a new version where Beth doesn't die?" He squirmed, his face taking on a vaguely uncomfortable expression.
She laughed and settled against him. She'd never imagined that eating popcorn and watching in a video from a chair shared with two other people could be the happiest night of her life. Yet, it was.
It must have had something to do with who those other two people were. She looked at Joey and Emma in the flickering TV screen light, knowing her life could never be better than it was at that moment.
Ross opened his door to see a burly man in a brown delivery uniform. "Ross Geller?"
"Yes," he replied, staring warily at the long, nearly flat package propped up beside the man in the hall.
"Sign on line 10." The delivery man thrust a clipboard at Ross.
"But I - I didn't order anything." Ross scrawled his signature and handed the clipboard back.
"I don't take notes on this stuff. I just deliver it." He hauled the huge box just inside Ross' door. "Have a good one."
Ross closed the door and dragged the box to the center of his living room. What the hell…
He went to the kitchen and returned with a knife and proceeded to cut the tape holding the box shut. The address label gave him no clue about what it might contain.
The lid pulled back easily once all the tape had been cut. Whatever lay inside was wrapped in so much plastic that he couldn't discern the contents. His eye seized upon a small white card taped to the top layer of plastic wrapping.
He pulled it free and tore open the envelope.
"For everything you've given me, let me give something back to you. It's time you rediscovered The Sound.
He ripped through the plastic wrapping at light speed. It concealed a beautiful new keyboard.
She never failed to surprise him.
He put the keyboard on his couch and ran his fingers over the slick surface of the black and white keys.
Yeah, he needed to rediscover The Sound - because these days, he had plenty of material for wordless sound poems. Like one called, "I Love Her And Now It's Too Late".
"Zip me up?" Rachel stood in Joey's door, holding her red fishtail dress up with one hand.
"Is my tie on straight?" He gave it a frustrated tug, stopping abruptly to take in every inch of her with his eyes. "You look - wow." He shook his head. "What are you trying to do to me in that dress?"
"If you'll help me with my dress, I'll help you with your tie." She turned her back to him, showing him the gaping zipper.
"Ladies first." He grasped the zipper in his hand and held it motionless. Rachel counted to ten. The zipper didn't move.
"Uh, sweetie? Problem back there?" She looked over her shoulder at him, eyebrows raised in a quizzical smile.
"This thing won't go all the way up." He slid it down an inch. "It keeps going down." And another inch. "It wants to go down."
"Joey? Is there something you'd like to tell me? Or is the zipper going to do all your talking for you?"
He pushed one red spaghetti strap off her shoulder. "As long as zippers are talking, I've got one that would love to have a conversation with you." She breathed in, the scent of his after-shave and hair gel combining with the subtle scent that was his alone, a fragrance that had become synonymous with arousal in her mind. He dragged the other strap down in a protracted motion, his fingertips singeing her skin. Her dress was down to her waist and liquid heat pooled inside her. She bent into the movement when he unfastened her strapless bra to allow his hands stroke the skin underneath it.
This had to be stopped. She looked at the clock beside his bed. "We have to leave for Phoebe and David's rehearsal dinner in less than an hour." Her argument would have been much more effective if he'd stop doing things to the back of her neck with his mouth that sent tremors of anticipation through every part of her.
"Give us a few extra minutes," he murmured against her neck, sliding the satiny red fabric the rest of the way down her body until it pooled around her ankles. Her skin tingled when the cool air brushed against it, heightening her senses.
"I'll have to touch up my makeup again." She pressed her backside against his building desire, gasping when he slid a hand beneath the waist of her underwear. "You're not making it easy for me to keep us on a good schedule here."
He spun her around gently, seeking the warm retreat of her mouth with his. She couldn't say no, not after a kiss like that. Not when his tongue whirled around hers with the sole intention of sending her from neutral to overdrive within seconds. Not when his hands curved over her body with the familiar expertise of someone who'd memorized every pleasure point she possessed.
She tore away from him long enough to pull his tie over his head and drop it on the floor before their lips met again with a driving hunger. She attacked the buttons of his shirt and moved on to his pants.
"You're not going to back out now, are you?" He pushed her back on the bed and let his mouth travel the terrain of her body, searching out new places to explore.
She raised up so he could remove her underwear. "Ok. But this is the last time until we get back from the rehearsal dinner!"
Once again, Ross was alone, pecking out a song from memory on his keyboard.
