I Just Close My Eyes

The chill of the windowpane against his cheekbone was slowly numbing the left side of his face, but Chandler refused to acknowledge the minor discomfort as he stared out the window, his unfocused gaze taking in the blur of a street he didn't recognize, the unfamiliar lights of a city that wasn't home. He slowly tilted his head back, allowing his eyes to following the lights up and up, until the lines of the buildings were lost against the darkness of the night sky - a sky filled with the subtle, romantic luminescence of a startlingly clear night, each tiny pinprick marking the place where millions and millions of miles away a star was burning.

He smiled slightly as his mind drifted to the obvious analogy: the love of his life back in New York. He could feel her love as clearly as he could see the stars, a warmth burning in his heart despite the distance. She was his star, he decided, his true north, and knew that the next time he held her in his arms he would tell her so, and describe what he was feeling right now in this minute when she was so far away from him but felt so close.

With a heartfelt sigh, he pulled his head from the window and looked down at his hands, twisting his wedding band thoughtfully. He had thought it would get easier to leave her each week and fly away to this world where his wife didn't exist outside of his own heart, but it hadn't. He was beginning to realize that it wouldn't. This time had been the hardest of all, because she had driven him to the airport instead of saying goodbye at their apartment in the Village. He had reminded her about airport traffic, about the crowds that made saying goodbyes so hard, but she had insisted that she wanted to spend every minute with him that she could. Well, he could hardly argue with that, could he?

But once they arrived at the airport, she had clung to him in a very un-Monica-like fashion, barely releasing his hand long enough to properly make her way through the metal detectors and search procedures. Her demeanor, so unlike her usual independent nature, had left him a little concerned, but she had assured him that she was okay, that she just wanted to be close to him while she could.

He agreed completely, and had held her for a long time before the final boarding call was announced. When he released her, she smiled bravely and kissed him gently on his lips, promising that she would be counting the minutes until he was home with her again. She would never know how close he came at that moment to turning his back on the plane to Tulsa and staying there with her, how easy it would have been for him to take her hand and go back home to reclaim the life he sometimes felt he had given up.

But instead he picked up his bag in one hand and wrapped his free arm around her waist, pressing his lips firmly against her forehead as he tried valiantly to control his emotions. After the attendant had checked his boarding pass and directed him into the corridor, he turned one last time to blow her a kiss, his eyes lingering on her face just long enough to see her touch her fingers to her own lips in return.

She had been so beautiful, standing there alone, hugging herself with her arms as she watched him go, and his heart broke a little bit when he had to turn away. It wasn't right, having to live this way. It wasn't fair at all. That had been the refrain that echoed through his mind the entire flight, the one that he was repeating to himself even now. He belonged with her, and that should have been the long and short of it.

He looked up when he felt the revolutions of the cab's wheels begin to slow, and there in front of him was the Ramada Inn of Tulsa. Home away from home, Chandler thought bitterly as he started to gather his briefcase and the small suitcase that carried the fresh shirts and underwear Monica had packed for him. He tossed a few bills at the cabbie as he stepped out of the cab, then pulled his coat tighter to ward off the cold wind as he headed for the front entrance.

No need to check-in, since he was all but a resident. With a courteous nod to the clerk at the desk who greeted him by name, he headed up to his room, dreading the thought of sleeping under blankets exuding the soapy scent of Woolite and not the mixture of Monica's favorite detergent and the hint of her perfume that permeated the sheets on the bed they shared back in New York. By now she would have noticed that his pillowcase was missing, but he had not been able to resist sneaking it into his bag when he left, just to have that small piece of home.

He dropped his bag on the small table in the tiny alcove that served as his dining room, and then changed his mind and reached inside to retrieve his shaving kit, thinking that he would shower quickly and then head to bed. As his fingers searched out the leather of the small bag he had been using since college, they brushed against a piece of paper, folded and tucked away between the neat rolls of socks and perfectly folded shirts. Smiling to himself, he pulled out the single sheet and opened it slowly as he sank down into a chair.

