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Feels Like Home
Monica walked through Central Park, letting the cool, crisp breeze of late November blow through her hair. Her suitcase hung loose in her right hand while her left wiped the tears running down her cheeks. A part of her still had doubts about her decision to leave Chandler and the babies, but the sense of freedom she felt in her bones right now was a relief. She had felt trapped in her own home and trapped in a marriage she had been beginning to lose faith in. She knew the exact time when it had started to go wrong of course, and looking back on it now, she had no-one to blame but herself.
"Come on honey, if we don't leave now we're going to be late for your mother's birthday party!" Chandler whined, walking into the nursery.
Monica looked up from the twins' cots and smiled. "I just can't bear leaving them for so long." She said softly, "they're so…tiny."
"Tiny?" Chandler grinned, "Erica and Jack down their milk like they're preparing to go on hunger strike soon! You'd think they were one month old, not one week old!"
"Do you think Phoebe and Mike are going to cope ok?" Monica continued anxiously.
"They'll be fine," Chandler wrapped his arms around her from behind, "don't worry, we don't have to be at your parents' for long, right?"
"You weren't there when mom turned 40," Monica told him, smiling. "Her dinner speech lasted half an hour alone!"
"Great," Chandler said sarcastically. "How old is she this year?"
"55," Monica replied, looking back down at the sleeping babies once more. "Maybe we can duck out after dessert." She added. "From what Rachel told me on the phone earlier, that's her plan too."
Chandler gave out a short laugh. "Typical. How is she anyway?"
"Ok…actually, she's great. This reunion with Ross has really made her realise what she's been missing for the last 7 years."
Chandler wriggled an eyebrow. "I see."
Monica slapped his arm and laughed. "That is not what I meant Chandler Bing!"
"Well, whatever you meant, if I catch Rachel leaving earlier than us tonight, we're right behind her." Chandler grabbed Monica's hand and pulled her out into the hallway.
"Goodbye my sweeties," Monica said, blowing a kiss into the nursery.
Monica stifled a yawn and looked around the room. She didn't know half the people here, her mother had really gone all out to invite just about everyone she knew, that was for certain.
"This party blows," Rachel grumbled, looking at her watch. "I can't believe we didn't sneak out after dessert."
"That's a bit difficult when your boyfriend can't seem to tear himself away from that guy over there." Monica pointed to where Ross was standing chatting animatedly to one of the few guests who were their own age.
"Yeah who is that guy?" Rachel wondered.
"I bet anything he likes dinosaurs." Monica commented, smiling.
"Great, so I won't get out of here until at least midnight." Rachel moaned. "And it's only, like, what? 9pm?"
"Chandler is enjoying himself too," Monica said, arching an eyebrow at her husband who seemed to be in the middle of a heated debate with his father-in-law.
"Men…" Rachel rolled her eyes. "I suppose I had better drag Ross away soon. I can't leave Emma alone with Joey for too long."
Monica stood alone in the corner, hearing snatches of the conversation going on between her dad and her husband.
"No, no, Yasmine Bleeth was the greatest character on Baywatch!"
"How can you say that? Pamela was unique!"
Monica grimaced. She never thought she'd be hearing her father talk about fictitious, porn star look-alike lifeguards with Chandler.
"Not the most thrilling conversation you're ever likely to hear, is it?" An unfamiliar voice said behind her.
Monica turned around and smiled at a middle aged woman rolling her eyes with amusement.
"I'm Mary," she said, holding out her hand for Monica to shake. "I went to school with your mom."
"Wow, you've known her a long time!" Monica marvelled.
"Almost forty years," Mary said, smiling reminiscently, "she's a wonderful woman, your mother is."
"When she isn't annoying me, I suppose she is." Monica added, laughing.
"Your mother only annoys you because she cares," Mary looked at her seriously. "She will never stop caring for you. That's what mothers are for."
"Yeah, I'm just beginning to experience that." Monica smiled proudly, thinking of the twins.
"Oh yes…Judy said you have twins?" Mary prompted.
"Jack and Erica." Monica smiled happily, "Chandler and I adopted them as soon as they were born."
"You…you adopted?" Mary's eyes widened.
Monica's smile became even brighter. "Yes, but I still feel like I've gave birth to them." She giggled. "I know that's silly, but I just feel so…you know?"
"Yes, I know," Mary said quietly. "My husband and I adopted a child too."
"Then you must know what it feels like!" Monica exclaimed happily, "I swear, it's the greatest feeling in the world to know that you can give all this love to a child who probably wouldn't get it from its birth mother!"
"Of course, Erica, our birth mom, would have been a great mother, but her circumstances were difficult. She was a single mother and not exactly aware of everything." Monica paused for breath, remembering how alike Erica and Joey were.
"Monica, I really think you've made a big mistake." Mary said tightly.