"I'm not in love
So don't forget it
It's just a silly phase I'm going through
And just because
I call you up
Don't get me wrong
Don't think you've got it made
I'm not in love
No, no…it's because…"
Ross stopped playing mid-song when Monica stormed into his apartment.
"You're not dressed yet?" She regarded his jeans and t-shirt with suspicious eyes.
"I'm not dressed because I'm not going." He punctuated his words with a flourish on the keyboard.
"I can't believe you're going to let Phoebe down this way."
Ross slumped back on the couch. "She won't be let down. I'm not in the wedding, there's no reason I should be at the rehearsal."
"How about because she's your friend? How about because you love her?" Monica's voice rose in exasperation.
"You're right. I do love her." His steady gaze underscored the meaning behind what he said. Monica's fears were confirmed.
"Look, honey, I understand how you feel. I really do - but - it's too late now." She walked to the couch and placed a hand on his shoulder. "If you'd reached this point before she got caught up in the Mike and David thing, maybe things would be different now. But - "
"But they're not." He stood up and escorted Monica to his front door. "And I'm not going."
"I'll call you when I get back." Monica gave him a quick hug and left.
He waited for a minute, thinking about what Monica had said. Was it too late? Was there no way of getting through to Phoebe before she walked down the isle?
He wandered back to his bedroom and found himself leafing through his keepsakes box, looking for something, anything, to give him insight.
A single object caught his attention. He picked it up and examined it, an idea springing forward in his mind.
Within minutes he had his materials spread across his desk, hard at work on what might be his last chance.
It was dawn before he put down his pencil and fell asleep.
In the back room of Reverend Pong's Celestial Tea Room, Rachel carefully draped the last filmy layer of Phoebe's bridal veil and stepped back to admire her work. Monica squealed in admiration.
"Oh my God." Rachel put her hand over her mouth, overwhelmed with emotion. "You are so beautiful today!"
Phoebe spun around, the gauzy skirt of her vintage wedding dress drifting around her ankles. "This is the last time I'll ever see you guys as a single woman. Next time we're together, I'll be married."
"Being married is great." Monica joined Rachel and Phoebe. "It's so much better than being single. You'll see."
"You'll see soon, too." Monica opened her arms. "Group hug?"
The three friends collided in a sea of champagne colored silk and white chiffon.
"You guys, I think I need a few minutes alone, before…well, you know. To collect my thoughts and stuff."
Rachel and Monica nodded and made their way to the door. "Frank, Jr. will be here in about five minutes to walk you down the isle," Monica reminded her before they stepped out.
Phoebe flopped down in the chair facing the dresser. Finally alone with nothing but her anxiety to keep her company.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Almost time…almost time. At least it would be over and she could resign herself to it.
Someone knocked on the window. Startled, Phoebe turned around and saw Ross staring morosely at her through the glass.
"Ross! What are you doing?" She ran to the window and pushed it up. "Don't you use doors anymore?"
He climbed inside. "Thankfully, you're on the ground floor. Otherwise I don't know what I would have done."
"Why are you back here with me? Why aren't you out front with everyone else?"
"Because." He opened his jacket and took out a stack of paper bound with staples. "I had to bring you this."
She took it from him, examining the brightly covered color. "What is it?"
"The latest issue of 'Science Boy'."
"You came in here right before I'm supposed to walk down the isle and marry David to bring me the new 'Science Boy'? I know you take this stuff seriously, Ross, but really." She shook her head.
"Just…just read it, ok? This is a pivotal issue."
"Ok, but I'm pledging my life for all eternity in about five minutes, so don't get upset if I skim." She flipped open the cover and scanned the page. "Your drawing has come along way since I mugged you."
"You see that science boy meets someone of equal powers to help him in his fight for truth and knowledge?"
"Oh! Yeah!" She squinted at the figure on the page. "Guitar girl?"
He tapped the page enthusiastically. "Yes! Guitar girl is like Wonder Woman to Science Boy's Superman."
"Do they fight crime?" She turned to the next page.
"Not in this issue." He took a deep breath. "In this issue, they both realize that they belong together."
She closed the comic book with a shaky hand. "I always did learn a lot from Science Boy."
"Phoebe," he pushed her veil back hesitantly. "You can't marry him. You don't love him. If there's one thing I've learned from all my mistakes, it's that you're not doing your child a favor to stay in a relationship that stopped working."