"Sweetheart," the note began, with the particular endearment that she was using more frequently these days, "we may be far apart tonight, but my heart is exactly where it has always been, with you. Good night, my love. Close your eyes and I'll be with you."

He clutched the note in his hand as he followed her instructions and closed his eyes. The image came to him without a conscious effort to conjure it, and he could see her clearly, lying alone in their bed all those miles away. He knew with the sixth sense that only a bond like theirs could give him that her tears had fallen silently onto his pillow as she clutched it in her arms, until she willed herself to get a grip and push aside her loneliness. He knew she would have turned her back to his empty side of the bed but held on to his pillow as she closed her eyes and pretended that he was lying next to her. He knew she had whispered "I love you" to the darkness just before she dropped off to sleep because he did it too, every night he was away from her. And he knew the alarm on his side of the bed would go off an hour or so later, waking her up just as his plane landed, because she had reluctantly admitted the truth when he questioned her about the odd setting on his alarm clock when he was home last weekend.

The ghost of a smile turned his lips upward as he remembered how she had lowered her eyes to the comforter, picking at a thread to avoid his eyes as she made her confession. I just want to know when you get there, she had told him. It makes me feel closer to you. She had looked so innocent admitting to one of her quirky habits, and when she looked up at him with that embarrassed little smile, he had suddenly felt that he was drowning in his love and absolute devotion to her. He was so completely hers that it would have scared him if he were not so willing to be.

For a moment, he imagined that he could feel her hair tickling his chin as he held her close. But when he felt the warm air against his face he realized it was just the output from the vent above him brushing against his face. He was alone.

With a sigh of disappointment, he abandoned thoughts of a shower before bed and left his things where they were, with the exception of the note from Monica and the pillowcase he had brought from home. These he carried with him into the tiny bedroom, where he placed the note tenderly under the pillow that he stripped and stuffed into his own pillowcase before climbing wearily into the bed. A glance at the clock and the knowledge that it was even later in New York helped stifle his desperate urge to call her. He hoped she was already sleeping peacefully, and he was reluctant to disturb her just to satisfy his own longing. Besides, if she was sleeping, he didn't want to wake her only to remind her that he wasn't there.

Wrinkling his nose at the stiffness of the sheets, he pulled the covers over him and tried to relax. He rolled onto one side, gazing out the room's only window at a moon that wasn't nearly as visible amid the lights of New York, but was shining there nonetheless.

"I love you," he whispered to the silence, then rolled onto his back with a final sigh and closed his eyes.

Wheels are turning
I feel my whole life spinnin' round
Stars are burning, don't even know where I am
Sometimes the road seems like such a crazy way to live
Sometimes my dreams take more, more than I can give
When I need you, gotta see you
I find a way to break through
I can almost feel your touch
When I'm restless, feelin' desperate
I know I'll never make it
Without your love
Even though you're a thousand miles away from me tonight
I can see you, you're right here by my side
I just close my eyes
I just close my eyes

Monica surveyed the faces of her guests, ever sensitive to the minute signs of distress that would signal an empty coffee cup or displeasure that the last pancake had disappeared from the serving plate. For the moment, though, her friends were content, and Monica allowed herself a tiny smile as she sank into a chair and reached for her own cup of coffee.

Ross was droning on about some new dinosaur-related theory, directing his comments to an oblivious Joey, who was studiously working his way through a huge pile of pancakes and an even bigger pile of scrambled eggs. Rachel was trying to feed Emma while Phoebe played peek-a-boo with the baby, and after observing the mess that resulted when Emma burst into giggles at Phoebe's antics just as Rachel spooned cereal into her mouth, Monica knew that Rachel's patience with the game would soon wear thin.

