AN: New angst series! Who's excited? lol. The updates will probably not be quick, but they'll be as quick as I can manage. Review and let me know what you think. Thanks!
The bitter winter wind bit his face, as he wrestled his way through the large holiday crowd. He'd always hated shopping—especially at this time of year. In fact, he really wanted to curse out loud, at the shoppers, at the weather…and at Monica for having to work later than normal, because 'it's the holidays'.
"Daddy, I have to go to the potty," Erica pulled on Chandler's right arm, and yanked him from his thoughts. He looked down at his daughter, who was clearly not having a good time, and smiled softly.
This was why he couldn't curse. He was fighting through the crowds with his children—and for children, this was supposed to be a happy time of year! They didn't care about the crowds or the cold or the grouchy shoppers—all they knew was that this was the best time of year.
"Okay, let's go find you a bathroom, and then maybe the three of us can get some hot chocolate—what do you say?" Chandler grinned.
"Yay!" Erica and Jack cried simultaneously, as Chandler took a tiny hand in each of his, and led them toward the nearest department store.
Unfortunately, the nearest department store was Bloomingdale's, and was crawling with wall-to-wall shoppers.
Chandler sighed, and let go of Erica's hand just long enough to open the door and usher his six-year-old twins inside, before grasping their hands once more, and working his way through the crowd.
Because it was frigid outside, the heat was on high inside, and Chandler found himself sweating moments after entering the store. He made his way to the first counter he saw, and waved down a grumpy-looking sales clerk.
"Excuse me, I'm sorry but…where is the bathroom?"
The woman, pale and drawn, was wearing a thick layer of makeup, making her appear much older than she most likely was. Wordlessly, she lifted a thin, red-clawed finger, and pointed it toward the back of the store. Chandler nodded gratefully, as the woman floated silently toward the next customer.
As they made their way to the back of the store, Chandler picked up a familiar holiday tune, and instinctively cringed. Jingle Bell Rock was one of his mother's favorite songs, and she had insisted on exposing his children to it last Christmas. And, since Nora can't sing to save her life, she ended up making Erica cry while Jack simply stared at her in wonder for the rest of the night.
Making his way past a bank of brass elevators, Chandler finally managed to find a small hallway, with a door on either side. One door was marked Men's, the other, Women's, and only one had a line snaking out of the bathroom and out toward the elevators.
He looked down at Erica, who was now dancing back and forth from one foot to the other, and then down at Jack, who was wearing the same shell-shocked look he'd worn when his Grandmother had attempted to sing to him.
"Well, there are two of us, and one of you, Jellybean," Chandler smiled, and pointed to the Men's room, "I say we take the road less traveled."
Erica looked up at her father with a mixture of panic (she really had to pee!) and confusion (what road was he talking about?). He simply chuckled, and pulled the twins toward the Men's room.
Ten minutes later, Chandler found himself back out in the throng, trying to survive the Bloomingdale's crowd long enough to get out and to the sidewalk. It seemed like the crowd had thickened, he noted, and the thought made him even more determined to get the hell out of there. He knew Monica would be annoyed that he hadn't picked up Rachel's gift—but he just couldn't take it anymore—he had to get out of there.
"Daddy, I dwopped my glove," Jack yelled, and the threesome came to a sudden stop right next to the jewelry counter where the scary, thin woman had given them silent directions.
"Jack!" Chandler scolded, as he scoured the floor for the glove. Never mind the gift, Monica would never forgive him if she knew one of their children was walking around New York in December wearing only one glove.
"Where did you drop it?" Chandler asked, as he and the children backtracked slightly.
"Over thewe, somewhewe," Jack waved his gloveless hand in the general direction of the center of the store.
"Ugh," Chandler groaned, and began walking back the way they'd come.
For fifteen minutes, they scoured the floor, looking under racks, and people's feet. And finally, Chandler was able to make out what appeared to be Jack's glove (thank goodness it was red!) kicked into the corner near the elevators.
Relieved, Chandler grabbed the glove, and turned to find Jack, smiling proudly, with his little gloveless hand extended. Chandler pulled the glove onto Jack's hand, and sighed in relief.
"Okay, let's go," Chandler said, "keep hold of your glove this time!"
"I will," Jack reassured his father with a sharp nod.
"Where's your sister?" Chandler looked around, noting that Erica was not standing where he'd left her.
"She was there," Jack said shakily.
A rush of panic swept through Chandler, and instinctively, he wrapped his arms around his son, and picked him up, holding him close as he ran up and down the bank of elevators.
"Erica! Erica!" Chandler cried, his voice raspy and desperate.
An elevator opened, and several people walked out, all ignoring the father's frantic calls.
"Excuse me, have you seen a little girl? She's six and has blonde hair and a purple jacket…"
A kindly elderly woman finally turned, and looked up at Chandler.
"No, I'm sorry…I haven't seen any little girl."
Feeling nauseous and unsteady, Chandler rushed through the store, his son in his arms, dark dread filling him with each passing moment.
Erica was nowhere to be found.
To be continued…