"I don't want to do this on my own." She handed him his comic book. "I want Roxanne to have the family I never had. David can give that to me."
"I can give that to you, too."
She threw up her hands. "Ross, this is crazy! I'm getting married today! Why are you doing this? It doesn't make any sense!"
He caught her hand in his. "I know that this is the only thing I've ever done that makes any sense. You understand me. You challenge me. You breathe life into me when there's nothing left."
"Ross…" She closed her eyes.
"Don't you understand what you mean to me? I've had plenty of time to think lately, and I'll tell you what I figured out." He over-enunciated his words in excitement. "All these years, I've been able to have one dead-end, meaningless relationship after another, because the whole time I've been having my real relationship with you. You're the glue that's held me together, and if I lose you, you and everyone else will see me come unglued."
His words moved her so much that it hurt. "But it's not that simple."
"It is that simple. We already have everything we need, right here, together. I can't let you walk down that isle and marry a man you don't love without telling you that you have another choice." He dropped her hand. "If you can tell me that what you have with him is half of what we have - what we've always had with each other, I'll climb out that window and go home right now."
She stared at him, her heart pounding in her throat. "Yeah, I'm gonna need some paper."
His face went blank. "Paper?"
"I have to leave a note!" She began to rummage through the makeshift dresser. "If we're gonna run out on this wedding, we need to leave a note." She slammed the drawer shut. "I mean, let's use basic good etiquette here, ok?"
"I don't have any paper." Ross patted himself down to double check.
"Nothing? Not even a post-it note?"
"Nothing." He shook his head.
"I can't believe you don't have one tiny scrap I could use for a note."
"Excuse me, but I left my wedding interruptus stationary in my other pants!"
Phoebe stared at the dressing table, demanding it to present a solution. Cookie and Candy struck up the selected music out front.
"We've got to get out of here!" Ross hissed.
Phoebe panicked. She couldn't leave with no explanation and worry everyone. What could she do? Then her eyes fell on Rachel's makeup bag.
"Wait, wait, I've got an idea." She plunged her hand inside the makeup case and took out a cobalt blue eye liner pencil.
"Watch and learn." She threw Ross a coy smile and pulled the cap off the pencil before turning to the mirror and scrawling a few words.
"Sorry I couldn't go through with it. Gone with Ross. Please forgive us," he read out loud. "Is that it?"
"I could compose a little song about it, but since my brother is going to be in here within five seconds, I don't see the point!"
Ross grabbed her hand and ran to the window. "Can you climb out without hurting yourself?"
She gave him a look. "I lived in a Buick. I can handle this." She shimmied out the window in one serpentine motion. "Hand me my bouquet and my bag!"
Ross grabbed the arrangement of white roses and the small overnight bag and passed them through the window to her before crawling outside.
"What now?" She hastily arranged the skirt of her wedding dress.
"I don't know. I've never done the runaway bride act before."
"Yeah, where's Rachel when you need her?" She searched the parking lot. "Oh, look! They decorated my grandmother's cab!" Ross followed her gaze to the battered cab, gleefully decorated with tin cans and "Just Married" signs.
"Pheebs…do you have the keys to the cab?"
"Yeah, they're in my bag." She followed his train of thought. "I like the way you think, evil genius. Where are we headed?"
He put an arm around her. "You know that trip to Atlantic City we both missed?"
"Well, everyone kinda missed it, but yeah."
"Let's take it now." His smile promised the kind of adventure that only the two of them could find together. She nodded and took his hand.
Without a backward glance, they made tracks to the cab.
"Pheebs?" Frank Jr. tapped on the door for the third time. "Pheebs, Rev. Pong is waiting on us. It's time to go."
"If you're like, naked or something, can you cover it up? Because I'm gonna come in now." He pushed the door open to discover an empty room.
"Phoebe?" He looked around. Nothing. "Phoebe? We don't got time to play hide and seek right now!"
That's when he saw the mirror.
Joey and Rachel exited the bathroom with guilty expressions.
"I've never done that in a public restroom before." Rachel smoothed down her skirt and sighed. "We've got to get a handle on this."
"Felt like you had a pretty good handle on it to me." He nudged her and let out a knowing laugh.
"That's not what I meant, and you know it." She straightened her shoulders and tried to compose herself. "We have to walk down the isle now, and everyone is going to know we had sex five minutes ago."
"They won't know if you don't tell them." He smiled. "Unless it was so good, you think they'll know it from the satisfied smile on your face."