Monica's gaze swung to the chair next to Phoebe, automatically searching for her husband's eyes so they could share a smile over Rachel's predicament. She sighed in disappointment when her eyes found emptiness instead of Chandler's familiar smirk, and wondered how she could have forgotten – even for a moment – that he wasn't there. He'd been gone less than a day, barely twelve hours in fact, but she could feel his absence in every pore of her body. She had become so accustomed to catching his eye across the table and sharing a smile, or brushing her hand against his shoulder as she filled coffee cups or put out fresh food. She had trained herself to expect his gentle hand on her back or shoulder as they passed each other in the kitchen, or to feeling him press a kiss against the back of her head when he dutifully carried his plate to the sink as she washed up. Their morning routine had become filled with so many private nuances that no one else would ever notice…but the absence of them made her feel like she couldn't quite breathe properly.

He was a part of her, it was as simple as that. He had been for longer than she thought she could remember. And though she tried to pretend that her life was not so drastically different, that she was perfectly capable of making it a few days without her husband, she missed him so intensely that it made her head hurt and her stomach ache.

For about half the minutes of every day, she was on the verge of leaving her keys with Joey and catching the first flight to Tulsa without even bothering to pack a bag. Most of the time she couldn't remember what was keeping her in New York when he was somewhere else. Not a job. Maybe a dream. Even so, there were many days when she wondered why making dinner for the patrons at Javu was so very important. She had never dreamed that her own aspirations would require her to give up so much.

Monica's eyes flicked toward the clock on the wall and she silently calculated the time difference, wondering if he was awake yet. She could picture him asleep in his hotel room, all cuddled in the blankets with a flushed face and wayward hair, looking so cute and innocent that had she been there next to him, she wouldn't be able to resist kissing him.

Another wave of longing swept over her, and she abruptly rose from her seat and crossed to the stove, taking a deep breath to steady her emotions. She wasn't sure why she tried so hard to be strong in front of them; it wasn't like they didn't understand. It was her nature, she supposed, to put up a brave front, born from years of living in her ne'er-do-wrong brother's shadow. She had learned early to keep her weaknesses hidden, lest they be used against her by her critical but well-meaning mother. Only with Chandler did she let her guard completely down, and he had never made her regret it.

"Joey," she called over her shoulder from the stove as she forced thoughts of her husband out of her mind yet again. "Do you want more pancakes, or can I start cleaning up?"

There was a pause while Joey considered his options, and just as Monica turned to give him an impatient glare, the phone rang. Without hesitation, Monica tossed the pan she was holding into the sink and rushed into the living room, grabbing the phone before it could ring a second time.

"Hello?" she said anxiously into the phone, realizing suddenly that she could be disappointed; that it might be her mother or a colleague from the restaurant or even some random telemarketer calling instead of him. But as soon as the thought crossed her mind, she was reassured by her husband's soft greeting.

"Hey sweetie," he breathed, and she thought she could hear him smiling through the phone lines.

"Hey," she returned, a smile spreading across her own face as the turned away from the crowd in her kitchen and leaned against the arm of the couch. "Did you get in okay last night? I was hoping you would call…"

"I didn't want to wake you," Chandler told her, a note of regret creeping into his voice. "I hope you weren't worried."

"No, no it's fine," Monica assured him quickly. "You said you probably wouldn't. I just…missed you."

"Is that Chandler?" Joey interrupted suddenly, prompting Monica to turn and look at him. When she nodded reluctantly, Joey jumped excitedly out of his chair and held out his hand for the phone. "I wanna talk!"

Monica clutched the phone protectively to her ear and glared at Joey until he shrunk back into his chair, defeated. Glaring back at her like an indignant child, he crossed his arms and sulked for a moment.

"Fine, but tell him I said hi," Joey instructed her pointedly, picking up his fork as he turned back to his pancakes. "Just because he's your husband doesn't give you the right to hog him," he mumbled under his breath, then quickly stuffed a forkful of food into his mouth as Monica turned another glare in his direction.

"Joey says hi," she said into the phone, rolling her eyes at her friend's back before turning away again, slightly perturbed at the lack of privacy in her own apartment. She had to fight the urge to take the phone into her bedroom, knowing it would be perceived as 'rude' by their friends, who believed the couple had no secrets from them. "And if he calls you later to complain about how mean I am," she continued at a slightly higher volume so her voice would carry clearly to the kitchen, "remind him that I can very easily forget how to make that special spaghetti sauce he likes."

