Hands clasped behind her head, Monica Geller touched her elbows to her knees and then let her head fall further forward until it was hanging between them. She was breathing heavily and it felt good. Very good. It had taken her weeks to reach this point, but once she'd achieved it she never wanted to be without it.
Unfortunately the feeling couldn't last. Blindly she felt on the floor for a towel, and when she found it she lifted her head and mopped the sweat off. Monica stood up and waited for her heartbeat to slow down, which it did in very short order. It used to be that a walk up the stairs would leave her short of breath for a minute or two. Not any more.
Monica opened the door to her bedroom and walked out into the living room. Her eyes automatically fell on the boxes that lay here and there. They were - very slowly - being filled with the trinkets of a lifetime. The disorderly appearance they gave to the apartment grated on Monica, but she said nothing. She couldn't, not ever.
The refrigerator door closed and Monica looked over at a woman, about her height but much older. The woman seemed born with an innate frown that always made Monica feel uncomfortable whenever it was sent in her direction. "Hello, dear," the woman said. "I'm making a kohlrabi salad, would you like some?"
"No thank you, Nana. I'm going to take a shower."
"Ah." Nana pierced Monica with her gaze. "Don't you think all that exercise is unhealthy?"
Monica suppressed an annoyed sigh; this was a familiar subject. "It's what's keeping me healthy, Nana."
"It's wonderful you're so thin, but you need not be so... narcissistic about it."
"I'm not, Nana." Monica walked into the bathroom and closed the door before any more of Nana's disapproval could show through. She looked at herself in the mirror. What struck her most about the changes to her body was how different her face looked. The cheeks were almost gaunt by comparison, and her eyes didn't seem quite so sunken in. Her new face was more angular, sharp. But not necessarily more attractive.
Narcissism? Nana needn't worry about that. Monica's face has simply gone from flabby to bony.
Shaking herself, Monica took a shower. The hot water had a calming effect and she stepped out feeling a little better about the world. She went back to her bedroom and changed into her work clothes, although she wouldn't have to leave for a while yet.
Monica went back into the living room, saw that Nana was still nibbling at her salad, and eyed the boxes one more time. She began packing some things away, carefully wrapping them. She took her time but still did this much faster than Nana did, since she would often stare at each piece for several minutes, lost in some memory.
"So, Monica. Will you be moving back with your mother and father?"
"No." That came out a little more firmly than Monica had expected. She made an effort to speak more calmly. "I might stay with Ross and Carol for a while, until I can find my own place."
"Their apartment is so small," Nana commented dryly.
Like you've ever spent much time there. Monica kept the comment to herself. Nana had never approved of Ross getting married so young. The fact that Nana had herself been married at twenty didn't seem to factor into things. "I'll be fine, it'll just be for a little while until I can find a place I can afford."
"Hmm." Nana stood up, began cleaning up. "How much could you afford?"
That was a good question. Apartments in Manhattan were incredibly expensive. "I'm seeing what I could get by with."
"Could you afford nine hundred a month? Plus expenses?"
"That's... that's a little more than I was hoping for." A lot more, actually.
"But could you do it?"
Monica stopped packing and considered. She didn't make a lot as an assistant chef at Iridium. If she cut down on every expense, worked a few extra hours... "Yeah, I probably could. Why, do you have a place in mind?"
"Well," Nana said while washing her dishes in the sink, "I was thinking that I haven't informed the building owners that I'm moving to Florida, and what they don't know won't hurt them."
Monica's eyes widened. "You mean... here?"
"Of course I mean here." Nana was now drying off the dishes, still with her back to Monica. "This was my home for many years and I'd rather it stay with family."
Monica didn't dare breathe. Her eyes darted around the apartment - the huge living room, the two bedrooms, the wonderful kitchen. Once Nana ended her lease, the building owners would surely charge three or four times as much to the next renters. "You... you sure, Nana?"
"Of course I am." Nana turned around, and while she wasn't smiling, her expression was a lot less severe than usual. "I'll feel better knowing that you have a good place to stay. I know how important it is to have a good home of your own, and I think you need that. So please, allow an old woman to indulge her granddaughter."
Monica smiled and walked over to Nana. "Thank you." She hugged her gently.
"You're welcome." Nana patted the back of Monica's head. "Now, get to work. You don't want to be late."
"Okay, Nana." Monica released the hug, and quickly grabbed her coat. She actually had plenty of time but understood that emotional displays made Nana uncomfortable. Best to allow her some privacy, especially after she had been so generous. Nana was a difficult woman to figure out; usually she was distant and cold, but she was also capable of tremendous kindness, like allowing Monica to live with her when she found a job in the city.
Like giving her an apartment of her own. The very thought sent a tingle through her.
Monica walked out the door, stopping slightly at the sight of a large man staring at the door opposite. Bemused, Monica stepped beside him to examine it with him. "I don't think anyone's home, Mr. Treeger."
Treeger grunted. "The number's wrong."
Monica blinked. "It's always been apartment four."
"But it's on the second floor. Confuses the hell out of everyone. Think I'll talk to the building owners about renumbering these things."
Monica shuddered at what that implied about the huge number of change-of-address notifications she'd have to send out. Hopefully the owners would realize that, too. "Well, I'm off to work. See you later."
"Wait, I want to talk to you." Treeger turned to face her. "You're Monica Geller, right?"
"Um, yeah." She suddenly felt a little uneasy. "Why?"
"Some guy used you as a reference. Bing."
I just don't want to be stuck here all night with your fat sister. Monica took a deep breath, surprised at how much that hurt even after all this time. And yet, it was Monica who had told Ross about the vacancy to help Chandler with his apartment search. "He was my brother's roommate in college. He always struck me as very dependable."
"College, huh? Does he have a job now?"
Monica floundered for a bit, trying to remember everything Ross had told her. "I, I think he's got a temp job at the moment." Oops, should have just said yes. Too late now. "And his mother is Nora Tyler Bing, you know, the author? He should never have a problem with money."
Treeger nodded. "Is he a crazy guy? Lots of loud parties, any of that sort of thing?"
"Oh no," Monica said easily. "Very low-key. I wouldn't mind having him as a neighbor."
Treeger grunted. "Huh. Okay, thanks. I'll let the owners know."
"Great." Monica smiled her goodbye and walked out of the building, feeling a little flustered. The truth was, having Chandler live across the hall would be very strange. There was a history between them that made her feel very uncomfortable. But then again, she'd never have to see him really. Just pass him in the hallway, say hello, nothing more. She could handle that.
Shaking those thoughts out of her mind, Monica headed towards the restaurant. If she was going to keep this new apartment of hers, she'd have to make sure she also kept her job. A grin found its way to her face. Her apartment. Monica's apartment. That sounded wonderful.
(to be continued)
Author's Notes: I anticipate this to be an open-ended story detailing the pre-series era. It will be entirely from Monica's perspective. I've got lots written in my head but I have no idea how long it will go. For the next few days, anyway, expect frequent updates.