"Oh my God, my panties are hanging out of your pocket!" Rachel stuffed her hand into Joey's jacket pocket and shoved her underwear down until it was out of sight.
"Rachel! She's gone!" Frank Jr. burst into the the hallway in front of the restroom.
Rachel and Joey exchanged a look. "Who's gone?"
"My sister! Phoebe!" He grabbed Rachel by the elbow and steered her toward the back room. "You better take a look at this."
He led her to the mirror. She read the message and sucked in a breath. "With Ross?" She did a quick inventory of the room. Her makeup case was still there. Phoebe's overnight bag and her bouquet were conspicuously absent.
"The cab!" Rachel ran for the front door, frantically trying to remember where it was parked.
She reached the parking lot just in time to see the cab pulling out with Ross in the driver's seat.
"Rachel! Rachel, wait!" Phoebe waved frantically at her.
Ross came to a stop and Phoebe extended an arm through the open window.
"Go long!" Phoebe hurled the flawless bouquet of white roses at Rachel, hitting her smack on the chest.
Before Rachel could recover and process what happened, the cab was gone and she was standing alone in the parking lot, holding her best friend's bridal bouquet.
A hush filled the room when Rachel treaded up the isle with Phoebe's bouquet.
She stood behind the microphone and looked out into the sea of faces. Everyone was there - everyone but Phoebe and Ross.
"Can I have your attention, please?" She leaned in too far and the microphone buzzed, sending her on a shocked leap backwards. "Everyone? I have an announcement." At least Frank Jr. had taken David outside and told him the news, sparing her from the task.
"Um, how do I say this?" She chuckled. "You'd think I'd be the expert, but I wasn't actually there when my wedding got called off."
A collective gasp came from the assembled crowd.
"Wait! I didn't mean to say it like that!" She groaned inwardly. "Give me the chance to do this right. Please?"
Chandler stood up and faced the crowd, putting a finger to his lips in the universal gesture for 'shush'.
Rachel moved away from the microphone a fraction to whisper at Chandler. "Thank you."
Chandler nodded with a smile and sat down.
Rachel cleared her throat and began again. "Ladies and gentlemen. For reasons of her own, which are not known to anyone right now, Phoebe decided to leave before the wedding with an old friend of ours." Rachel telegraphed a silent message to Monica, whose mouth dropped with astonishment.
"I don't know where they went or why they did this. But I do understand that love can make you take risks and do things you never thought you'd do." She caught Joey's eye and smiled. "So, whatever our personal feelings about this - let's wish them happiness."
She turned to Cookie and Candy. "Do you guys know 'Copa Cabana'?"
"Man! We don't even have weddings on 'Days Of Our Lives' as messed up as that!" Joey tossed his keys down on the bar and took a seat on a stool. Rachel followed him in, still carrying Phoebe's bouquet.
"I wonder where they are right now." Rachel opened the cabinet and took out a bag of tortilla chips.
"What, sweetie?" She passed the chips to him. He shook his head.
"Are you - you know, ok with this Ross and Phoebe stuff?" The apprehension in his eyes told her how much he dreaded asking the question.
"Of course I'm ok with it. I want Ross to be happy, and Phoebe needs someone. I hope that it works out for them. I'll be the first in line to congratulate them when they get back from wherever they are."
He instantly relaxed. "Think they'll be as happy as we are?"
She went to the fridge. "Is anyone?"
She stopped long enough to give him a smile that he understood perfectly and returned.
"We need dessert. What can we have…what can we have…" She bent over to examine the contents of the bottom shelf. "Joey, did you buy a pie?"
He jumped to his feet. "Uh, yeah, kind of. Why don't we eat some pie?"
"Sounds good to me." She pulled the pie from the bottom shelf and placed it on the bar. "We should probably go change first - we've both been known to get messy with pie." She glanced at him. "Why bother with plates, right?"
She took two forks from the drawer and handed one to him before prying the lid off the pie dish. "Mmm…this smells like key lime!"
Joey answered with a strange choke in his voice. "It is."
Oblivious to the burning gleam in his eyes, she speared a forkful of pie, sending an avalanche of whipped cream from the top into the empty space her bite left behind.
She shoved it into her mouth with wild abandon and waited for him to take a bite. He twirled his fork around in an uncharacteristic gesture.