"That's some threat you're making there, Mon," Chandler laughed in response. "Maybe I should hang up before you turn on me, too."

"Ha ha," Monica replied. "What can I threaten you with? I can't even withhold sex since you being halfway across the country pretty much accomplishes that."

"Yeah, I've noticed," Chandler replied dryly, making her smile in spite of herself. "I missed you last night," he continued sweetly, his voice lowering to a husky whisper. "Hell, I miss you this morning and I'll miss you this afternoon and tomorrow and every day between now and Thursday when I'm home again."

"Me too," Monica whispered, feeling the lump beginning to form in her throat. "Is it crazy that I miss you this much when you haven't even been gone a day?"

"If it is, then I'm crazy too. And it'll only get worse. We'll both be certifiable by the time I get back to New York and when I walk in the door the doctors will be waiting with a straitjacket and they'll have you strapped down on a stretcher with all those arm restraints and you won't even be able to kiss me hello because the drugs have knocked you out. You'll probably be drooling and your hair will be all big like it was on our honeymoon, and I'll be screaming about how I fell asleep in the meeting and that's why all this is happening and then Joey will walk in and…"

"Chandler," Monica interrupted him, laughing. "You have way too much time on your hands."

A thousand miles away, Chandler just smiled, pleased that he had succeeded in making her laugh and easing the desperate tone of their conversation. "Well, that's true, honey, but unfortunately I'm running out of it just now. The boss can't be late or his loyal employees will…lock him out of the office."

Monica smiled again, picturing Chandler banging on the door trying to get in. "Okay, sweetie," she agreed quietly, trying not to be disappointed that their call would be cut short. "Have a good day."

"I love you, Mon," Chandler said softly, wishing with all his heart that he could kiss her goodbye. "Call me when you get home tonight, okay?"

"I will. I love you too."

Monica reluctantly hung up the phone, then looked down at it in her hand for a moment before turning to place it back in the cradle. The cacophony of conversation and laughter from the kitchen slowly filtered back into her consciousness and she turned to look at her friends, who were laughing and chattering just like they always did, as if nothing had changed and this morning was no different than any other one.

With a sigh, she closed her eyes and allowed an image of him to flit across the back of her eyelids. When she was sure she was composed again, she made her way back into the kitchen and did her best to pretend that this morning was no different for her either. She was afraid she might break if she didn't.

He still couldn't get used to being the one "in charge", the guy his staff looked to for knowledge, advice, and instructions. It wasn't that he didn't like the feeling; it was vindication after all those years of seemingly meaningless work. But he was sure they believed as wholeheartedly as he did that he didn't belong there. All of them were no doubt just biding their time until he returned to New York. He couldn't blame them. After all, wasn't that what he was doing?

Regardless, he had a job to do, and for once in his life he was committed to doing it well. Having Monica on his mind night and day didn't help of course, but he was determined that if he had to live in Tulsa for a year or more, he was going to do something while he was there. It would be a complete waste if the sacrifices he and Monica were making didn't result in something good.

But no matter how good his intentions, today he just couldn't concentrate. He was aware that he was receiving strange looks from his department heads all around the conference table, but even that knowledge wasn't enough to help him focus. He wanted to be in New York. Every part of his body screamed for him to hop the first plane back to the City and keep running until he was back in her arms.

Unfortunately, he didn't have that choice.

"Okay," he heard himself say, and forced his attention back to the task at hand. "Rogers, are we ready with the presentation for Atlanta?"

Rogers – Chandler honestly couldn't remember his first name – launched into an in-depth explanation, but Chandler tuned him out shortly after hearing the assurance that they were ready. When he ran out of breath, Chandler nodded his approval and made a brief note on his pad.

"Great. You'll be making the presentation tomorrow afternoon in Atlanta of course, and then I'll give a report on it at my meeting in Hartford Thursday. You'll have the outline and notes ready for me by the time we leave tomorrow, right?"

"Yes sir."