Monica's head shot to Mary's, shock rippling through her. "What?"
"As I said, I adopted a child. His name was Michael and he was the most adorable child there could be. We brought him up as best we could and we were happy for many years…" Mary paused, her eyes brimming with tears.
"What…what went wrong?" Monica whispered.
"When Michael was 12 he started asking questions about his birth parents. We couldn't provide the answers because we had adopted Michael through an agency. He started to…to search for his 'real' mother." Mary swallowed hard, as though the memory of what happened was too upsetting to repeat.
"Did he find her?" Monica asked awkwardly.
"Yes, he barged into this new life his 'mother' apparently had. He had brothers and sisters he had never met, a step-father too…and his mother was so pleased to see him." Monica detected the bitterness in Mary's voice. "She welcomed Michael into her life."
"Well…well you can hardly blame Michael for wanting to visit his mom…" Monica stammered.
"His mom gave him up as a baby!" Mary exclaimed; "it didn't matter that her parents forced her to give up the child…she didn't have a right to suddenly want him again…and Michael, naturally, wanted her too."
"Michael stayed with his new family more and more frequently," Mary said sadly, "eventually, after a few months of knowing them all, he went to live with them all permanently."
"You lost your son?" Monica gasped.
"You see, that's the thing Monica. Michael wasn't really our son," Mary told her, "or at least, he didn't seem to think so. You think everything is rosy in your life right now, but just you wait."
Monica frowned. "I really don't think Jack and Erica would just abandon me and Chandler. This is a completely different situation. Erica was a surrogate mom to us. She never wanted the babies."
"It doesn't make a difference to the children when they grow up my dear," Mary chided, "they're still going to want to know who their real mom is."
"I'm their real mom!" Monica said firmly, anger swelling up inside her, "I was the first to hold them at the hospital, not Erica!"
"I felt exactly the same way as you when Michael was still just an innocent little baby who didn't know any better," Mary said quietly, "things change. I'm really surprised Judy didn't tell you any of this. She supported my family through a difficult time."
"She…she never said anything." Monica whispered. Then her face hardened again. "It still doesn't make a difference. Jack and Erica will always think me as their mom and Chandler as their dad."
"When you pick up the children first thing in the morning, do you see yourself in them?" Mary asked quietly, eyeing her firmly.
"Well…well we can't really tell at this stage…" Monica stuttered.
"If you had given birth to those babies you would have known immediately." Mary interrupted, "I didn't, and I should have seen the signs that nothing was going to be right later on. Everything from their features, eyes, nose, even their cry…a mother knows when a baby is truly their own."
"I…I…look, you can't keep saying those things!" Monica said desperately, the first feelings of doubt creeping into her mind. Did she love the babies enough?
"I'm just speaking from my own experience," Mary said, pity and sorrow suddenly spreading across her face, "maybe you're right. Maybe Jack and Erica will be content with…second best."
"Well, that party wasn't all bad!" Chandler said cheerfully as they drove home two hours later. "Your brother was really entertaining when talking to that friend of your Dad's. Turns out the guy watched Planet of the Apes a lot."
"Uh-huh," Monica's muttered reply caused Chandler to frown with concern. She hadn't spoken a word to Chandler since they had left the party 15minutes ago.
"Hon, are you ok?" he asked quietly as he turned the corner into their neighbourhood.
"Of course!" Monica said brightly. "Wasn't that party great?"
In his opinion it wasn't genuine enthusiasm. He glanced at his wife worriedly once more before pulling into the drive outside their house.
The cries of Erica coming from her cot awoke Monica and Chandler in the early hours of the morning.
"I think it's your turn Mon," Chandler groaned, pulling the pillow over his head.
"Um…no I don't think so," Monica stuttered, pulling the blankets up towards her chin.
Chandler sat up slightly, leaning on one elbow to glance sideways at her. She avoided his eyes and stared up at the ceiling.
"It is your turn," Chandler insisted, a smile playing around his lips, "you can't play that trick with me. I definitely took the 1am shift."
"Can't you do it?" Monica pleaded.
"No, I can't," Chandler grinned and grabbed hold of Monica's hand gently, trying to pull her up. She resisted and snatched her hand away.
The smile faded from his lips. "Mon? Are…are you sure you're ok?" he asked anxiously. Monica always liked to check on the twins. It was usually her trying to drag him out of bed at 3am.
"I'm fine," Monica snapped, trying to blink away tears threatening to fall down her cheeks. She turned over to her side, facing away from Chandler.
"Fine," Chandler said coolly, "I'll go check up on them then."
Monica felt the sheets move as Chandler got out of bed and left the room.
As Erica's cries got louder and Jack started to join in, they drowned out the heartbreaking sobs coming from Monica.
End of Chapter 2