"Why aren't you eating?" She spoke through a mouth filled with lime pie. "This is as good as what we had in Barbados." Before he could answer she dug her fork into the pie a second time.
It hit something hard.
"Joey, something's wrong with the pie." She hooked the object on one of the tines of her fork and dragged it to the edge of the dish. "What on earth is this, a Cracker Jack pie? Is this my prize?" She held up a small object completely coated with green pie filling and whipped cream.
"Rinse it off, and whatever you do, don't drop it down the sink."
"I don't know, I've had pretty good luck from stuff going down sinks." She rinsed it off, watching as platinum and diamonds became visible underneath the green and white coating.
She held it up with an unsteady hand. "Joey…"
He rushed to her side. "Don't freak out, ok? You don't have to answer. You don't even have to wear it."
She stared at the engagement ring, mute.
"But it's yours. Yours to hang on to, as long as you want. And when you're ready, you can put it on. We'll go as slow as you need."
She remained silent, her eyes fixed on the ring.
"I guess you need time to think." He backed away.
Suddenly she looked up at him, decision in her clear blue eyes. "No. I don't need time to think."
He didn't dare believe his ears. "Whoa - what are you saying?"
"I'm saying, I don't need to think about this." She pressed the ring into his hand. "Ask me."
"Now? With the wedding today and the pie and -"
"Just ask me."
His eyes wide with disbelief, Joey dropped to one knee and took her hand in his. "Rachel Karen Green, will you marry me?"
"Yes." The word came out in a rush of inexplicable happiness. "Yes, I'll marry you, Joseph Francis Tribbiani!"
"Wow." He sat back on his heel.
"Sweetie, you're kind of forgetting something."
"Oh, sorry." He rearranged himself on one knee and pulled a solemn face. "Thank you."
"No, not that! The ring!" She held out her left hand.
"Oops, sorry about that." He slid the ring on her finger slowly. "It's perfect."
"We're perfect." She pulled him to his feet. "This is perfect and I can't wait to marry you."
"I can't wait to marry you either." He wrapped her in his arms and sealed their engagement with a kiss.
Reluctantly she ended the kiss and leaned back to look up at him. "No, I meant that literally. I can't wait. I don't want to wait. I want to get married now."
His eyebrows went up. "Now? Like, tonight, now?"
"Yeah. Like tonight."
His eyes drifted over her. She was dressed for a wedding. So was he. She even had the bouquet.
"We can't get married tonight. You gotta get the license, the blood test, then the waiting period." He frowned. "Damn. I was getting all weddingy there."
"Who says we have to get married in New York?" She held up her hand to admire the ring. "We can elope."
"We could, but - Vegas is kind of out, for obvious reasons." He propped his elbows on the bar. "Where else do people elope?"
They were both lost in thoughts for a moment. Then Rachel remembered.
"Wait, I've got something under my bed, unless you threw the box away when I moved out." She vanished inside her room.
"Like I'd ever throw away anything of yours." He watched with curiosity when she returned with a handful of brochures, silently giving one to him.
He read it, his pulse increasing with every word. "Yeah, we could do this. Definitely."
"Emma's at my mom's tonight - she could stay there another day or two. Next weekend we're helping Dina move into Mrs. Braverman's apartment. This is the perfect time." Rachel leaned against him, reading over his shoulder. "See? They offer packages - on site licenses, officiants, twenty-four hours a day."
"This means that we could be married by morning." He folded the brochure in a slow, deliberate motion. "Are you sure this is what you want?"
"To be married to you? Only for the rest of my life." She gave him a peck on the cheek. "Call the airline?"
"Pack my bag." He went to the phone and dialed while she raced to his room to gather enough clothes for a three day trip.
Say it's true
There's nothing like me and you
I'm not alone
Tell me you feel it too
And I would run away
I would run away, yeah yeah
I would run away
I would run away
"That was the weirdest wedding I never went to." Chandler gathered the last of Monica's borrowed wedding decor and put it in a box.
"I'm beginning to think we're the normal ones of the group." Monica was interrupted by Reverend Pong coming in.
"Shame they rented out the tea room for a wedding that never happened." Reverend Pong shook his head at Chandler. "Bad karma to plan a wedding and no one gets married. All sorts of unhappy wedding spirits left hanging around the place, frustrated."
Chandler's eyes shot from Rev. Pong to Monica and back. "Would any couple getting married appease the wedding spirits?"