"Okay," Chandler continued, glancing at his notes to see what his next agenda item was for the staff meeting. "I'm sure you have all been hard at work on your budgets for next year." His statement was met with averted eyes and shuffling papers. "I take that to mean "not so much". The deadline is still in two weeks, folks, so I suggest you start adding up payroll costs and figuring how much you spend on notepads and paper clips each year. I'm sure David will be happy to help you if you ask nicely," he suggested, nodding toward the CFO who just smiled smugly at the rest of the group.

"Now, any other business?" he asked, certainly not expecting an answer. "Okay then. You all know my schedule: Atlanta tomorrow, then up to Hartford, where I'll be until Thursday. I'm going straight home from there, but I'll have my cell phone on. I don't expect any of you will need to call it."

With a smile, he dismissed them with a single nod toward the door, shaking his head slightly as he reminisced about all the staff meetings he had attended over the years, with Doug pointing at lines on charts that nobody understood and yelling things nobody wanted to hear. He wondered if his staff felt the same way about him that he felt about Doug, but shrugged the thought away. Maybe they did, but he didn't want to think about it. At least he didn't slap their butts.

He shook his head as he glanced around the empty room, then slowly walked around the table picking up the paper cups and wads of paper that had been left behind. He could have left it for the cleaning crew of course, but years of having Monica Geller in his life had made him overly conscious of messes. She hadn't quite managed to instill in him her obsessive cleaning habits (though she'd tried), but sweeping the clutter into the wastebasket and seeing the tidy surface that resulted made him feel for a moment like she was there with him.

He quickly placed his notepad and pen back into his briefcase, pausing when his eyes fell on his cell phone. He glanced at his watch, and quickly dialed the number before he could talk himself out of it.

He allowed himself a sigh of disappointment when the answering machine picked up and Monica's cheery voice informed him that he had "reached Chandler and Monica" and asked him to leave a message. She must have already left for the restaurant.

"Hey babe, it's me," he said into the phone as he slumped into his chair and swung around to look out the window. "I was just thinkin' about you and thought I'd try to catch you before you left for work. Hope your day was more fulfilling than mine. I'll talk to you when you get home tonight. Love you."

He slowly pulled the phone away from his ear and flipped it shut, letting his gaze fall on the scene outside his window. People were rushing by outside his window, all hurrying to get somewhere else as fast as they could. It didn't matter where he was in the world; that was always what he would see when he looked out his window.

He closed his eyes, blotting the frenzied crowd from his vision, and sighed heavily. The only place he was in a hurry to be was with her.

People surround me
Still I feel so all alone.
Lost and empty
Every time I hang up the phone
God knows I'd turn around and run to you right now
I've still got three more nights and two more towns.

The dull roar of incessant conversation and a mob of constant movement surrounded Chandler as soon as he stepped through the gate at JFK, but in spite of the particular kind of commotion that could only be associated with New York City, he felt only a sense of serenity when the crowd around him disappeared into a blur and his line of vision narrowed to see only her.

She was standing awkwardly to one side, nervously stroking a strand of hair behind one ear as her eyes flicked anxiously over each disembarking passenger. When he caught her eye, her arms dropped down to her sides and she smiled at him, her expression warming the heart that had been aching for her. A second later, she was in his arms, hugging him so tightly that the car keys in her hand stabbed sharply into his back, forcing him to ease his hold on her before he was ready to let go.

"Hi," she whispered to him as she pulled away, cradling his face lovingly in her hands.

"Hi," he whispered back, reaching up to take her hand in his, kissing her palm before lacing his fingers with hers and tugging her a little closer to him. "I didn't know you were coming to pick me up."

Monica just shrugged and ran her free hand through his travel-ruffled hair. "I was bored to death, just sitting there waiting, so I decided I'd bring the Porsche and then make you take me out for an expensive dinner tomorrow night with the money you saved on cab fare."

"Wow, I'm so touched that you came all the way to the airport to see your husband, and with absolutely no ulterior motive!" Chandler deadpanned. "But you overlooked one glaring problem with your little plan, honey, and that's the fact that I wasn't really planning on leaving our bedroom all weekend long." He raised his eyebrows in a suggestive smirk, eliciting a playful pinch in the ribs from Monica. But in spite of the mockingly reproachful frown on her face, the slight flush of her cheeks and the knowing glint in her eye told him that she too had been thinking ahead to their weekend together, just the two of them.

"Let's go home," he whispered against her cheek, and felt her nod against his chest in response. He shouldered his nearly forgotten luggage and reached for her hand, marveling once again at how perfectly her slim fingers fit between his, and how familiar the force of her grasp pressing his wedding band into the flesh of his finger felt. He glanced over at his wife, who was now chattering excitedly about the new dish she had created for the restaurant, and smiled to himself.

It was good to be home.

"It's raining," Monica announced in a near-silent whisper as they lay together in their bed later that night. Chandler, who had been preoccupied with playing with her hand that rested on his chest, lifted his eyes and looked at her, then past her to the window.

"Yeah," he agreed, sliding down in the bed a few more inches and turning on his side so that they were eye to eye. "It's raining."

Monica stared into his eyes, thinking for the thousandth time that she could lie here like this with him forever and never tire of it. Though their faces weren't quite touching, she was close enough to feel the heat radiating from his skin; if she puckered her lips, she could kiss him without moving her head.

"There's nothing lonelier than listening to the rain all by yourself," Monica commented quietly, finally breaking the trance between them when she snuggled closer into his arms, pressing her face into his neck as if just making the statement required her to reassure herself that she wasn't alone.

"I know," Chandler replied in the same tone, tightening his grip on her as he kissed the top of her head. "I wonder why."

"Maybe it's just become like a symbol," Monica said, her voice muffled against his neck. She pulled away and looked up at him again. "You know, like in the movies. When someone has had their heart broken or lost their best friend or something, you always see them sitting beside a window, staring out at the rain. All alone."

"So you think it's the fault of all those filmmakers that keep using the same cliché?"

"Yeah," Monica decided. "I think it probably is. It's effective, though. That's why they use it."

They were both quiet for a while, concentrating on the sound of the drops hitting the window. Finally, Chandler swallowed away the lump in his throat and kissed her forehead.

"I think of you, too," he murmured against her skin, responding to the words left unsaid. "All the time, baby, but especially when it rains."

"I know," Monica told him. "I can feel it."

"You can?"

"Yeah. Sometimes it's so strong it feels like you're right here next to me, and suddenly I don't feel so lonely anymore. Does that make any sense?"

"Perfect sense," Chandler replied. "I feel it too sometimes."

Monica smiled at that, and lifted her hand to trace the outline of his jaw. "I love you so much."

"That's a good thing, I guess" Chandler stated somberly, then yelped when his wife poked him in the ribs – hard. "Okay, okay, I love you too," he proclaimed through laughter as she continued to jab him, finding all his ticklish spots. Monica smiled triumphantly and leaned in to kiss him, unable to resist one final poke.

"You know I'm going to be have bruises in the morning after all this abuse," Chandler complained good-naturedly, grinning as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her again.

"Then you should learn to control your sarcasm," Monica retorted with a smile of her own, dismissing the statement with a shrug of her shoulders. She settled back down next to him with her head on his chest as he arms encircled her again. Gradually, she felt her breathing slow until it matched his heartbeat, the gentle rhythm lulling her to sleep.

"Monica," Chandler whispered into the silence, just as she was about to drift off. He paused for a moment, then continued quietly. "I'm sorry that you have to listen to the rain all alone."

Monica smiled slightly and shifted her head against his chest. "I'm not alone, baby," she reminded him drowsily. "You're always with me. When I need you, I just close my eyes."

When I need you, gotta see you
I find a way to break through
I can almost feel your touch
When I'm restless, feelin' desperate
I know I'll never make it
Without your love
Even though you're a thousand miles
Away from me tonight
I can see you
You're right here by my side
I just close my eyes
I just close my eyes

"I Just Close My Eyes"is written by Chris Lindsey, Bill Luther, and Aimee Mayo, and is sung by Mark Wills.