Rev. Pong looked surprised by the question. "Why, yes. I guess so. But there weren't any other couples seeking nuptials today."
"What about a renewal?" Chandler handed Monica a basket of flowers he'd retrieved from the top of the piano. "We're already married, but since we've got the tea room for another hour, and you're free…" He turned to Monica. "You up for this?"
"Another wedding? Are you new here or something? I get to be a bride all over again!" She tossed the flowers into the air.
Chandler caught them. "I caught the bouquet. I think this means I'm legally obligated to get married now."
Rev. Pong stood in the center of the dais and opened his book to the correct page. "Whenever you're ready."
"I'm always ready." Monica put her hand in Chandler's.
"Dearly Beloved," the reverend began, "we are gathered here in this celestial sphere as beings of pure light…"
"To witness the merging of this human essence" he gave Chandler a nod - "with this human essence." He finished with a look in Monica's direction.
"Because I always really dug your essence," Chandler whispered in her ear.
And so they were married…again.
Have fallen in love
I'm never gonna stop
Falling in love
"Are we really doing this?" Joey squeezed Rachel's hand, tapping his foot against the floorboard of the cab.
"We're really doing this." Rachel propped her chin on his shoulder. "Nervous?"
"I'm not nervous at all. I think this is just crazy enough to work."
The driver looked in the rearview mirror and stifled a laugh at the two crazies in formal wear making out in his back seat.
Close the door
And lay down upon the floor
And by candle light
Make love to me
Through the night
Cause I have run away
I have run away, yeah yeah
I have run away, run away
I have run away
"We need a room for tonight."
The desk clerk at the Taj Mahal glanced up to see a dark haired guy dressed in a suit followed by a radiant blonde in a wedding dress and veil.
"Name?" She'd seen everything by now. Including a few thousand brides.
"Vicrum Mukergee," Ross said.
"Regina Filange," Phoebe added.
"Judging by your outfit, I'd think you'd be Regina Mukergee today." The clerk flashed a distracting gold tooth at Phoebe. "Too bad. I was gonna upgrade you kids to a bridal suite."
"Oh, she's Regina Mukergee, all right. She's as Mukergee as Mukergee can be." He slung an arm around Phoebe's waist. "She's even pregnant!"
"Unfortunately, we don't have a maternity suite." The clerk rolled her eyes at Ross. "You'll have to settle for bridal."
"Do you have complimentary toiletries?" He leaned on the counter and gave the clerk his most sincere puppy eyes.
"Would you like to have some sent up?"
"Yes, thank you." To Phoebe, he whispered "We're going to need a bigger bag."
"Just sign here and I'll process your credit card."
Phoebe waited patiently until Ross had completed the check in process and sent her bag to their room. She caught his arm and led him to the back exit.
"Look, there's the boardwalk…and the ocean." She stoked his face in a way that was sure to get her every request fulfilled. "Can we go get some of that freaky taffy crap that Mona brought back for you once?"
"Only if I get to eat all the pink ones." He opened the door and they stepped out onto the Atlantic City boardwalk, the wind whipping her veil around to the amusement of the crowd, who smiled indulgently at what appeared to be nothing more than a couple on their honeymoon.
Have fallen in love
I'm never gonna stop
Falling in love
The sun rose over the island of Barbados, casting a kaleidoscope of pink and lavender and fiery orange over the ocean. The soft light of dawn threw a luminous sheen over the white sand, and the salty ocean breeze lifted Rachel's hair while it swirled around the hem of her dress.
The ceremony was simple, on the beach with only Joey, Rachel, the hotel's officiant and two witnesses present. They wore their clothes from Phoebe's wedding and she held Phoebe's fading roses in her hand as they stood barefoot in the surf, unwilling to take their eyes off each other for even a second.
Joey's hand closed around hers while they repeated the vows that would hold them together forever. The officiant said a few words of blessing in his soft rolling accent. Rachel wouldn't remember the words or the witnesses, plucked from the lobby of the Paradise Hotel. She'd remember the feeling of putting her hand in his. The way he looked at her when he promised himself to her and her only. The feeling of making a promise she knew she'd keep. The memory would remain with her for the rest of her life, undimmed by the time.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife." The officiant broke out in a toothy grin. "Go ahead, kiss your bride!"
Rachel giggled before Joey caught her up in their first kiss as a married couple.
"See?" He pulled away and leaned his forehead on hers. "I promised you I'd bring you back someday."